Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to the Hispanic Leadership Network in Miami on Friday. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

MIAMI – Mitt Romney forcefully reached out to Hispanic Republicans here Friday, saying he would champion political and economic freedom in Cuba and throughout Latin America.

Trying to woo Florida’s influential bloc of Cuban American and other Hispanic Republican voters days before the state’s critical primary, Romney promoted his immigration and foreign policy agenda. He used particularly tough language to describe his stance against Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

“There is a time coming soon where Cuba will be free. That’s gonna happen,” Romney said. “But we’re gonna have to get organized for it. We’re gonna have to recognize that people there want freedom, as people do all over the world, and America can’t sit back.” He drew a loud, standing ovation from a crowd of several hundred at the Hispanic Leadership Network’s conference in Miami.

Romney accused President Obama of standing idly by through the Arab Spring last year and said: “I will not only say something when Fidel Castro finally leaves this earth. I will do something. I will be behind the voices of freedom here and the voices of freedom there. We will help Cuba become free.”

If elected president, Romney said he would appoint an envoy responsible for democracy and freedom in Latin America, who would measure progress of each nation reaching toward freedom and help keep nations from “falling in line behind Chavez and Castro.”

Romney and his surrogates here tried to soften his image before Hispanic voters after some of his debate comments last fall – and critiques from his opponents, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich – presented him as a hard-liner.

Former senator Norm Coleman introduced the former Massachusetts governor by calling him, “Mi amigo, Mitt Romney.” Romney came on stage with his wife, Ann, and their youngest of five sons, Craig, who spent several years in Chile and speaks Spanish.

“Muchas gracias, papa,” Craig said as he briefly stood at the lectern. He went on to say that his father would be “presidente excelente.” And then Craig held up his young son, Parker, who told the amused crowd: “Hola.”

“I want to protect legal immigration,” Mitt Romney said. “I would like to expand legal immigration. … We are not anti-immigrant. We are not anti-immigration. We are the pro-immigration, pro-legality, pro-citizenship nation and party.”

In his roughly 20-minute speech, Romney did not mention Gingrich at all, even though the former speaker had addressed the same audience less than an hour beforehand. But in her remarks, Romney’s wife, Ann, seemed to draw a subtle contrast with Gingrich, going further and speaking with more urgency than she usually does on the stump.

“What needs to be done needs to be done by someone that knows how to do it,” Ann Romney said. “You can’t have someone turn something around if they’ve never turned around anything before. You can’t have someone run an organization if they’ve never run an organization before. We tried that the last time with someone that didn’t have any experience, and how is that working?”