Rubio Tries To Clarify How His Family Left Cuba

GOP rising star Sen. Marco Rubio caught heat last week for his Senate bio that misstated when his family left Cuba for the U.S., a detail of some relevance in his home state of Florida. But in explaining his side of the story in a Politico op-ed, Rubio laid out a narrative dramatically different from the one he provided to NPR in late 2009.

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We have an update now to a story we aired Friday about Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. We interviewed a Washington Post reporter who contends that Rubio's parents did not flee Cuba after Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959. That's the family story long told by the senator and his official website. In fact, Rubio's parents immigrated for Cuba several years before the Cuban Revolution.

But a statement Rubio issued recently to clarify that family story is raising still more questions, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The same day The Washington Post reported that Senator Marco Rubio's parents left Cuba for Miami in 1956, the second sentence in the senator's bio on his official Senate website got changed. No longer did it claim his parents had come to the U.S., quote, "following Fidel Castro's takeover on the first day of 1959." That sentence now says Rubio was, quote, "born in Miami in 1971 to Cuban exiles who first arrived in the United States in 1956."

That may put the claims made in Rubio's first TV ad during his run for the Senate last year in a different light.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: My parents lost everything - their home, family, friends, even their country. But they found something too, America...

WELNA: Despite their departure, well before the Cuban Revolution, Rubio still seems to insist his parents were forced into exile. A new statement from him on his website, also published by Politico, is titled "My Family's Flight from Castro." In that statement, Rubio says his parents decided they wanted to try moving back to Cuba after Castro came to power. He says that in 1961, his mother went there with his older siblings, quote, "with the intention of moving back."

But nearly two yeas ago, when Rubio was still running for the Senate seat he now holds, he gave ALL THINGS CONSIDERED host Robert Siegel a very different account of why his mother went back to Cuba with her children.

RUBIO: My grandfather, who was already had been stricken with polio when he was a young man, had an accident - he was hit by a bus. And in Cuba at the time, I mean, when you were in the hospital they didn't have like, you know, meals or anything. Your family had to bring the food and they had to take care of you. So, my mom went back with my sister and my brother to take care of her father in 1960. And my dad stayed behind, working.

WELNA: Social Security records indicate that Rubio's mother's father had, in fact, emigrated to the U.S., the same year his parents left Cuba. Rubio's office confirmed today that her father did go to the U.S. in 1956, but then returned to Cuba where he was, quote, "involved in an accident."

There are other apparent discrepancies in Rubio's statement posted on his website. He says that after a few weeks in Cuba it became clear to his mother that, quote, "the change happening in Cuba was not for the better, it was communism," which is why his mother decided in March of 1961 to return permanently to the United States with his siblings. Again, that's at odds with what Rubio told Robert Siegel two years ago.

RUBIO: When the time came to come home, the Cuban government would let her. So, my dad was here in Miami working and desperate, because his family - they would let my sister come because she was a U.S. citizen, but they wouldn't let my brother and my mom come. And they would go to the airport every day for nine months waiting to be let go, and then finally were able to come. So, it was very frightening. And I think that's what they do for sure that that's not the place they wanted to be.

WELNA: Rubio's spokesman Alex Conant and writes in an email that the senator's mother was indeed told she could not leave Cuba and that only her infant daughter born in the U.S. could return to the U.S. Eventually, Conant says, they were all allowed to leave together. But rather than the nine months forced wait that Rubio described two years ago to NPR, Rubio - in the latest version of his family story - says they arrived in Cuba in February of 1961 and left the following month. Still, he writes: I am the son of exiles, a cherished status for many in Florida.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capital.

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And ALL THINGS CONSIDERED continues in a moment.

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