Cuban Americans in Congress use Cuba to push GOP lies — and fail the oppressed on the island | Opinion

The Republican dog-and-pony show on Capitol Hill to mark Cuban Independence Day — starring a slate of Cuban Americans in Congress — had its moments.

Mostly trite ones and awkward ones, like when former journalist Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, of Miami, tried to tell the Washington media how to assemble soundbites. Or when a wound-up Rep. Carlos Gimenez, also of Miami, spoke Spanish in that nails-on-a-blackboard way of his.

What a missed opportunity.

The weekly press conference assembled by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was a golden ticket to call attention to what’s actually happening inside Cuba to heroic dissidents, who are being harassed, detained and jailed for the crime of merely existing.

The times call not for talk about what happened at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, or their parents’ flight in the 1960s with $10 in their pockets, but about the here and now, the victims of today.

But self-aggrandizement — and pleasing the party leader, whom Salazar and Gimenez bucked when they did the right thing for once and voted in support of creating the Jan. 6 commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol — got in the way.

Republican propaganda

Why else would powerful people waste a prime-time forum on Cuba to deliver worn-out, debunked election rhetoric linking Democrats to Latin American-styled socialism? Why else would they take up precious minutes telling personal stories that date back six decades and were so poorly told they impressed no one?

Because they suffer from “hyperpartisan-itis,” a disease that makes them act against constituents’ best interests — like defending American democracy — and keeps them perennially on the campaign trail.

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Clumsy and lacking relevance, Salazar, Gimenez and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, of Miami Lakes — and a Washington veteran — acted like neophytes.

I can understand the sophomoric take on Cuba of their New York and West Virginia counterparts, Reps. Nicole R. Malliotakis and Alex Mooney, who have Cuban mothers exiled at the onset of Fidel Castro’s Revolution.

Living far from Miami gives them some room to be, as we say in Miami, despistados, clueless.

But our three representatives know better. Or, should know better.

Yet, instead of telling Americans that there’s a new restless generation in Cuba yearning for democracy — and putting their lives on the line to demand it — they opted to suck up to the party.

Even when Cuba has issued a new threat to Cuban exiles, including U.S. citizens, that they will be prosecuted “in absentia” if they aid dissidents on the island, Miami’s members of Congress spent their time in the limelight politicking.

“I came to Congress to fight The Squad,” said Gimenez, speaking of the most progressive and left-leaning members of Congress, as if they were a thing these days.

(Note to Carlos: The Democrats took care of that. Joe Biden, the centrist, won the primary and general elections. Democrats, and some sane Republicans in the latter, chose the former vice president.)

Invoking Fidel Castro

But Gimenez was cooking on that podium, saying Democrats are “trying to take away our gun rights” the way Fidel Castro disarmed the population in the early 1960s.

Never mind that the only thing on the table right now in Congress are two bills aimed at closing loopholes on background checks that criminals and would-be criminals use to acquire arms.

They’re measures supported by a majority of Americans, polls show, and also by some of the Republicans who voted for them in the House.

One bill expands background checks of people purchasing weapons over the internet, at gun shows and through some types of private transactions. The other would give authorities 10 business days, instead of the current three, to complete federal background checks before a gun sale can be licensed.

Nothing to do with Castro consolidating his hold on Cuba, but Gimenez just couldn’t help himself.

He also greatly exaggerated the number of Cubans who have died at sea fleeing the island, putting them at “tens of thousands.” Although the exact mortality rate isn’t known (and in my book, one is too many), no credible organization has ever counted anywhere near that number.

The reality in Cuba is grim enough. There’s no need to lie.

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And it’s dumber than dumb to do so in front of the media.

Journalists are going to fact-check.

Best strategy is to get real and get off the campaign trail. Do the damn job, which includes doing the homework, not winging it on Cuba and fumbling the basics.

It makes my blood boil, because this is how Cuban Americans lose credibility.

The media saw right through the performance.

When the speeches mercifully ended, they pounced on McCarthy with questions.

Not about Cuba, but rightly so, about the state of American democracy when the majority of Republicans vote against investigating a right-wing attack on the Capitol.

And once again, Cuba’s voiceless lost a chance to be heard, this time thanks to the ineptitude of Cuban Americans in Congress.