Ted Cruz first heard about his father’s torture as a teenager, after the two of them spent the afternoon watching a Rambo movie.
Torture is a tragically familiar concept in the Cruz family: Cruz’s father, Rafael, had been jailed as a Cuban revolutionary in the days of Fulgencio Batista; his aunt later opposed the Castro regime, and too was physically abused. Just hours after watching Rambo endure agonizing electrical torture by Vietnamese captors, Rafael piped up about the scene. It was a rare window into his treatment by the Batista regime.
“You know, the Cubans weren’t nearly that fancy in their torture methods. They would just come into your jail cell every couple of hours and beat the crap out of you. And then they’d do it again and again,” Rafael Cruz said, according to his son, a Republican senator from Texas and the author of a forthcoming book, A Time for Truth.
Rafael Cruz endured savage beatings and bleak conditions: “a rotten cell, acrid with the smell of blood, grime, urine,” the senator writes, according to excerpts of the book obtained by The Daily Beast. “Men with clubs beat him. His captors broke his nose when they kicked him in the head with their army boots. They bashed in his front teeth until they dangled from his mouth.”
Rafael never broke under torture, refusing to tell his captors who else he had been working with in the Cuban underground. And somehow, the senator writes, his father survived his captivity.
“He had heard of too many rebels who had broken and had been shot, with their bodies dumped in the street. That fear kept him from breaking,” Cruz writes. “My dad, a Cuban immigrant who sometimes seems larger than life, has always been my hero. He has always felt a visceral urgency about politics. Having the right people in office was vitally important to my dad, as if it were a matter of life and death. Because for him, in a very literal sense, it was.”
It is unclear whether the hawkish senator’s thinking on enhanced interrogation techniques might be affected by his family’s experience with torture.
When The Daily Beast has asked Cruz about the Bush-era interrogation techniques in the past, he hasn’t specifically addressed or condemned them. He has instead responded by condemning torture in general terms, without weighing in on the specific techniques. In his book, the senator refers to Guantanamo Bay naval facility as a “renowned U.S. military outpost.”
But the Cruz family’s experience with torture has influenced the senator’s thinking on sexual assault. In recent years the Republican has teamed up with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for a measure sought by military sexual assault victims’ advocates: to remove the chain of command from decisions about whether sexual assault cases go to trial. Cruz’s activism on sexual assault, which goes back at least to his college days, was inspired by his aunt’s experiences in Cuba.
“In my own family, my aunt experienced terrible abuse in prison in Cuba, and that made protecting women from assault all the more personal,” the senator told Business Insider in 2014.
Cruz addresses his aunt’s abuse in a brief passage in the book—which begins abruptly:
“She fought against Castro, trying to topple him from power. And, sadly, she too faced prison and torture. Castro’s goons threw Sonia and her two best friends in prison—all of them were teenage girls—and brutalized them. I love my Tía Sonia—she’s a wonderful, passionate, loving person—and we don’t talk about what she experienced in that Cuban jail.”
If nothing else, Cruz knows how to start a chapter. Writing about his law career, the senator mentions looking at pornography with Supreme Court Justices William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor.
“We were in front of a large computer screen gazing at explicit, hard-core pornography. As we examined the screen before us, I remember very distinctly what the sixty-five-year-old O’Connor said,” Cruz writes.
Sadly, the excerpt obtained by The Daily Beast doesn’t include the end of that story.
The first chapter of Cruz’s book is a deep dive into the senator’s family history with a series of fascinating anecdotes. His father was born in the city of Matanzas, which means “massacre” in Spanish, reflecting the place’s violent past. His grandfather started from humble beginnings, purchasing a fruit stand, graduating to a grocery store—and then losing it by overextending credit to customers. His grandmother faked insanity, screaming nonsense and foaming at the mouth, to get out of indoctrinating students with communist beliefs she opposed.
But it is in his father’s story that Cruz finds common ground with Barack Obama, a president he has so frequently denounced. The senator writes in great detail about his father’s decision to flee Cuba for Texas, landing with almost nothing and working as a dishwasher at an Austin diner. Rafael learned English in part by watching movies over and over again, learning words from context and intonation.
“America, quite simply, saved my father. America gave him a chance…The freedom of America was the dream that allowed him to endure the brutality of Cuba. It was and is a beacon of hope for all those who, like him, have endured oppression,” Cruz writes.
It is on the uniqueness of the American safe haven that Cruz relates his family’s experience to that of the Democratic president’s.
“Barack Obama, noting his own rise from humble beginnings, has observed that ‘in no other country on earth is my story even possible.’ My family can relate to that sentiment. In no other country would Rafael Cruz’s story even be possible,” Cruz writes.
A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America is out June 30.