“If only they had waited a few more years! Oh well, nobody pays any attention to dates anyway so we’ll just wing it!”
All three Cuban-American members of the U.S. Senate – Robert Menéndez, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz – wish they could say truthfully that their parents “fled Castro’s Cuba”. The embarrassing reality is that their parents left Cuba while General Fulgencio Batista was running the country after the 1952 coup that overthrew an elected government and canceled an election in which Fidel Castro was running for office.
Menéndez continues to make it seem like his parents “fled communism for freedom in the United States” after the Revolution ousted Batista on January 1, 1959. He cemented this version of reality when he was running to retain his appointment as the Democratic senator from New Jersey in 2006. For instance, he told The New York Times, “To me, it was always, ‘Wow, what instigated my parents to risk it all and start all over again?’ ” “It’s called freedom,” he said. The Times and other media did not bother to mention that he was born in New York in 1954.
Menéndez rests assured that he can repeat his refrain and that most Americans, acculturated as they are, will not ask “When?” because they assume what has been implanted in their minds:
- Flees Castro
- Flees Castro’s Cuba
- Escapes the Castros
- Escapes Cuba’s communist government
- Flees communism for freedom on our shores.
His parents become the oppressed victims of “Castro’s Revolution” and Menéndez takes on the mantle of a son of immigrants who found freedom in the United States that he is defending against the villainous Castro his parents fled.
For decades he has profited politically from that identity, raising prodigious campaign funds among wealthy right-wing Cuban-Americans in both New Jersey and Florida. Now this Cuban-American hawk oversees U.S. policy toward Cuba from his perch as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
When Marco Rubio won a Senate seat in 2010, he had become so used to his virtual reality that he posted the story of his parents’ flight in his Senate biography: “In 1971, Marco was born in Miami to Cuban-born parents who came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover.” But in October 2011, the St. Petersburg Times and The Washington Post exposed the fact that his parents arrived in the United States in 1956.
But, like Menéndez, Rubio has learned that dates don’t matter. On October 30, 2011, only a few days after his mendacity was revealed, a New York Times editorial identified him as “the son of Cuban immigrants” and that says it all to the generic American reader conditioned to fill in the blanks with the story implanted in their daily lives.
At a Senate hearing on April 3, the subject of Alan Gross, who is imprisoned in Cuba, came up, and The New York Times reported, “’We have a number of efforts under way, which I would be happy to talk to you about privately,’ [Secretary of State] Kerry said in response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose parents were Cuban immigrants.”
This identity as the son of “Cuban immigrants” automatically informs the readers of the Times that Rubio is someone who merits the award of a “private” consultation when it comes to Cuban affairs. Who could doubt that this son of Cuban immigrants has special knowledge to back up his opinion (shared by Menéndez) that Alan Gross should not be exchanged for the three members of the Cuban Five who continue to be imprisoned in the United States? After all, this identity has propelled him into the position of being a possible candidate for president.
The situation of Ted Cruz, another possible presidential candidate, differs from that of Menéndez and Rubio. In 2011, as Cruz was campaigning in Texas for the U.S. Senate, he and his father Rafael both described how Rafael fought against Batista, was imprisoned and tortured, and then fled to Austin, Texas, in 1957 at age 17.
In the same month that Rubio’s official lie about his parents’ flight was exposed, The Dallas Morning News published an article by Robert T. Garrett entitled “Ted Cruz says he hasn’t misled about his father’s exodus from Cuba”. Garrett reports that Cruz mentions the date of his father’s departure from Cuba but without offering “any clues that his father was a pre-Castro exile.”
It’s another instance where dates don’t matter to the audience. Garrett quotes Cruz: “My dad fled Cuba. He was imprisoned and tortured as a teenager, and came to Austin penniless, seeking freedom. The reason I’m running [for Senate] is simple. He fled oppression once. And you have my word that I’ll fight every day to protect freedom here, so that none of us have to flee oppression a second time.”
Somehow the audience has been transformed into a people oppressed by Cuba and Cruz has become their savior. Garrett reports that Cruz was introduced to 3,000 Christian conservatives as a man whose father ‘escaped Fidel Castro’ while a Houston Chronicle blog described him as “a Cuban American whose family escaped from Castro tyranny.”
Ted Cruz won that Senate seat in 2012. An April 19-20, 2014, Wall Street Journal timeline of his life begins: “1957: Rafael Cruz flees from Cuba to Texas.” Again, the date doesn’t matter. The Journal reader understands only “flees from Cuba”.
Identity as the son of “Cuban immigrants” is a mantra bestowing stardom on all three of these victims of “Castro’s Cuba” even though their parents were leaving Batista’s Cuba while Castro was leading a revolution against the very oppression those parents were experiencing.
From their cozy nests in the Senate Office Building of Washington, D.C., these hawks oppose any improvement in relations with Cuba. One of them might even leave that perch for one in the White House someday.
Jane Franklin is the author of Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History. Some of her work is available at http://www.janefranklin.info