He worked for President Obama in opening up Cuban relations. Patrick Hidalgo dies at 41

Patrick Hidalgo, a Miami-Dade political organizer and former President Obama appointee whose loved ones say he was dedicated to bridging the gap between the United States and Cuba, died this week in Miami.

He was 41. His sister said on Facebook he died of heart failure.

Hidalgo first visited Cuba with his brother as a junior at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School. Hidalgo’s family came from Cuba and is related to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

Years later, Hidalgo, working in the White House under Barack Obama, would play a role in crafting the president’s policy of re-engaging with Cuba, his family and friends say.

“He was deeply committed to the social justice teachings of the church and was never afraid to speak truth to power, whether it was in the White House in the Oval Office or if it was in the church or it was on the streets,” said Felice Gorordo, who knew Hidalgo from their days at Belen and also worked at the White House.

Hidalgo died Monday, two days after speaking at an Elizabeth Warren campaign event in Miami.

“Patrick is not just my brother; he was also my best friend,” his brother, Manny Hidalgo, said by phone as he sobbed. “It feels like I lost a big part of me.”

Patrick Hidalgo, a Miami-Dade organizer and former Obama appointee, died at 41 on March 2, 2020.
Patrick Hidalgo, a Miami-Dade organizer and former Obama appointee, died at 41 on March 2, 2020.

Patrick Hidalgo was the youngest of five children in a large Cuban family. He’s the nephew of Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez and the cousin of the current Miami mayor. He graduated from Belen Jesuit, Georgetown University and later earned a master’s of business administration and a master’s of public administration from MIT and Harvard through a dual-degree program.

Hidalgo was deeply connected to his faith, said his friend Gorordo. Improving relations with Cuba, climate change and universal healthcare were at the top of his list. He also advocated for minorities and those in need.

He became Obama’s Hispanic vote director in Florida during the 2008 presidential campaign and later served as one of his presidential appointees. His last post was as deputy director of the White House Business Council.

“He was involved in every aspect of the opening to Cuba, from the focus on entrepreneurship to the way that Obama reached out in Miami to his abiding concern for reconciliation among Cuban and Cuban-American families,” said Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser.

Former director of the White House Business Council Ari Matusiak said he became close with Hidalgo while working together in their “shoebox” office. Matusiak said Hidalgo was hard-working, charismatic and an optimist. His “big bearded smile” made everyone feel important, Matusiak said.

Mayor Suarez, Hidalgo’s cousin, said he was a good listener who knew how to challenge you in a way that was “intellectually honest” while open to new ideas. The mayor said Hidalgo loved to write long text messages. The two had just seen each other last week.

In 2020, Hidalgo volunteered for Warren’s Democratic presidential campaign while working to create the Miami Freedom Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving people in Miami the opportunity to explore progressive values.

Those who knew Hidalgo say he was funny, sometimes mischievous and always full of life. He was strong, tall and had a booming laugh. He was “dulce” to his father and was an “ultimate idealist” who wanted to change the world, according to his family.

Hidalgo was also spiritual. On Sunday, he was at a prayer group, just hours before his death.

“The world lost a real champion of peace, a champion of change and we owe it to him and to ourselves to pick up the torch and advance the causes that Patrick believed in so deeply,” his brother said.

Hidalgo is survived by his father and siblings. His wake will be at 6 p.m. Friday at Bernardo Garcia Funeral Homes, 12050 SW 117th Ave. A Mass will be at noon Saturday at Manresa Retreat House, 12190 SW 56th St. Burial will follow at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery, 11411 NW 25th St., Doral.

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