Cuba is Marco Rubio’s “bloody shirt.”
When President Obama recently announced that he is removing Cuba from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism, Rubio — the Cuban-American junior U.S. senator from Florida and Republican Party presidential candidate — cried foul.
Rubio has complained repeatedly about Obama’s decision because, he says, Cuba harbors fugitives from American justice and allegedly helped North Korean evade a United Nations weapons embargo. But the senator’s response is more reminiscent of the bloody shirts that congressional Republicans once used to rally support for their causes than a convincing argument against the president’s action.
Bloody shirts (mythically taken off the backs of wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War) were used by GOP lawmakers to influence the outcome of several presidential elections afterward. In attacking Obama’s decision, Rubio has made Cuba his bloody shirt.
That’s a serious error in judgment.
Rubio’s bill of particulars against Obama’s decision is flawed. The senator says Cuba supports terrorism because it has granted asylum to people such as Assata Shakur, who was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper, and Charles Hill, one of three men who skyjacked a plane to Cuba after allegedly killing a New Mexico state police officer.
For Rubio, this concern is a one-way street. He makes no mention of Luis Posada Carriles, a Florida resident and former CIA agent who once confessed to having had a hand in a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997. Posada also faced charges in Venezuela for the 1976 downing of a Cuban passenger airliner that took the lives of 73 people. Posada escaped his Venezuelan prison in 1985 and made his way to the USA. In South Florida, Posada is an anti-Castro hero. In much of the rest of the world, he is a terrorist who killed innocent women and children.
Rubio’s other reason for opposing Obama’s lifting of Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list is equally flawed. He says the Castro regime deserves to remain on the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism because it helped North Korea evade a U.N. arms embargo. In fact, a North Korean cargo ship was stopped in the Panama Canal in 2013 after 240 tons of Cuban military equipment was found in the vessel.
But that was five years after President George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism. And it is political doublespeak for Rubio to say that designation should be maintained when, in 2010, he argued against the U.S. allowing “the United Nations or any other international body” to discredit Israel. This came at a time when the U.N. was conducting an investigation of Israel’s deadly effort to stop a flotilla of Turkish ships from breaking its embargo of the Gaza Strip.
In announcing his presidential campaign, Rubio said he will “lead the way toward a new American Century,” if voters give him the keys to the White House. But when it comes to Cuba, his views are as outdated as the American cars that ply the streets of Havana.
Next year’s presidential election “is a generational choice about what kind of country we will be,” Rubio proclaimed in his April 13 speech. But if voters leave it up to him, the U.S. will return to Cold War policies of the 1960s in its dealings with Cuba.
“Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday. Yesterday is over, and we’re never going back,” Rubio said.
That punchline was aimed at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate who launched her campaign a day earlier.
But Rubio’s continued waving of the bloody shirt when it comes to Cuba threatens to turn him into the Benjamin Button of the 2016 presidential campaign.
DeWayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication, writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.
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By DeWayne Wickham, USA Today
April 20, 2015