Why Senator Rubio's Lies Matter

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio waves to supporters as his wife Jeanette joins him on stage, after he announced that he will be runn
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio waves to supporters as his wife Jeanette joins him on stage, after he announced that he will be running for the Republican presidential nomination, during a rally at the Freedom Tower, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

"Grounded by the lessons of history" -- according to his own words -- Senator Marco Rubio announced his campaign for the presidency of the United States. Since the senator has established history as the foundation for his new campaign, it will be interesting to look at the way that Rubio has treated his own personal history -- a subject in which he has based his appeal to the American voters for our support.

In October 2011, Senator Marco Rubio revised the biography that appears on his office website. He had no choice. Throughout his political career, he deceived Floridians, adoring Republican audiences and donors, journalists, fellow officeholders and others by claiming that his parents fled the Cuba of Fidel Castro. This is a lie exposed by hard journalism in the Washington Post.

Every Cuban American knows the time and purpose of his family's departure from Cuba. The idea that Rubio never knew the facts until he was exposed by Manuel Roig-Franzia -- and that no family member ever bothered to correct the error before now -- is absurd. While Rubio's parents, Mario and Oriales, did adopt the anti-Castro position of many exiles who are opposed to the communist course taken by the Cuban revolution, the date of their emigration was not 1959 and the cause of their departure was not the current Cuban government. They left Cuba in 1956 as exiles from a tyrannical regime; that of Fulgencio Batista Zaldivar, the right-wing dictatorship that Fidel Castro overthrew.

What Mario and Oriales Rubio did was human, but not an act of political defiance against Castro. The Cuba they left was not the worst country in Latin America, but inequality and poverty, along with the corrupt and murderous dictatorship, caused thousands of countrymen to actively resist or flee into exile. By revising the date and reason for his parents' emigration, Rubio ingratiated himself with the dominant Cuban exile factions and placed his political narrative into a Reagan-esque storyline about freedom.

But the significance of this story goes far beyond resume-padding; it has shined a spotlight on the senator's moral character. Rubio is not a responsible politician who deals with history in all its complexity. On the contrary, in full awareness of his parents' past, Rubio chose to lie, adapting himself to the simplistic mantras of the conflict, taking advantage of the dominant propaganda in Miami, and exploiting the trauma experienced by some of his constituents.

The tributes paid by Rubio to the thugs who toppled the second Cuban republic on March 10, 1952 are totally undeserved, and he knows it. Rubio knows, due to the experience of his own parents, that when he supported dedicating the new FIU law school building to Rafael Diaz-Balart he was paying homage to one of the politicians who brought an end to representative democracy in Cuba, one of those truly responsible for the flight of his parents.

The revelation of Marco Rubio's lie calls into question the central premise of the founding of the anti-Castro exile "community." The senator has repeated that the 1959 revolution was an "accident of history" while knowing, from his own family history, that this is false. It is the view that suits the anti-Castro element in which Batista supporters, who have obtained key positions of power in the U.S., have been exonerated of their crimes on the island. To say that Cuba in 1958 was a democracy, on its way to development, is a lie that has been repeated a thousand times in hopes of transforming it into the truth. The first exiles who fled to the U.S. in January, 1959 were officers and supporters of a corrupt and criminal dictatorial regime.

Rubio has been part of a history in which the Cuban American right supports the United States only when it is convenient for their property claims and opposition to the Castro government. Members of this exile community have engaged in terrorist activities in violation of U.S. laws, even in U.S. territory, as was the case in the assassination of former Chilean minister Orlando Letelier in Sheridan Circle, Washington, D.C. One of these exile leaders is Armando Valladares, a former political prisoner in Castro's jails who received unconditional support from President Ronald Reagan who made him ambassador to the United Nations. Valladares now goes to international events to describe himself and Cuban right-wingers as "United States' victims." In the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum, Mr. Valladares even encouraged people to "hate the United States with all the strength of your soul" but support his anti-Castro cause. Senator Rubio considers Ambassador Valladares one of his Cuban mentors and a hope for the future of Cuba.

Of course, a Cuban politician of his generation cannot be indifferent to the disasters and abuses of the Castro government. However, denying partial responsibility for the Cuban national conflict and constructing simplistic narratives are typically tactics of demagogues, not of nation unifiers and crisis solvers. The group Rubio represents claims ownership of all that belonged to them in Cuba except their responsibility as the political class that facilitated Fidel Castro's triumph and consolidation of power for 50 years.

The Florida senator speaks out both sides of his mouth, presenting himself as the Latino hope of the Republican Party, but refusing to clearly address the central issues concerning Hispanics in the United States. Within the Cuban-American community, using the false history of his parents, Rubio has avoided a debate with those who criticize his position in favor of partially repealing the Cuban Adjustment Act and his support for imposing restrictions on family travel to the island, thereby reversing the popular policies of President Obama that liberated such travel.

Rubio's ideological twist with the fact is not an exception but a pattern. Rubio has used oversimplification masked as "moral clarity" to put history at the service of ideology and petty partisan convenience. Look at his primitive use of historical lessons to defend his desires to send more American troops to the Middle East quagmire and waste more money in military spending. If he is not a charlatan but the student of history he claims to be, he is intentionally changing facts and evidences. This ideological oversimplification of foreign policy is exactly what led to George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. Just recently Secretary Kerry had to teach Rubio why Iran was not against American attacks on ISIS and Sunni Arab countries were not necessarily against a deal on the nuclear non-proliferation issue with Iran. Mr. Kerry explained clearly how the facts completely contradict Rubio's assertion about U.S strategy towards ISIS, "flat wrong."

Offering one pretext after another, Rubio has flip-flopped several times on the issue of immigration reform. He has used the most twisted arguments to support the harsh and controversial Arizona laws that allow authorities to target Latinos as alleged illegal immigrants and criminals. He even opposed at times the Dream Act, a law that would allow access to a university education for thousands of children of undocumented immigrants who have entered or have remained in the U.S. as his parents, simple emigrants, did. Nor has he explained how he intends to solve the problem of unemployment, which hits minorities especially hard, while he consistently votes against all of President Obama's efforts on the matter. This is a problem of character.

The Washington Post revealed what would have been old news if Miami journalists didn't grovel every day before the entrenched power of the Cuban-American right. In Florida, and especially in Miami, Rubio has twisted the truth for decades without anyone questioning him. Perhaps Marco Rubio has not understood the one absolute truth that he repeats: the United States is an exceptional country. Here there is a press with the freedom and willingness to question the lies of dishonest politicians. As President Lincoln said, "You can't fool all of the people all of the time."

Dawn Gable contributed to this piece.