Fabiola Santiago

I lived in a socialist-communist regime for 10 years. Andrew Gillum is no socialist

Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, says he opposes the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against the state of Israel and believes in a two-state solution with Palestine.
Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, says he opposes the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against the state of Israel and believes in a two-state solution with Palestine. Getty Images

I don’t need gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis — nor his GOP supporters — to define for me what a socialist is or what “far-left ideology” entails and sounds like.

I wasn’t born into a tidy made-for-Miami political narrative like Republicans Senator Marco Rubio and DeSantis’ running-mate, Jeanette Núñez, did in the 1970s.

I lived inside a socialist-communist regime the first 10 years of my life in Cuba, fled under tremendous duress, and suffered the great losses of exile. And, as a journalist, I’ve spent the last four decades reporting on Cuban affairs, Cuban-Americans, and Latin Americans — none of my accounts ever being flattering to dictatorships.

You can’t bait or fool me with incendiary rhetoric that equates voting for a Democratic candidate as an act against “our freedoms,” as DeSantis, Rubio, and Núñez peddled on Monday at a campaign stop at the Bay of Pigs Museum and Library in Little Havana.

Only an unsophisticated bloke — or a candidate running for office in Florida by trading on a people’s pain for political profit — would call his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, a socialist or say that the Tallahassee mayor is espousing anti-capitalist “far-left ideology.” Or that he’s planning to turn Florida into another Venezuela.


As nasty as the country and swing-state-Florida have turned with the election of Donald Trump and the rise of the Tea Party and the Alt-Right Movement, the United States is still a constitutional democracy. And Gillum’s platform falls well within bipartisan discourse and the spectrum of American politics, which is quite different from that of other countries in the hemisphere.

So stop comparing U.S. elections to those in Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Cuba’s one-party fake ones.

All along the campaign trail, I’ve heard Gillum stand for progressive but pretty mainstream issues: Raising the minimum wage. Expanding Medicaid to insure there’s healthcare for all, not only for those who can afford its prohibitive cost. Increasing the availability of affordable housing. Sustaining a “quality public education system where we pay our teachers what they are worth.” Prioritizing clean drinking water over the corporate profits of polluters and taking care of the environmental disaster plaguing Florida waterways as a result of “derelict policies” of the last eight years of Republican deregulation and neglect.

It doesn’t get any more classic Americana than that.

I don’t know a single voter who doesn’t want/need to earn more money to deal with the rising costs of everything, especially housing. Or anyone who wants to be bankrupted by illness. Or anyone who doesn’t know that teachers — the single most influential force on our kids outside the home — are overworked and underpaid. I don’t know anyone who wants to drink dirty water or bathe in stinky, contaminated oceans.

I’ve listened very carefully to everything Gillum has said — and I have yet to find the so-called socialist, or as President Trump labeled him, “a failed socialist,” to give lightweight DeSantis, one of his enablers in Congress, a boost.

Gillum has rejected the socialist label — not that this has assuaged GOP diehards who want to see him lose the election (that’s the goal; the method to them doesn’t matter). But I hope independents and moderate Republicans see DeSantis for what he is: a man who launches a campaign against an African-American opponent using dog-whistle language and McCarthyist labels. That’s the currency of a candidate who’s not very eloquent on issues. He could do the harm to Florida that Trump has done to the nation.

Republicans would do well to mind their own candidate, who supports and is supported by a president who does exhibit some of the hallmarks of a third-world strongman when he attacks basic American values and freedoms like an independent press and the right to protest, and pressures the Justice Department and the FBI to prosecute political opponents.

There’s only one place where I’ve lived under that type of leadership before: Cuba. And we’re all seeing similar scenarios play out, too, in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Andrew Gillum is not a socialist.

To hear DeSantis and his supporters brand him as one is not only a lie, but an insult to people like me who suffered under real socialism, not the one in the imagination of the American alt-right.

Follow Santiago on Twitter, @fabiolasantiago