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Fabiola Santiago

No matter how loud anyone shouts it, I am not a Communist | Opinion

I draw the line at being called a Communist when a guy in Pembroke Pines does it over a column about ousted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.

“I’ve never thought of any other human being as a Communist except for you,” Mr. Fox writes me.

Read that again. It’s a mouthful.

I, a Cuban-American exile who fled communism, is the only person in the world he sees as a Communist.

Lucky me.

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No, don’t dismiss him as ignorant.

He’s a perfectly normal human being with a normal job that requires some brain-lifting, if, on the mathematical side of things. I researched him. He’s real, not a Russian bot stirring up trouble, and he didn’t take cover in a fake email address.

I was going to thank him for reading me and taking the time to write me, then move on to writing about more important issues. But Mr. Fox’s accusation is being bandied about all over the place these days with the rise of left-of-center Democratic candidates.

It merits review and response.

There was profundity in the way Mr. Fox expressed himself before and after he called me a Communist. And he had a perfectly reasonable and commonly held point of view shared by other readers who didn’t make his ideological connection when they wrote me in response to my column about Israel’s ouster.

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Many believe that it doesn’t matter if Israel — whose department mishandled the response to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings — was elected or appointed. I do.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was right to remove Israel from office and so was the Republican-dominated Senate when it confirmed the ouster this week, Mr. Fox and others believe. But the decision to remove an elected official not convicted of a crime sets a dangerous precedent for Florida, I argued. Especially, when the person removed is from the opposing political party and called for stricter gun control right after the Parkland shooting, much to the chagrin of the NRA-loving Republicans who have removed him.

In the aftermath of the Senate confirmation, a defiant Israel proclaimed: “I am running for election in 2020.” While I understand his obstinacy in light of a report that favored reinstating him, I do question whether Israel has considered if it’s in the community’s best interest to drag on this fight. Israel should know that plenty of Democrats don’t want him in that post again.

So why would a Broward reader far removed from Miami politics call me a Communist in this context — and why should I bother to set the record straight?

The practice of casually labeling people Communist has risen to another level in swing state Florida since it helped DeSantis win in a close election over progressive Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

The Republican Party has exported the Communist and Socialist name-calling campaign tactic — and it’s now a thing outside of Miami, too.

Welcome to the dark side, Mr. Fox.

Being called a Communist is nothing new for me.

It’s as pedestrian as epithets come in Miami — and, although it has lost its muscle from overuse, it is still efficient when running a political campaign in districts where the real victims of communism vote. The specter of the Communist boogieman takes over the air space and shuts down the conversation about the nitty-gritty of issues that really affects people’s lives like healthcare and immigration.

Those in politics who call me a Communist — or with the same intention to defame, the now more popular Soviet-styled cousin of “a Socialist” — are a special breed. They’ve made a sport out of dubbing anyone with an opposing view Communists and Castro agents to alarm and confuse voters.

They do so solely for cheap, crass political gain.

But there are souls among us who’ve lost their homeland and loved ones to the honorable cause of a democratic Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua — and they lash out using the epithet from a place of pain and loss.

I understand and forgive them. Some of us are irreparably damaged people.

Then, there’s Mr. Fox who comes out of left field. Or right field, I should say.

I’m not a Communist by any stretch of the American imagination. But if I were, I’d own it. It’s not in my character to shy away from who I am, no matter how flawed.

And what I am is a critical thinker, a journalist who researches and writes opinion. I don’t toe any party line, not even when I vote.

Hence, in Cuba I’m viewed by the nomenclature as an anti-Communist traitor, a “ gusana,” a worm. In right-wing America, I’m a Communist sympathizer. Mr. Fox points to my writing as proof.

Let’s see: Early in my career, I chronicled the torture and abuse in Fidel Castro’s prisons when the only way to report on them was through the smuggled narrations of prisoners written on tiny pieces of onion paper. When Castro died in 2016, I wrote a “ good riddance” farewell.

Flash-forward to the previous administration when, while embracing President Barack Obama’s engagement policy and the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, I criticized key aspects of the execution.

And only two Sundays ago, I condemned Cuba’s renewed repression and sham “election” under one-party Communist Party rule.

Oh, la mala memoria, the penchant for forgetting inconvenient truth.

My favorite Cuban poet, Heberto Padilla — a man who suffered the indignities of real communism, not the ready-made ones of the American kind hurled over an invisible Internet connection — wrote an entire memoir and a lifetime of poetry about truth and circumstance.

“Tell your truth/ tell, at least, your truth./ And then,/ let anything happen: let them rip your beloved page,/ let them knock your door down with stones,/ let people / crowd before your body/ as if you were/ a prodigy or a dead man.”

Thank you, Mr. Fox, for the opportunity to yet again address my truth.

No matter how loud anyone shouts it, I am not a Communist.

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