MATANZAS, Cuba — Since he was a boy, Senator Ted Cruz has said, all he wanted to do was “fight for liberty” — a yearning that he says was first kindled when he heard his father’s tales of fighting as a rebel leader in Cuba in the 1950s, throwing firebombs, running guns and surviving torture.I dug into the same story during the summer of 2013. I, too, wondered whether Rafael Cruz was exaggerating his exploits. Parts of his version of events seemed implausible. I reported the story for about a week, but couldn't nail it down.
Those stories, retold by Mr. Cruz and by his father, Rafael, have hooked Republican audiences and given emotional power to the message that the Texas senator is pushing as a contender for the party’s presidential nomination...
But the family narrative that has provided such inspirational fire to Mr. Cruz’s speeches, debate performances and a recently published memoir is, his father’s Cuban contemporaries say, an embroidered one.
Times reporter Jason Horowitz managed to track down some former friends of Rafael Cruz. They told Horowitz that Cruz had belonged to the youth brigade of the 26th of July Movement in Matanzas, but did little but march in protests.
Defenders of the Cruz family were quick to attack the Times for its expose (See "New York Times Partners with Castro Regime to 'Smear' Ted Cruz").
I wasn't out to smear anyone. I just thought it would be an interesting story. I found a man who had gone to school with Rafael Cruz in Texas. He remembered Cruz as a pro-Castro activist who talked about smuggling guns to Cuba for the revolution.
I went to Cuba to try to find others who knew Cruz, but didn't have much luck and dropped the story.
I did locate two Havana residents who remembered Rafael Cruz's father, Rafael Bienvenido Cruz y Díaz.
Gladis Susen, who was 75 when I interviewed her in 2013, said Bienvenido Cruz managed an appliances store near El Capitolio in Havana.
Bienvenido Cruz "was a beautiful person," Susen said. She said she bought a television and a sewing machine from him.
Customers paid him in cash and if they didn't have enough money, he offered them credit.
Susen said she last saw Bienvenido Cruz in 1960. He was visiting the sanctuary at El Cobre near Santiago de Cuba.
Another Havana resident who knew Bienvenido Cruz told me the elder Cruz also ran a store along Calle Neptuno. That location was in ruins when I saw it in 2013.
While trying to learn more about the Cruz family history in Cuba, I hit a wall. I had more questions than answers. Did Rafael Cruz move from Matanzas to Havana at some point? How important was Havana to the family's story? Was the family wealthier than Rafael Cruz has let on? How often did family members return to Cuba after the revolution? When did the family turn against Castro?
|Calle Neptuno appliance store in ruins|
When I approached Cruz again, I heard him tell an assistant something like, "No, I am not talking to that guy."
I got the impression that if I had been someone who knew nothing about Cuba, he would have gladly shared his exploits. But I had been to the island. I had talked to people who knew his father. And, I suspect, that was a red flag for Rafael Cruz.