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Pastor Mario Bramnick (right) with Vice President Mike PenceEXPAND
Pastor Mario Bramnick (right) with Vice President Mike Pence
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South Florida Pastor and Trump Ally Courts Latin America's Religious Right

The Trump administration has been a boon to all kinds: con men, comedians, corporate shareholders, nativists, white nationalists, pollsters, pundits, political scientists, and even Vladimir Putin. The list is long. But go down far enough and you're sure to find the name of South Florida Pastor Mario Bramnick.

Bramnick is a right-wing evangelical Christian who believes Donald Trump is anointed by God. His faith and fervent support of the president lifted him from heading a small congregation in Broward County to rubbing elbows with top Trump officials and international leaders in a matter of years.

"I've had the honor of meeting eight heads of state," Bramnick told a crowd during a religious gathering in El Salvador last month. "There's a train of glory that's moving. The church has a power, and we are living in a supernatural time. When we're together, the glory of God descends." 

The event, which also included a speech by Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, was attended by hundreds of Christian pastors hailing from various regions of the Central American nation. Bramnick was present as an envoy for the White House's Faith and Opportunity Initiative, an office created last year by one of Trump's many executive orders. Bramnick's goal as host for the evening was clear: to build support behind moving El Salvador's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the Trump administration did with the U.S. embassy in May of last year.

Bramnick, who did not provide comment for this article, was born in Cuba and studied at the University of Miami. New Wine Ministries, the 300-person congregation he leads in Cooper City, is an self-proclaimed "apostolic and prophetic" church with an emphasis on evangelization. Bramnick is also president of the nonprofit Latino Coalition for Israel and has served stints as a leader of other pro-Israel groups.

An early supporter of Trump's candidacy, Bramnick was steadfast where other Latino religious leaders faltered. In 2016, Bramnick was a chapter director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), which represents more than 40,000 Hispanic evangelical churches. At the time, evangelical leaders such as NHCLC's president, Pastor Samuel Rodriguez Jr., were busy criticizing the president's plans to build a wall on the southern border and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Bramnick didn't share their hesitations and threw his support behind Trump soon after he won the Republican nomination.

Bramnick's pro-Trump advocacy has earned him multiple visits to the White House as well as a spot in the president's faith office. In June, Bramnick was named to the Latino advisory board for Trump's 2020 campaign.

Evangelical support for Trump, which was key to his 2016 election victory, remains overwhelming, befuddling many who wonder how a known con man, adulterer, bigot, and credibly accused sexual harasser can still draw the backing of those who claim to value the teachings of Jesus and the Bible. Bramnick provides a key to the mystery.

The July gathering in El Salvador wasn't Bramnick's first time meeting Bukele — the two had first gotten in together in April, when Bukele was president-elect — and it was just one of many high-profile events Bramnick had planned for the month. He would go on to visit a caucus of Christian legislators and the Israeli ambassador in Costa Rica. He also swung by Honduras to celebrate once more the decision of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and open a trade mission there.

Details of the extensive travels of Bramnick and others in the White House's faith office over the past year and a-half were brought to light thanks to an investigative collaboration among the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism, Columbia Journalism Investigations, and reporters from 15 other media outlets. Bramnick and his evangelical cohort began their frequent trips to Latin America last year, courting or praising the religious right in countries including Brazil, Honduras, and Guatemala. In 2018, Bramchick met with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, and Brazilian President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro to discuss moving their respective embassies to Jerusalem.

"We deal with governments so closely that the world thinks we are controlling politics, but for us it is spiritual, not political," Bramnick told reporters working with the investigative collaboration. "The Bible says that whoever blesses Israel will be blessed and whoever curses Israel will be cursed, and we read the Bible literally. The Bible says Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and that God gave this land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Only Guatemala has moved its embassy to Jerusalem. Honduras has recognized the city as Israel's capital but reportedly won't move until Israel opens a full embassy in Honduras. El Salvador has not made an official announcement regarding a change on Jerusalem.

In his July speech in El Salvador, Bramnick described Trump, Bukele, and Bolsonaro as modern-day embodiments of Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and freed the Jews there to return to Jerusalem. Cyrus was a pagan, a godless man, but according to the spin of Bramnick and other evangelicals, he still brought about God's plans. For them, Trump is the hammer they can use to nail down Jerusalem as Israel's capital, beat back a more progressive Supreme Court, and limit access to abortion.

Although Bramnick claims his evangelical work and support of Trump are not politically motivated, on Twitter he has openly advocated for the president's policies. He has also voiced support for Florida Republicans such as Marco Rubio, Ron DeSantis, and Rick Scott.

Bramnick's Latino Coalition for Israel, which is registered under the same address as New Wine Ministries, brought in $127,000 in 2017, according to the most recent federal tax filings available. That year, the group spent more than $44,000 on "spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in Israel through evangelizing using written and spoken word through any media available." 

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