Fabiola Santiago

Who holds the title for the biggest screw-up on Cuba issues? Hint: It’s not a Democrat

De Blasio apologizes for quoting Che Guevara at Miami International Airport

As Democrats furiously fend off Republican attacks that they’ve embraced socialism, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio quoted Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara Thursday during a Miami airport union rally.
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As Democrats furiously fend off Republican attacks that they’ve embraced socialism, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio quoted Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara Thursday during a Miami airport union rally.

If Miami Republicans who took to Twitter with righteous indignation during the Democratic debates want to play the game of who holds the title for the biggest screw-up on Cuba talk, deal me in.

It’s not clueless lefty New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio quoting a Che Guevara line off the cuff as he ended an appearance Thursday before striking Miami International Airport workers.

¡Hasta la victoria siempre!” de Blasio said to workers who included Cuban Americans, using the most famous line attributed to the murderous guerrilla fighter.

The motto, seen in Cuba on billboards for most of the last 60 years, translates to “onward to victory, always.”

Bad as this was, the bigger gaffe belongs to Republican Mitt Romney.

“Hugo Chávez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase — ‘Patria o muerte, venceremos.’ It does not belong to him. It belongs to a free Cuba,” the Massachusetts governor said on March 9, 2007, to a crowd of anti-Castro Republicans gathered for a Miami-Dade Lincoln Day Dinner.

Guess to whom that “inspiring” phrase belongs?

To none other than dictator Fidel Castro, a Cuban who betrayed all of Cuba — responsible for six decades of crimes against his people — and a worse character than the mercenary Argentine Guevara.

“Homeland or death — we will overcome” is the most famous rallying cry for socialism and communism in Cuba. It is all over the place on billboards, on walls, too.

Out of Romney’s mouth, it’s the loudest scratch you’ve ever heard on a blackboard. But it didn’t stop the entire cadre of Miami Republicans from supporting his 2012 presidential campaign, standing alongside him at podiums during Miami stops and applauding him through other major gaffes.

Mitt Romney at a rally in Miami during his campaign for the presidency in 2012. CARL JUSTE MIAMI HERALD STAFF

What can I say that I haven’t pounded on before to deaf ears?

Being ignorant about Cuban history and the island’s modern day reality and complexities — as well as the rest of Latin America — is a trademark of being an American from both parties.

They don’t see us. They don’t know us.

Cuba, 90 miles from the Florida peninsula, is the lesson America never learns.

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The roar of new disbelief, anger, and new hurt in Miami, home to the families of Guevara’s victims, over de Blasio’s comments overshadowed just about everything else for the rest of the day — and with good reason.

It’s not only, as news reports cast it, that Cuban exiles call Guevara a mass murderer.

It’s a historical fact that he was one.

After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Guevara led mass executions of Cubans who had supported the previous regime. Not only were people sent before a firing squad without a proper trial, but the practice of executing political opponents established by Guevara and Fidel Castro became ingrained into Cuba’s idea of justice. And executions extended to lesser crimes than treason as we saw in 2003 when three ordinary Cubans who hijacked a ferry in Havana to flee the country were executed. This, long after Guevara departed to wage his guerrilla warfare in Bolivia, where he was executed himself in 1967 by the Bolivian military.

Had he lived, Guevara might have stood trial for crimes against humanity, just like Castro should have. That the ignorant — and merchants trying to make a buck off Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s beret-wearing image — have turned him into a pop culture icon is revolting.

So, can we put the myth to rest, Americans?

By evoking a human rights violator — even unknowingly as de Blasio claimed when he immediately issued an apology — he handed Miami’s Republicans what they were eagerly awaiting throughout the Democratic debates and didn’t get, the misstep on Cuba issues.

The Republican mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade County, Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — and a cast of GOP operatives standing at the ready — pounded on the gaffe all day as if de Blasio hadn’t apologized and most of Miami’s elected Democrats and party leaders hadn’t immediately taken to Twitter and demanded he do so.

They can’t claim a higher moral ground when Mitt Romney committed a worse political sin putting on display his and his staff’s ignorance about Cuba and Venezuela — and still retained the Miami Republicans’ wholehearted support to become the GOP nominee for president in 2012.

De Blasio, whose eccentricities include a honeymoon in Cuba, has no shot at becoming the Democratic nominee. But his “hasta la victoria siempre” comment is the top trending story in Miami out of two days of debates.

Why does this all matter besides it being an issue of basic human decency that we don’t offend victims of dictatorships?

Because Democratic presidential candidates need to overcome the local GOP’s constant pounding about the socialism boogieman if we want to get rid of our own strongman, President Donald Trump, who has no concern for the rule of law or the separation of powers in this democracy.

With Democrats like Bill de Blasio we’ll have Trump for another four years.

What Democrats say about Cuba and Venezuela matters if they want to win Florida.

They didn’t address the topics during these first debates, which focused on pressing national issues. The moderators didn’t ask about Cuba or Venezuela — and the candidates didn’t bring it up themselves.

But they ignore these issues at their peril.

At stake is Miami’s powerful Cuban-American vote.

Democratic presidential candidates attend the first primary debate for the 2020 elections at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

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.”