Fabiola Santiago

In supporting Trump, proud Bay of Pigs vets drag themselves into an unworthy battle

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump visits Bay of Pigs museum and addresses Brigade 2506, veterans of the Cuban battle, on Tuesday.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump visits Bay of Pigs museum and addresses Brigade 2506, veterans of the Cuban battle, on Tuesday. adiaz@miamiherald.com

In a desperate, last-minute bid to court Miami’s influential Cuban-American voters, Donald Trump made an appearance at the Little Havana headquarters of Brigade 2506, veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

On any day, these octogenarians who risked their lives to rid Cuba of Fidel Castro when they were young offer priceless living history to visitors, academics and journalists at their humble museum packed with memorabilia. Unfortunately, they dragged themselves Tuesday into an unworthy battle — a nasty presidential political campaign where they don’t belong. Certainly not this way, endorsing a celebrity businessman who stands for the kind of authoritarian governance these men fought against. A candidate who has ties to an aggressive Russia, like the one that manhandled Cuba for decades, then left the island in shambles without the benefit of glasnost and perestroika.

As if those weren’t enough reasons to stay out of this race, the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association is casting its support of Trump — a candidate so ill-tempered and unprepared that high-ranking GOP leaders have abandoned him — as something unprecedented but that members felt compelled to do now.

But Brigade members’ involvement in politics is not unprecedented at all.

Perhaps the Brigade as an entity has wisely stayed away from presidential endorsements. But its members have been staples in political circles for decades, campaigning for and supporting anyone who toes the hard line against the Castros — Republicans all, of course. In fact, the association has kicked out Brigade members who didn’t agree with their political views, as if one could erase someone’s participation in a historic event by a vote and decree. Democrat Alfredo Duran, who served in the Jimmy Carter administration, was kicked out for his anti-embargo views.

Yet now, the Brigade endorses Trump, who on two occasions documented by Bloomberg and Newsweek — and most likely in violation of the U.S. embargo — has sent teams to Cuba to research business opportunities.

“I’m humbled by this endorsement from true freedom fighters,” Trump said.

Using injured people who still feel freshly betrayed by President John F. Kennedy — and whose loss of homeland is still very real — is a lot like trotting out employees of National Trump Doral to say nice things because their jobs depend on it.

Both reprehensible — and so Trumpian.

Cheap politicking with the issue of a Cuba shackled by an almost 58-year-dictatorship never goes away.

This might have been the presidential election for U.S.-Cuba policy — a headliner the last two years — to take its rightful place as a serious foreign-policy issue. But some old political operatives couldn’t let one election cycle go without folkloric color instead of substance, without resorting to the hand-me-down formula of evoking the Bay of Pigs, comparing the Miami Herald to Cuba’s Granma, and seeing a communist in every political opponent.

Here’s a reality check: Donald Trump’s campaign engaged the Bay of Pigs veterans because he’s falling behind in Florida, a must-win state where the Hispanic vote counts, and it’s massively favoring Hillary Clinton, Cuban-Americans included. He needs every single Cuban vote, but major Cuban-American Republican donors are not only voting for Clinton, they’re raising money for her campaign. And all those politicians the Brigade has supported for decades and who now face re-election too? Missing at the Brigade’s Trump event. Talk about a first.

The Bay of Pigs Association endorsement doesn’t make any sense at all. It rings false, trite, like the cafecito Trump pretended to sip on his last visit to the Versailles counter while the cameras rolled.

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