An excerpt from “The Rise of Marco Rubio” by Manuel Roig-Franzia to be published Tuesday by Simon and Schuster.
Cubans roared into the streets of Miami that New Year’s Day in 1959. A dictator was gone, toppled by a charismatic revolutionary in a beard.
“Viva Castro!” they shouted.
Fidel Castro’s victory over the venal strongman, Fulgencio Batista, gave hope to thousands of displaced Cubans. He promised to transform their island. One of those who believed him was a shoe repairman named Pedro Victor Garcia.
Pedro Victor, born to an illiterate single mother beneath a thatched roof in a rural Cuban village, was the unlikely forebear of one of the biggest rising stars in modern American politics. In 2010, his grandson, Marco Antonio Rubio, would be elected to the U.S. Senate and instantly christened a future vice presidential or presidential contender by an adoring Republican base. But on that singular historic day in 1959 few could have predicted great things for Pedro Victor’s family.
Pedro Victor emigrated to the United States in 1956, the same year as his daughter and son-in-law, Oriales and Mario Rubio. The Rubios touched down at Miami International Airport in a National Airlines jet six months before Castro set sail for Cuba in a leaky yacht called the Granma. Pedro Victor, Oriales’s father, followed a few months later.
The years between Pedro Victor’s arrival on U.S. soil and Castro’s victory were not easy on him or his pride. He went to New York, where he found little more than odd jobs, then made his way to Florida where steady work also eluded him. He repaired shoes at his home and sometimes picked up a few extra dollars as a money collector in a parking lot. He was 60 years old and dependent on his daughters.
But in Cuba, Pedro Victor thought, he could be his own man. So two years and two months after being admitted to the United States as a legal immigrant, Pedro Víctor reacheda difficult conclusion. “I had to go back to Cuba to work there because I did not want to be supported by my daughters, my sons- in-law,” he later explained.
On January 15, 1959, two weeks after Batista abdicated, Pedro Victor flew back to the island of his birth. For the first three months he operated a small shoe store he owned, but in March he started selling off all his stock and materials. One of his daughters’ husbands offered a better option: he could get Pedro Victor a real job, a job with a salary, vacation time, reliability. Pedro Victor decided to take it.
His new employer was the Castro government.
The job was with Cuba’s Treasury ministry. Pedro Victor later described what sounds like a low-level bureaucratic or blue-collar position. He would say that he was tasked with recording payments owed to the Treasury by bus and truck drivers.
Castro’s government was beginning to insinuate itself into all aspects of daily life. In 1960, it unveiled the Urban Reform Law, under which the government seized rental properties throughout the country. The law was part of a series of sweeping moves designed to impose a socialist economic structure on the nation. Rents for the tenants of apartments were slashed in half, and the tenants were promised that they would become owners of the apartments in five to twenty years.