Fabiola Santiago

Marco Rubio was elected on the ‘identity politics’ he now rejects in defense of Trump

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio hits Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro hard in statement

While the United Nations Security Council debates the world's response to Venezuela's leadership crisis, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio hit Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro hard in a video statement, calling him a dictator.
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While the United Nations Security Council debates the world's response to Venezuela's leadership crisis, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio hit Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro hard in a video statement, calling him a dictator.

“The politics of ethnic & racial grievance are both poisonous.” — Senator Marco Rubio on Twitter.

So often, from his perch on Capitol Hill, Sen. Marco Rubio forgets where he comes from — and how he rose to power on the shirttails of a generation of Cuban Americans who had to fight against rampant discrimination using the only tool they had: pride in their ethnic identity.

“Cubans, Go Home.”

“The KKK likes Cubans if they’re in Cuba.”

“Will the last American to leave Miami, please bring the flag.”

All of these crass epithets were hurled at Cuban Americans during protests over arriving boatloads of refugees in the 1980s and the latter was a popular bumper sticker seen on cars all over town. But the same idea — that Miami would be a better place if we Cubans and Haitians, too, would go back to where we came from — also was espoused in veiled mainstream forms from the halls of power of this town.

From business boardrooms to the news and editorial pages of the two major local newspapers, Miamians fretted over Cubans “taking over” much in the same way that President Donald Trump is now constantly pushing the false narrative that immigrants are bad for America. We were accused of not being American enough, as Trump has done in serial racist tweets against minority women elected to Congress, and told to speak English or “go back” to where we came from.

In Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s case, The Bronx.

We heard it all, but back then, the hatred against Cuban Americans worked for us.

From its ashes — and with the help of more immigration, white flight, and unstoppable demographic changes — rose an army of Cuban Americans who became citizens with votes and were courted with an effective political campaign that gave rise to the most powerful small minority in the United States, one capable of electing a U.S. president.

The campaign’s motto — pounded on powerful Cuban radio and in television ads and appearances: Cubano vota cubano.

Vote Cuban.

The uproar from the Anglo establishment led to community conversations and censures of the tactic. Both the tactic and the uproar were of tremendous help to the Republican Party.

With the election of Cuban Americans who held against the Democratic Party President John F. Kennedy’s abandonment of the Bay of Pigs invasion, Miami became a Republican bastion.

Democrats engage in “poisonous” grievances and identity politics, Rubio charges to deflect from the racist behavior of President Trump toward four congresswomen of color, the real issue on the table.

How hypocritical of you.

Playing the ethnic card is only worthy of condemnation for Rubio when the grievances come from progressive minority women new to Congress and making a name for themselves by championing the causes of the low-income, the banned from this country, the uninsured.

Your pontificating words are see-through, an attempt to throw shade to a president who lacks basic human decency and to the Republican Party and voter base that enables him.

The GOP has never given up its golden goose of votes and the formula: Cater to Cubans — play the anti-Communist, anti-Castro card — and thou shall win.

You might not hear it said out loud — “Vote Cuban” — not publicly, anyway, but the same sentiment runs through political campaigns in modern Miami-Dade.

And the ultimate players of that political game are Rubio and his GOP sidekick, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who voted against a resolution passed by the House to condemn Trump’s revolting, offensive tweets. Diaz-Balart was the only holdout from the South Florida delegation. The vote was largely partisan with only four House Republicans joining the Democrats.

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Identity politics is their main game.

And by proxy, it’s a crucial part of the formula that gave Florida Rick Scott as senator and Ron DeSantis as governor.

Cuban ethnic politics is what keeps the GOP machine in Miami-Dade working to perfection, electing mostly Republican men who go from city hall to county hall to the state House and Senate, and onward to Congress.

If you don’t vote for us, Florida, the United States, and fill-in-the-blanks, will become another Venezuela!

No one personifies ethnic politics, nobody uses it as an election prop, better than Rubio.

The only time he toned down the Cuban politicking was to run for president in the GOP primary, uselessly pandering to the white nationalists Trump had in his pocket from Day One with his first anti-immigrant rant against Mexicans.

You could say he got what was coming to him when a nationalist PAC urged voters in a robocall in key states: “Don’t vote Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump.”

When the political history of Cuban Americans in Miami is written, the alliance of Rubio and Diaz-Balart with despotic Trump will be one of the ugliest chapters.

If anyone in this town was elected on the “identity politics” he now rejects in defense of Trump’s racism, it is Marco Rubio.

From West Miami wonder boy to Trump apologist tool.

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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.”
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