Miami Democrats blasted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday and called on him to apologize after the presidential candidate quoted notorious Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara during a union rally at Miami International Airport.
De Blasio, who participated in Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate, dropped Che’s most famous quote as he joined workers who walked off the job in protest of poor conditions and compensation. As the crowd of around 100 chanted behind him, de Blasio urged them to unionize. “The eyes of the world are on this airport, the eyes of the world are on Miami-Dade.”
Before giving up the microphone to the next speaker, de Blasio blurted a quote from one of the most hated historical figures throughout Miami: “Hasta la victoria, siempre.”
The phrase — which translates roughly to “Ever on to victory!” — was a mantra for Guevara, who became one of Fidel Castro’s top lieutenants. Raul Castro uttered the quote on Cuban television when he announced to the world that his older brother had died.
Guevara is considered a murderous sociopath by Miami’s Cuban exile community, but has been treated by some leftists as a martyr and to some extent became a pop culture figure following his execution in Bolivia. Behind de Blasio, the crowd cheered and didn’t seem fazed.
But the quote — whether intentional or not — was quickly criticized as a major gaffe by Democrats who spoke before de Blasio at the event and were horrified upon learning what he’d said.
Jose Javier Rodríguez, a Cuban state senator who also spoke at the event and left before de Blasio’s speech, called on him to apologize. Rodriguez noted that many of the airport protesters were Cuban.
“Quoting a murderer responsible for death & oppression in communist Cuba and throughout Latin America is not acceptable. Please apologize,” tweeted Rodríguez, whose district includes Little Havana.
Miami political consultant Christian Ulvert, who is Nicaraguan, called the use of the quote “complete ignorance” and “beyond disrespectful.” The Miami-Dade Democratic Party demanded an apology. U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala called it “unacceptable.”
State Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Colombian-American who also spoke at the event before de Blasio and left before he spoke, gasped when a reporter told her what he said.
“I have no idea if he knew [the quote was associated with Guevara]. But it’s very disappointing, clearly,” she said. “This is the problem that we run into all the time ... The left has people that are just clueless as hell.”
It’s unclear if de Blasio knew the association of the quote. The Miami Herald has attempted to reach his campaign but has not yet heard back.
“Does he really know who Che Guevara was?” asked Félix Rodríguez, a Bay of Pigs veteran who helped the Bolivian army capture Guevara. “I don’t think so. If he does, he’s a f****ing a**hole.”
Rodríguez said Guevara “hated the United States.”
The incident was reminiscent of 2012, when Mitt Romney mistakenly associated a Fidel Castro slogan with a free Cuba during a visit to Miami. Romney talked about Patria o muerte, venceremos — Fatherland or death, we shall overcome — a trademark phrase Castro used to close his speeches.
Regardless of whether de Blasio intended to make a reference to the Cuban Revolution, the quote will no doubt be played on repeat by Republicans, who have set up protests outside the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to slam Democrats as socialists. It’s a theme that has been repeated all week by the Republican National Committee and by President Donald Trump’s campaign, which launched its Latinos for Trump effort in Miami this week.
Ironically, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told the Miami Herald early this month during an interview that he believed the debates in Miami would be a great chance for the party to beat back the socialism-themed attacks. Candidates U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, who also debated Wednesday, also made appearances at the airport in support of the workers.
“Many of these candidates would do well to speak to some of us of the nuances of Florida,” Taddeo said.
-- Taylor Dolven, David Smiley and Samantha J. Gross