Cuban politician, anti-Castro activist dies in Miami at 89

Antonio “Tony” Santiago
Antonio “Tony” Santiago
Courtesy of the Santiago family

Antonio “Tony” Santiago Ruiz, one of Havana’s youngest commissioner and a close friend and adviser to one of Cuba’s most popular presidents, Carlos Prio Socarrás, died on Monday in Miami during a surgical procedure. He was 89.

Santiago, a frequent guest on Oscar Haza’s former show A Mano Limpia, is the latest member of Cuba’s famed Partido Auténtico to die in recent years. The party made history in pre-Fidel Castro Cuba for crafting the island’s 1940 Constitution, considered a progressive piece of legislation.

Raised in a political family, Santiago entered politics in the mid-1940s as a law student at the University of Havana. He quickly became a leading activist battling the regime of Fulgencio Batista during his first presidency. Another student leader at the university at the same time was a young Castro.

Santiago gained respect in political circles and when Prio was elected president, Santiago became a member of his inner circle. When Batista overthrew Prio’s government in 1952, Santiago refused to sign a pledge declaring Batista Cuba’s true president and had to go into exile in Mexico and later Miami where he was involved in exile efforts to return constitutional rule to Cuba.

In 1959, Castro revolutionary forces overthrew Batista and Santiago returned to the island. He was offered, but refused, a position in Castro’s government. Relatives say Santiago feared Castro was a Marxist.

By 1960, Santiago and his family fled Cuba and went into exile in Miami, where Santiago took part in efforts to overthrow Castro. In 1980, he moved to Costa Rica where he continued his anti- Castro efforts along with other Cuban exiles.

There, he became a friend and adviser on Caribbean issues to Costa Rican President Luis Albero Monge, who named him honorary consul general to Miami. Santiago retired in the 1990s but continued to speak out against Castro’s regime most notably on talk shows like Haza’s. He recently fell and broke a femur and died during surgery to repair the injury.

Santiago is survived by his daughter, Elsa Fresco, and sister, Gisela Santiago, many nephews, nieces and grandchildren.

Burial will be at noon Friday at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Cemetery, 3260 SW Eighth St.

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