Fabiola Santiago

Photo with actor Danny Glover, admirer of Fidel and Maduro, backfires on Miami pols

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, actor and activist Danny Glover and U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell attended the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project’s 26th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast held at the Miami Beach Convention Center on Jan. 21, 2019.
U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, actor and activist Danny Glover and U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell attended the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project’s 26th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast held at the Miami Beach Convention Center on Jan. 21, 2019. jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Actor Danny Glover’s political activism resume is as lengthy as his film credits.

In the areas Glover commands — his work against apartheid in South Africa and his strong stands on civil rights in this country, for example — he is admirable.

But when it comes to Cuba and Venezuela, Glover comes across as a clueless caricature, a prisoner to the left-wing politics that worship Latin American dictators who push the narrative that they’re the great liberators of the minority masses.

In reality, Glover’s friends — the late Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, and now, Nicolás Maduro — are oppressors of the worst kind who have destroyed their countries, sent millions into painful exile and are violators of basic human rights like freedom of speech.

The unconditional support of celebrities like Glover fuels these dictators with the political oxygen they need to exist.

We know this in Miami, home to those hundreds of thousands of exiles, right?


You wouldn’t know it by the Miamians — including prominent politicians — going for a photo-op with Glover, a keynote speaker at the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project breakfast on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Given his politics — the Internet is packed with photos of Glover laughing with Castro and Maduro and bear-hugging Chávez, from whom he reportedly took $18 million to finance a film — it’s surprising that he would get such an overwhelmingly warm welcome.

glover cuba.JPG
Actor Danny Glover receives the Cuban government’s Medal of Friendship in 2016.

Granted, Glover has been a longtime supporter of the outstanding scholarship and mentorship program for local at-risk students of color founded by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, and he was its first MLK breakfast speaker in 1996.

This time, Glover’s speech focused on global warming and climate change, certainly a subject we embrace and care about in South Florida. And the story of his rise from government worker to Hollywood star was inspirational to the young people in the audience.

His presence was appropriate for the event and the organization. I’m not taking issue with that.

But ignorance comes with a high price — more so if you’re a politician.

Among the many photos he took at the event, Herald photographer Jose Iglesias captured newly elected U.S. representatives Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala in a smiling pose with Glover. (Many other guests and honorees also took photos with Glover at the organizers’ invitation, including Miami Herald Executive Editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez.)

A Spanish-language radio commentator on Tuesday called the Shalala-Mucarsel-Powell photo “an embrace” — an exaggeration — and took Mucarsel-Powell to task for it, likening it to a Republican having his photo taken with a white supremacist.

Another exaggeration, but the photo is a shocker from two congresswomen working on legislation to keep the Venezuelan regime from obtaining tear gas with which to attack its people and to obtain the precious Temporary Protected Status for fleeing Venezuelans in this country.

But it seems that in the presence of a Hollywood star, we develop amnesia.

“I had no idea — and that is my fault,” Mucarsel-Powell acknowledged on 1040 AM Actualidad Radio. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have taken the photo.”

Maduro and Danny Glover.JPG
Actor Danny Glover at a March 25, 2018, meeting with Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro. @PresidencialVen Via Twitter

Had she known, she added, she would have instead engaged Glover in a conversation on Venezuela, tried to change his mind.

Shalala, on the other hand, wasn’t contrite.

Her district director, Raul Martinez, issued a statement explaining the context of the event, and listing the community leaders from both parties who attended and were being asked to take a photo with Glover.

“This photograph does not mean that Congresswoman Shalala and Mr. Glover share all political positions,” Martinez wrote. “The Congresswoman has been clear, emphatic and categorical in her positions in relation to dictatorial and murderous regimes like those of Cuba and Venezuela.”

And he added this valuable observation to the topic: “Unlike the repressive regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, in the democratic traditions of the United States we cherish the freedoms to vociferously and vocally disagree with our fellow Americans respectfully on matters of ideology and policy while practicing civility and finding common ground on issues that unite us for the common good.”

I can’t argue with that. I wouldn’t dream of returning to the days when intolerance ruled the day in Miami.

But if we’re going to rip Colin Kaepernick (whose right to take a knee I defended) for wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Malcolm X and Fidel Castro and ridicule him on national television, we can surely question Glover for his support, for example, for the five Cuban spies once in our midst. At least one of the spies, after all, carries some responsibility for the Cuban government shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue airplanes in international waters that resulted in the death of four Cuban-Americans.

Likewise, if we’re going to call out restaurateur Salt Bae for feeding Maduro oversized steaks when his people are starving, why not Glover’s endearment with dictators?

The criticism isn’t about ideology or policy, but about right and wrong, about democracy vs. totalitarianism.

“Fidel Castro was a great revolutionary. Learn more about his life & legacy,” Glover tweeted on the occasion of the Cuban leader’s 2016 death.

Last March, Glover visited Nicolás Maduro while the strongman was in the process of destroying the country’s democratic institutions, and Maduro milked it for all the publicity it was worth, publishing on social media and government-controlled outlets propagandistic photos of their chummy times.

We can praise Glover for his support of young people of color in Miami.

But there are big stains on his activist resume.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”