GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in Sarasota (Pic by Cooper Levey-Baker)

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told participants in the Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Miami Friday that the U.S. needs to maximize trade and competition in Latin America.

That can be accomplished, Gingrich said, with changes in regulations and tax laws that would make Miami the center of commerce and opportunity for both the north and the south. And for this to happen we need to overhaul the visa program “to make it user friendly,” Gingrich argued.

Gingrich said he doesn’t “believe you can pass a comprehensive [immigration reform] bill,” but offered a solution that encompasses five steps to correct the problems facing the immigration system: Control the border, make English the official language of government, modernize the visa system, modernize the deportation system and create a guest worker program

Gingrich added that “self-deportation” is viable for young detached workers but will not work for people with long ties in the U.S. He added that those who came to the U.S. illegaly should be given a path to residency, but not citizenship.

When GOP candidate Mitt Romney spoke about “self-deportation” in Florida earlier this week, Gingrich called it an“Obama-level fantasy.” “Self-deportation” is really just another way to describe “attrition through enforcement.”

Gingrich told participants that “we need to create millions of jobs” so all Americans are working, including Hispanics. ”We continue to neglect this hemisphere,” Gingrich said, adding that to the people of Latin America, he says, “We want you to live under the rule of law” and have access to private property and prosperity.

Gingrich said he is prepared to accept Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s words that he is an enemy of the U.S., adding that Iran and Venezuela look to harm the U.S., and if Gingrich is elected he will “take an aggressive non-military strategy to replace Chávez.”

According to Gingrich, President Obama has ignored the South while he “would like a Cuban spring,” adding that when Fidel Castro dies there will not be a “transition to dictatorship,” but a transition to democracy.

He also said it is necessary to support Mexico in its war against drug cartels, calling Plan Colombia, that he “helped pass,” a success.

Gingrich also said that if he is elected and the people of Puerto Rico vote for statehood, he will work to speed up that process.

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