U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio sold his American success story as he stumped across Florida two years ago.
His parents left Havana in 1959, he told a Panhandle audience, implying, at least, that they fled Fidel Castro's communist revolution.
Now records show that they left in 1956, while Castro still plotted in Mexico — and that even when Rubio doubted his dates, he didn't correct the record.
In 2009 and 2010, Rubio told three different TV audiences that his parents came from Cuba at the end of the 1950s. "In 1959," he told Fox 13 and Fox Business. "In '58, '59," he said to Fox News.
But interviews, documents and news articles in September and October raised doubts.
The difference, in this case, is more than just a couple of years.
A story Thursday by the St. Petersburg Times said naturalization records showed Rubio's parents, Mario and Oriales, became U.S. residents in May 1956.
At that time, Castro lived in Mexico after a failed 1953 attack on army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Cubans lived under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who had seized power as he ran for re-election in 1952. The nation, which enjoyed high literacy, a strong educational system — even the world's fifth-highest number of TVs per capita — found itself ruled by decree.
In May 1956, the Rubio family would fly to the United States. Castro returned to mount his revolution in December. More than two years would pass before Batista fled on Jan. 1, 1959.
In 2006, Rubio, the young soon-to-be speaker of the Florida House, would recount the takeover: "In January of 1959, a thug named Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and countless Cubans were forced to flee."
To many, he seemed to count his own family among them.
And in 2009 and 2010, he told reporters dates that made that possible. News stories called the lawmaker, himself born in the United States in 1971, the son of "exiles from Castro's Cuba." Some used a specific date: 1959.
In September 2011, Rubio chatted with Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo for a story about Rubio's upcoming autobiography. The two talked about Rubio's parents' immigration from Cuba. Caputo, later recounting his notes, said Rubio "struggled to recall the year … and said it was in '' '57 or '58 or '59.' "
"When asked pointedly: Was it before the revolution? Rubio said it was before the revolution," Caputo wrote in a blog post Thursday.
Caputo included the detail in his September story, saying Rubio was, "the son of Cuban immigrants who left Cuba just before the 1959 revolution."
As we searched for news references to Rubio's parents, we found the new Herald account differed from dozens of articles about Rubio's past, his own TV interviews, and his official campaign and Senate biographies.
After the Times and the Washington Post wrote about the discrepancy, Rubio released a statement.
"The dates I have given regarding my family's history have always been based on my parents' recollections of events that occurred over 55 years ago and which were relayed to me by them more than two decades after they happened," he wrote Thursday. "I was not made aware of the exact dates until very recently."
Asked about Rubio's official biography the next day, spokesman Alex Conant confirmed, "the dates were wrong."
"We just recently became aware of it, and it just hadn't been updated," he said.
Rubio learned the full story talking with his mom, Conant said, and looking at his parents' passports. (His father died in September 2010.)
Instead of fleeing Castro's Cuba, the Rubios came to the United States for "economic opportunity," Conant said.
Several times during his race for U.S. Senate, Rubio told reporters and voters his parents left Cuba in 1959, suggesting they had fled Castro's rule. In his campaign biography, and later in his official Senate biography, he said his parents "came to America following Fidel Castro's takeover."
Even after he stumbled over dates with a Miami Herald reporter and acknowledged his parents left before the revolution, his official Web bio stayed the same. The day after two news organizations reported his parents moved to the United States in 1956, his spokesman acknowledged that the bio was wrong, which was updated.
"Marco was born in Miami in 1971 to Cuban exiles who first arrived in the United States in 1956," the updated website now says. That puts everyone in agreement: The original statement is False.