Like a lot of Cuban Americans, María Elvira Salazar has a visceral revulsion to even the slightest whiff of communism, as a result of her family fleeing when Fidel Castro came to power.
Unlike a lot of Cuban Americans, Salazar got to confront Castro in person, interviewing him in 1995. “You meet the devil in person,” she said.
That was just one of the world leaders Salazar interviewed during her decadeslong career as a TV journalist for Spanish-language outlets like Univision, Telemundo and CNN en Español.
Her background covering Central America now helps the Florida Republican work on one of the thorniest political issues facing Congress: immigration. As the sponsor of a proposal with bipartisan support, she’s trying to convince the rest of the GOP to demand something that can win over some Democrats. It’d be a politically savvy move in her majority-Hispanic swing district that includes parts of Miami; she says Democrats’ unrealized promises to address immigration have hurt the party with her constituents.
Salazar spoke with Roll Call in her office last week, shortly after news broke that she had unwittingly accepted campaign donations from an alleged spy for Cuba. To be fair, that same alleged spy also managed to dupe the entirety of the national security and intelligence firmament for years.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: Looking around your office, I see you have some photos from your time in journalism. What else is hanging on your walls?
A: Well, right there is a biblical verse [Ephesians 3:20], because I’m full of faith. I think the Lord has to have mercy on us in this country, and I’m always asking him to do more than we can “ask or imagine, according to his power.” I’m trying to cajole him to help us.
And over there is [a painting of] Cuba. God, pay attention and finally liberate these poor people from that oppression. It was the worst revolution that has touched the Western Hemisphere since the arrival of Christopher Columbus — [none was] more evil or grueling or venomous or any adjective you could find.
Q: This month a former U.S. diplomat, Manuel Rocha, was charged with spying for Cuba. He donated money to your campaign, which you’ve said you will return. Rocha left the foreign service years ago, but when the news came out, you aimed your criticism at the current president, posting on social media, “Biden administration, wake up!” Why did you respond that way?
A: This guy really fooled everybody. I think the Biden administration did well in finding him, but I think they need to be more aware of the fact that you have a lot of neo-Marxist influence — not specifically Rocha — penetrating the White House.
The Democratic Party has a lot of noble people. You’ve had very good, effective presidents within the Dems — you had FDR. But my concern is that the party is being influenced by an ideology very close to Marxism. When you talk to me about democratic socialism, there’s nothing good, or democratic or pragmatic or whatever, when you pronounce the word socialism.
Even though I didn’t live in Cuba — I was born in Miami — everyone who surrounded me showed me what that ideology is all about. When I think about the kids in Nebraska or Oregon, they’ve never seen a Cuban or a Colombian. They can drink the Kool-Aid, but I don’t want them to drink the Kool-Aid, because the Kool-Aid is acid at the end.
Q: Aren’t those kids thinking more of the Nordic countries, or things like the center-left party in Germany?
A: Yeah, Norway, Denmark, of course. But they are not socialists. Remember when the prime minister of Denmark [in 2015] came to Harvard’s JFK School of Government, where I graduated from? He said, “Hey, wait. We have social programs, but we’re not a socialist country.”
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have compassion for people who need help. When you start talking about destroying what the Founding Fathers intended, that’s my problem — when you’re saying the United States is really a bad country. And critical race theory? Come on, there are bad whites, and there are good white guys.
Let’s fix what’s wrong. Let’s give opportunity to the minorities. Hey, I represent the largest minority in the country. But American exceptionalism has a beauty and has been proven to give opportunity to people like me if you work hard, if you study. The system doesn’t give you any opportunities in Peru or Nicaragua or Venezuela or Cuba. That’s why people catch a raft and come to Miami.
Q: When it comes to immigration policy, your party is pushing for HR 2, which focuses on border security and would make it easier to deport people. Speaker Mike Johnson was insisting on that as a condition for sending aid to Israel and Ukraine. What are your thoughts?
A: I’m pro-dignity, and I’ve been telling Mike Johnson and the party, “Hey, wake up, because HR 2 may not pass the Dems, and I’m the one who talks most with the Dems about immigration.”
Reagan was the last guy who paid attention and understood what was happening in Central America. HR 2 is just one of 20 points, and I’ve been telling my party. I understand we’ve got to seal the border, of course, because we cannot have the mess that’s happening. But we need to have dignity.
We have 10 million, 15 million illegals. Let’s bring them out of the shadows. If they have been here for more than five years and they have not committed a crime and they’re paying taxes, and they’re picking the jalapenos in California or tomatoes in Miami, then we’re going to give them dignity status. Because what are we going to do, deport them? We can’t. It’s not possible. We don’t have enough ICE agents to look for 15 million people who are hiding under the mattress.
So yeah, I’ve been telling my party, but also the Dems — because the Dems have played political football with us, with the Hispanics.
Q: What do people in your own party say when you give a passionate speech like that?
A: Oh, they go, “You’re right, Maria. You’re right.” While the Republicans are probably not aware, the Dems are conniving. Because the Democrats, supposedly they’re representing the Hispanics, right? Obama told me in an interview in 2008, “Within the first 100 days of my presidency, if the Hispanics vote for me, we’re going to do immigration reform law.”
He used us. Hispanics voted [overwhelmingly] for Obama, and what did he do? He gave that political capital to Obamacare. OK, fine. But don’t lie.
Q: When you first ran in 2018 against Donna Shalala, you lost. Also in 2018, Ron DeSantis barely won the governor’s mansion. Fast forward to the last election cycle, and both of you won easily. Why are we seeing that shift in Florida?
A: Don’t you see? It’s socialism. The rest of the country doesn’t understand. Cuban Americans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Hondurans — everyone who has experienced or has known about the Cuban story and tragedy, we know what socialism brings.
I had registered Democrats voting for Salazar. It was [a crossover district in 2020] — Biden wins and the Democrat incumbent is taken out. Why? Because Salazar.
Last book you read? Bret Baier’s book about George Washington.
In politics, can the ends justify the means? The perfect example that comes to mind is Lincoln in the Civil War, who suspended constitutional rights because he needed to preserve the Union. So in very few cases, if the end is a noble one.
Your least popular opinion? I think the Democratic Party has been tainted by neo-Marxists.
You shared some photos of you cooking at Thanksgiving. What’s your favorite Cuban dish? For Thanksgiving, we do American — let’s preserve the tradition. It was pecan sweet potato casserole, and I cooked it myself.
During your journalism career, what was your most interesting interview? With Fidel Castro. You’re in front of the devil.