Marco Rubio

While Miami burns... Obama and Cuban-American politics


In this year's election, half of Cuban-Americans who are eligible to vote either came from Cuba after 1994 or grew up in the United States. Unfortunately, the White House is passing up the opportunity to hold a rational discussion of Washington’s policy towards Cuba.  

A Cuban-American anti-embargo activist. Flickr/ Some rights reserved.A Cuban-American anti-embargo activist. Flickr/ Some rights reserved.

US policy towards Latin America has paid a substantial price for President Obama’s kowtowing to the Miami hard-right wing. For example, Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organization of the Americas (OAS), and there is a chance that no Summit of the Americas will happen in 2015 unless the United States changes its position on Cuba’s participation. Several countries in the Americas, from Nicaragua to Ecuador, spent years without a US ambassador due to Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) obstructionist caprice.

After Tampa: US Hispanics and the GOP.


Governor Mitt Romney's decision to choose Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate has two implications for the Republican Party's image among Latino voters: 1) After a Republican primary in which the candidates did everything imaginable to burn bridges with the Latino electorate, Romney, who even said the solution for more than twelve million undocumented immigrants is that they "deport themselves", decided not to repair relationships by choosing a Latino candidate for vice president. 2) Congressman Paul Ryan is one of the most consistent Republican legislators voting against the US embargo on Cuba since he arrived in the House of Representatives.

It is not that Romney did not want a Latino on his ticket; it is rather that his options were risky. The Latino electorate is sophisticated enough to not be led into the Republican camp only by a surname. Neither Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who never honored his pledge to present a bill that would provide a path to legalization for undocumented children, nor the governor of New Mexico Susana Martinez, a model of a successful conservative Latina with a more flexible approach to immigration, were tested candidates. Martinez is in her first term in New Mexico. Rubio is good at smiling but has several burning credit cards scandals and a family narrative that changes at every minute.

Meeting dissidents should not be a litmus test for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba (A response to the March 19 Washington Post Editorial).

As the visit of Benedict XVI draws nearer, Cuba's internal opposition is stepping up its activities in an effort to use his presence on the island as a sounding board. The Ladies in White, a group of mothers and wives of dissidents who were given long prison sentences in 2003, have eased up some since all of their relatives were released as a result of mediation by Cardinal Ortega. Now they are asking for a meeting with the Pope. In 2010, the Cardinal also managed to secure eight city blocks for them to hold their Sunday marches after mass at the Santa Rita Church in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar. On Sunday March 18, the group, which has never managed to fill the ceded space, pushed further, and were detained by the government only to be released several hours later.

Don’t get me wrong. In the Cuba I dream of, without an American embargo and with representative democracy, opposition forces would have the right to demonstrate peacefully. But that is not the issue here. The gradual recovery of social spaces has been central to the Catholic Church's strategic adaptation to the post-revolutionary system. Unlike the political opposition calling for the government’s acceptance of a disorganized partisan pluralism that has no relevance on the street, the Church gradually recovers social spaces and then negotiates government recognition. The Cuban Bishops demanded the right to parade the Virgin of Charity through the towns of Cuba after parishes overflowed with worshipers, not before.

Respect for democracy begins at home

Article 1 of the United States Constitution recognizes Congress as the first branch of US democracy, with the executive and judiciary following behind. Bicameralism was a central concept of the 1787 constitutional pact. It was seen as a republican “remedy” against potential abuses of legislative despotism. If the House was conceived to express the direct mood of the people, James Madison envisioned the Senate as a high chamber of “enlightened individuals” that would operate with “more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch”.

But a conspicuous gap has emerged between the founders’ design and the reality of some of today’s Senators. Poll after poll shows that the public holds Congress in low esteem. In the view of many Americans, some Senators not only reflect a polarized public but also contribute to making the system dysfunctional by abusing procedures, such as the unanimous consent rule, in pursuit of personal or parochial gains or to settle personal vendettas, rather than to defend national interests.

The Cuban community's representation in US politics has been remarkable over the last decade. No place is this more evident than in the Senate. Although the 1.8 million Cubans living in the US only represent 4 % of the Hispanics and less than 0.6 % of the US general population, they have managed to elect three Senators since 2004. The first was Mel Martinez, a moderate republican from Tampa who served as HUD secretary during the first term of George W. Bush. Second was Robert Menendez, a congressman from New Jersey who was appointed by the state governor and successfully ran for reelection in 2006. After Martinez’s retirement in 2010, Florida elected Marco Rubio, a former speaker of the state House.

Rubio-Gate Touches Nerves on Both Sides

Writing in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Steven Kurlander comes to Senator Marco Rubio’s defense, accusing The Washington Post of publishing a hatchet piece against the senator who has merely confused the “circumstances and timing of his parent's flight from communist Cuba.” 

“No one really cares how or when his parents got here,” Kurlander writes. Only, that just isn’t so, and Kurlander proves it by making his case with this opener:

“I am the child of a refugee, a Holocaust survivor's son.” 

And then with this:

“Maybe because I am the son of a Holocaust survivor, I understand the confusion Sen. Rubio may have surrounding his parent's story . . .  it may be just that his parents did not really talk much about their flight to Florida at all.

Rubio is instead the latest victim of a debilitating ethos of character assassination rampant in our press and blogosphere that wrongfully dissects a politician's rendition of his personal history, taking facts out of context to destroy his or her credibility. From a child of the Holocaust's perspective, this assault on Rubio's story was totally unfair.”

Kurlander returns to this, his own personal narrative, throughout the op-ed, because apparently it gives him authority on the matter.  No, really, it does.  Our personal narratives help each of us relate to those around us and in turn for others to relate to us.  And these narratives especially help us relate to public figures whom we haven’t even met but who ask us for our trust.  The more we identify ourselves within the framework of our chosen narrative, the more we need to preserve it.  These narratives are frameworks we construct based on our experiences (real or perceived), what we want to be, and to what we think others will relate.  Kurlander surely knows that his “son of a Holocaust survivor” narrative will encourage people to listen to him, at least on the subject of suffering.  And, speaking as someone of Jewish heritage (you know I had to do that), it most certainly does get my attention.

Why are revelations about one of the Republican Party’s brightest rising stars necessarily a character assassination?  If memory serves, this is a basic lesson in college level journalism class: public figures put themselves out there- and Rubio has repeatedly put his family's Cuba story out in front (though not always the same version of it), like in his Senate campaign ads, for instance.  Marco Rubio has benefited from repeating this narrative that his parents fled Castro's Cuba.  It’s his badge of honor.  Why else would he utter a statement like this: “Nothing against immigrants, but my parents are exiles.”

The Lies of Senator Rubio, And Why They Matter

Marco Rubio, Parents, Emigration, Exiles

Late Friday afternoon, Senator Marco Rubio revised the biography that appears on his office website.  He had no choice.  Throughout his political career, he has deceived Floridians, adoring Republican audiences and donors, journalists, fellow officeholders and others by claiming that his parents fled the Cuba of Fidel Castro.  This is a lie exposed by hard journalism in the Washington Post.

Every Cuban American knows the precise time and purpose of his family’s departure from Cuba.  The idea that Rubio never knew the facts until this moment – and that no family member ever bothered to correct the error before now –is absurd. While Rubio’s parents, Mario and Oriales, did adopt the anti-Castro position of many exiles who are opposed to the communist course taken by the Cuban revolution, the date of their emigration was not 1959 and the cause of their departure was not the current Cuban government.   They left Cuba in 1956 as exiles from a tyrannical regime; that of Fulgencio Batista Zaldivar, the right-wing dictatorship that Fidel Castro overthrew.

Obama owes Jonathan Farrar a defense.

Jonathan Farrar with the Ladies in White


Edited by Dawn Gable. 

The political battle over the designation of Jonathan Farrar as US ambassador to Nicaragua is a test of whether the Obama Administration lacks any genuine conviction about its foreign policy. Farrar is a professional diplomat with an impeccable thirty years diplomatic career who served a recent term as the Chief of the US Interest Section in Cuba. As a result he became the perfect target of Cuban American hardliners for one, and only one, reason: he implemented Obama’s policy in Havana. Unfortunately for Farrar, the president’s policy is anathema to two Cuban-American Senators: Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio.

The Interests Sections in Havana and Washington are not formal embassies or consulates. Diplomats' movements are restricted and their access to government officials and citizens in both countries is limited. When these entities were created in 1977, under the Carter and Fidel Castro Administrations (Yes, there is a new administration in Havana), they were part of a process of détente and their final purpose was to facilitate negotiations between the two governments and pave the way to a better understanding between the people of Cuba and the United States. This is the source of their legitimacy. They exist with the consent of both governments.

Will Rubio's Cuba Grievances Keep Farrar out of Managua?

With a thirty year career in the Foreign Service, including having served as the Acting Assistant Photo courtesy of: of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and having just completed a 'hardship' post as Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (which doesn't carry the title of Ambassador), Jonathan Farrar might reasonably have expected to now take an ambassador posting, even if the one he got was to another politically-charged post, in Managua,Nicargua. 

Unfortunately for Farrar, Newly-minted Cuban American Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere Subcommittee seems pretty likely to hold up his nomination, despite having never met with Farrar to discuss his grievances before last week's nomination hearing. (You can view Rubio's criticism of Farrar and Farrar's response here.)

Cuba News Roundup: Airports, Party Leadership and Trial of Alan Gross

It figures that just as I get ready to take an extended leave for the next two months (during which I'll be unable to blog here as much as I'd like), U.S.-Cuban affairs would get to their most interesting - and critical - point in some time. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Xenimus86's photostreamIn recent days we've learned that April's Communist Party Congress in Cuba may not just clarify and embrace the ongoing economic overhaul, but now it will include election of new leadership - which offers the prospect that Fidel Castro will step down as party head, Raul Castro will presumably take his place, and someone else will step into the number 2 spot.  Any readers want to take a gander at that one in the comments section?

And then there's what fate awaits Alan Gross, the American contractor the Wall Street Journal editorial board today suggests went on trial in Cuba for "bringing computer equipment to the island to help Cuban Jews communicate with the disapora"?  It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is, even, and especially perhaps, for the media to ignore the parts of reality it cares to.  Gross was allegedly delivering highly advanced and unregulated satellite communications equipment (added emphasis is mine) on behalf of a foreign, and let's face it, hostile, power.  That's a big difference, particularly when we know that droves of American Jews visit the island every year to connect and make generous donations, resulting in community amenities like a computer lab.

The WSJ may in fact be absolutely right that the Cuban government is "terrified of the internet," but questioning the motives behind the application of a law in another country doesn't give you the right to expect that law to be disregarded because you believe your motives to be on a higher order.

Cuban Blogger on Rubio, Menendez and Jeopardizing American Democracy

As our readers no doubt noticed, the Rubio - Menendez amendment intended to curb U.S. travel to Cuba (via restricting the flights that may go there) went nowhere.  And as one Cuban blogger and recent immigrant to the United States, Ernesto Morales Licea, writes at the Huffington Post via Yoani Sanchez: " . . . fortunately, when there is great nonsense there will always be great common sense to contain it. . . . "

I'm not so confident as Morales that good sense always contains the nonsense, but I am heartened to hear what Morales has to say in defense of our great democracy:

"When governments or state officials forget their limits and begin to decide what kind of religion its people should practice, or what television they should watch (in Cuba today they broadcast a nightly program called "The Best of Telesur," where they select, with tweezers, what Cubans should see even within this "friendly" channel), when the government begins to regulate, for example, where its citizens can or cannot travel, the foundations of democracy, by definition, are cracking."

Morales isn't interested in whether Rubio and Menendez's oft-repeated justifications for curtailing the rights of Americans and Cuban Americans to travel freely to Cuba -  to avoid enriching the Cuban government - actually hold water (they don't, he says).  He argues that what makes our democracy pure is that we protect the civil liberties of our citizenry above whatever interests might possibly (or even definitely) be served in exchange.