Enrique Ros, the father of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, lived the history of the clandestine resistance against Fidel Castro in the early 1960s that he recounted in the 19 books he authored.
At a time when Fidel Castro was sending hundreds of opponents to the firing squads, Ros was the on-island coordinators of the Christian Democratic Movement, one of the underground groups fighting to topple Castro.
“Enrique not only was a great historian. He was a man who made history,” said Pedro Roig, a long time friend of Ros, who died late Wednesday from respiratory complications at South Miami Hospital at the age of 89.
“My Dad was and will always be the wind beneath my wings. His passing leaves in us a loss that is eternal and deep,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. He was “the foundation of us all, and the one person who kept us grounded and confident.”
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Born Enrique Emilio Ros y Perez in Cienfuegos, Cuba, Ros was one of the leaders of the risky struggle against Castro in 1959 and 1960. The Christian Democratic Movement was part of the Democratic Revolutionary Movement, a broad anti-Castro coalition.
He had to escape to Miami and continued his activism from exile. Roig, a former director of Radio/TV Martí, said Ros was one of the militants who received him in Miami when Roig had to flee the island in 1960 because of his own anti-Castro activities.
Ros chronicled that early period of the resistance against Castro in many of his books. He had been working on his 20th book, on Cuban independence hero Antonio Maceo, when he passed away.
“Enrique was an excellent scholar and an outstanding human being,” said fellow historian Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami.
Roig, who also wrote a Cuba history book, recalled that Ros had access to key sources on the history of Cuba, from fellow militants in the fight against Castro to the Library of Congress. Ros also hosted a 1980s show on Radio Marti, a U.S. government station that broadcasts in Cuba.
Ros also was “the mentor for the political life of his daughter, who felt a profound devotion for her father,” Roig added. “He was the determining factor in setting the direction of her political life.”
Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged the support and guidance of her father, known to the family as Abu Kiki, in her statement. The nickname is Arabic for the father of Kiki, referring to his son Enrique “Henry” Ros.
“Today I can look at my life and the lives of my brother Henry and my dad’s adult grandchildren with joy and fulfillment. And I can do that because Abu Kiki worked hard to instill in us ageless ideals of fairness and doing always what was right,” she declared.
Ros was married for 65 years to Amanda Adato, the Cuban-born daughter of Jewish immigrants from Turkey who converted to Catholicism to marry Ros, but taught their two children to be proud of their Jewish heritage. In Miami, the couple founded and ran a successful freight forwarding business, Ros Forwarding.
Adato died in 2011 but lived long enough to see her daughter become the first Cuban-American and the first Hispanic woman elected to the U.S. Congress, in 1989. Ros-Lehtinen, a hardliner on Castro but ranked as an overall centrist by the National Journal, later rose to one of the most powerful positions in Congress: chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Condolences poured in from friends and colleagues.
“Our prayers are with Ileana Ros and her family with the passing of her dad, Enrique. He was a fine man!" former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a Twitter statement.
Former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fl., said Ros’ left behind “a legacy of supreme integrity and profound love of family, justice, freedom, truth, history, and for Cuba.
Miami political activist and CNN contributor Ana Navarro, a friend of Ros-Lehtinen, said her father “was his daughter’s biggest booster. Supported & encouraged her at every step. A good & decent man.”
Said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, in a statement: “For decades, Enrique Ros was one of the great intellectual forces of the Cuban exile community. He was a passionate defender of human rights, an advocate for the Cuban people’s freedom, and a true believer in the exceptional nation that welcomed him and his family and gave them a second chance at a better life.
“I was fortunate to get to know Enrique over the years and will forever be inspired by his civic involvement and love for America and the nation he left behind. He will be missed, but his legacy will live on through his family and through the countless people he inspired to serve this country and the cause of liberty in Cuba.”
Ros is survived by his two children and grandchildren Patricia and Rodrigo Lehtinen, Katherine Palacio and Jennifer Ros, as we as Douglas Lehtinen and Katharine Lehtinen and five great grandchildren.
Services will be Friday, April 12th from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00p.m. at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn on 8200 Bird Road. Memorial mass will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at Saint Agatha Catholic Church.
The family requested that in lieu of flowers donations in the name of Enrique Ros be made to the southeast Florida chapter of the Alzheimer Association, P.O. Box 22594, West Palm Beach, 33416.