Fabiola Santiago: This Bay of Pigs vet in Miami is all in for Joe Biden, rejects GOP's socialist attacks

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Maybe it’s too late.

Less than two weeks before Election Day, people already are voting in record numbers.

But finally, somebody with credibility and authority — a Bay of Pigs veteran, no less — is addressing the most damaging accusation by the Donald Trump campaign and the Florida GOP against Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats.

Democrats are socialists. Democrats are Communists.

Voting Democrat is a betrayal to the cause of a Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua.

Failing to follow the Trump cult? You must be an infiltrado, an agent of the Castros, an ill-born Cuban (cubano mal nacido, a favorite insult of both sides of the Florida Straits).

For far too long, Democrats have underestimated the political damage the pounding of these untruths cause, but no more.

“It’s a demented thing, truly,” Santiago Morales, 78, tells me of the Florida GOP tactic and its effect.

Morales was one of the first young Cubans in exile recruited by the CIA to join the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. He recruited others and, as a U.S.-educated English speaker, was a translator who infiltrated the island to assist those coming by sea.

Caught, he served 18 years in Cuban prisons.

He’s also one of the founders of the veterans association Brigade 2506, which has twice endorsed Trump. And Trump, in turn, with his hyping of the Miami group in tweets and during rallies, has catapulted the brigadistas to national prominence.

“I ask my compatriots, ‘Really, you want four more years of the craziness of this man, of the division he sows?’” Morales said in an interview. “I know that when I turn my back they call me Communist and say that I was brainwashed in Cuba, but I’m made of Teflon and I know who I am and what I stand for.”

He’s all in with Joe Biden — and Morales, a millionaire businessman, is taking on Trump and the GOP head on in new campaign ads that launched Tuesday.

He’s done staying silent while the nation believes Cuban Americans approve of Trump.

“Me, like many other Cubans who are voting for the Democrats, are not socialists, or communists,” Morales says in one of two television and radio ads titled “Somos patriotas” (We are Patriots) playing on four Spanish-language television stations and seven AM and FM radio stations.

“Enough with the lies and the manipulations.”

The ads are financed by the political action committee of former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Independence USA PAC, with whom Morales met in Miami.

BAY OF PIGS VET VS. TRUMP

Trump’s GOP, Morales said, has become “an umbrella where avarice, ignorance, and racism gather” and it will suffer the consequences.

“I lament that because we need a good Republican Party,” he said.

Although he has not been active in politics, Morales is a registered Democrat increasingly concerned by polarization, by the prospect of people losing their health care, and by the growing wealth gap under Trump.

“No one in my business makes less than $15 an hour. I pay for the cost of their health insurance and I offer 401(k)s,” says Morales, who owns a global auto parts manufacturing and distribution company. “And I pay taxes. I’m happy paying taxes. The more money I make, the more taxes I should pay. What Trump gave us (the tax cut for the wealthy) was a pinata. We didn’t need it.”

Mic drop on the GOP.

But Morales is best at tackling with his big voice and personality what the Democrats have underestimated, as poll numbers show that Biden’s margins in Miami-Dade, Florida’s most populous county, lag far behind those that Hillary Clinton had in 2016, that Barack Obama had in 2008 and 2012.

For the most part, the Democratic response to the “You’re a Communist” label has been weak.

“I’m the guy who beat the socialist,” Joe Biden likes to say, skipping the topic and throwing the blame ball to Bernie Sanders, too confident that voters know his long history as a centrist Democrat.

Morales comes to the campaign armed with his history as a fighter and political prisoner and he takes on Trump for calling the fallen and captured like Bay of Pigs veterans “losers.”

“We’re not going to be fooled. Trump, you will be the only loser.”

Mic drop on Trump, whom he calls in one of the ads “un personajillo (a little character), “who reminds us of Chavez and Castro.”

“We vote for Biden — or we bury democracy in this country,” Morales says.

It was about time campaign operatives for Biden took Florida seriously and upped their game even more in the final stretch in Miami-Dade County, home to one of the most reliable bloc of voters in the state.

Morales, who has been battling pancreatic cancer for the last two years, says he’s not under the illusion that his ads will change thousands or even dozens of minds.

“But if I can move one person to think, if I can change one vote, it’s worth it,” Morales said.

“If not,” he adds, “I’m having fun.”

Morales had just returned from chemo therapy followed by a lunch with friends when we talked.

“In the end, I’ve always been a fighter and this opportunity to leave life being a fighter again, thrills me,” he said.

Win or lose, this Bay of Pigs freedom fighter has already made a difference exposing the GOP fear-mongering with socialism and communism for what it is: a fraud.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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