Fabiola Santiago

These GOP ‘patriots’ attacking free speech forgot they were in the U.S., not Cuba

This is the tale of two acts of repudiation — both of them repulsive assaults on free speech on U.S. soil.

One took place last Tuesday at a United Nations session in New York, where Cuban and Bolivian diplomats sought to silence reports about political prisoners and human rights abuses in Cuba. The diplomats, perfectly normal-looking men and women in suits and ties, shouted, chanted and banged their heads on desks to drown out politically inconvenient evidence that the Cuban government is a rights violator.

If Cuban diplomats behave like brutes with the world’s eyes on them, imagine how they treat dissidence at home.

Rightly so, many in Miami harshly criticized the diplomats, but, surprise!

The next day Cuban-American Republicans — in an act organized by the Miami-Dade GOP and its chairman, Nelson Diaz — staged their own acto de repudio against Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi. It was election-time thuggery no doubt emboldened by President Donald Trump’s own rowdy and undignified behavior, with a Miami twist.

“Let’s give Nancy Pelosi a Miami Style GO HOME reception!” urged an invitation to the event on Facebook by a Republican group calling themselves “patriots.”

Their frenzied display of hatred toward Pelosi and Democrats in attendance was far from a civil protest. What was captured on video was nothing less than a scary mob scene banging on a door, yelling obscenities, accosting, and trying to keep people from entering the Coral Gables campaign event of Democratic congressional candidates Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. The women are running against GOP newbie Maria Elvira Salazar and incumbent Carlos Curbelo, respectively, in two key districts.

Wearing red MAGA hats and sporting “DeSantis for governor” and “Scott Country” signs, the protesters wanted to silence Pelosi’s message on issues voters need to assess as they go to the polls. Chief among them are Republican attempts to all but repeal Obamacare, a big issue for both of these districts with high enrollment in the program, and to make cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to deal with the deficit they sent soaring with their tax cut to the wealthy.

If Democrats take back the House, the Republican leadership can’t pass those cuts. If Republicans remain dominant, say goodbye to long-standing safety nets for retirement.

Big stuff, right?

But none of those issues was what brought out the angry mob.

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Pro-Trump demonstrators gathered Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, outside a GOTV canvass launch in Coral Gables in protest against House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Donna Shalala, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and a planned appearance from California lawmaker Barbara Lee, who has drawn scorn from the Cuban-American community for her support of the island nation’s late dictator Fidel Castro. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com

It was an announcement by Salazar during a Spanish-language debate that Pelosi planned to bring to the event California Rep. Barbara Lee, who visits Cuba frequently, praised Fidel Castro at the time of his death, and said we should all mourn him. It was the perfect bait to fuel high emotions in a close race — and the Democrats should’ve known better than to invite Lee. (I was told it was Pelosi’s idea, and yes, she’s clueless about Cuba but on point when it comes to health and welfare issues, which are what affect voters.)

Lee never came to Miami, but even if she had, she’s a U.S. citizen and has her right to her opinion, however wrong and distasteful some of us might find it. Aggression has no place in this country as a method to silence a point of view. That’s why the disgusting racist hate group, Proud Boys, which participated in the attack against Pelosi, is allowed to exist.

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Under scorn for copying the methods of repudiation used in Cuba, Diaz has apologized, saying “emotions got the best of me” and citing his family’s flight from Cuba. But in the same breath he tries to justify his actions by alluding to past Democratic misbehavior. As the old adage goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Diaz doesn’t get it — and many of his fellow Cuban Americans don’t either.

That’s why we come to the free speech topic again and again in Miami.

And I don’t get tired of repeating it: Miami isn’t an island that belongs to one group of people who get to decide what’s acceptable political speech and what’s not, who can perform or show art in the city and who can’t. You have the right to protest, but you don’t have the right to keep people away or to trespass into their private space to harass them.

Violent actos de repudio are par for the course in Cuba, where pro-government mobs have a long history of accosting Cubans leaving the country, Ladies in White marching peacefully, and any neighbor who dares to be openly anti-Castro.

The GOP ‘patriots’ attacking free speech in Miami forgot they were in the United States, not Cuba.

Follow Fabiola Santiago on Twitter, @fabiolasantiago

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