Skip to comments.Exile Leaders Quit GOP Over Migrants' Return
Posted on 07/25/2003 6:33:10 PM PDT by Sherri
Rift Growing Between Exile Groups, Elected Officials Joy-Ann Reid, Staff Writer
POSTED: 5:23 p.m. EDT July 25, 2003 UPDATED: 6:58 p.m. EDT July 25, 2003
MIAMI -- Since the 1980s, when then Vice President George H.W. Bush swore in 10,000 Cuban exiles as American citizens at Miami's Orange Bowl, South Florida's Cuban exile community has provided a solid voting bloc for the Republican Party, whose hard-line policies toward the Fidel Castro government are looked on favorably by the approximately 400,000 Cuban expatriates living in the state.
But recent rifts with the George W. Bush administration may put the Cuban-American vote in play in 2004. And increasingly, tension between the traditional leadership of the exile community and three Cuban-American members of congress is growing, as some exiles begin to question what they have gotten for their loyalty to the GOP.
On Friday, leaders of a leading exile group, Brothers to the Rescue fought back, announcing that the group will renounce their political party affiliation from Republican Party to protest a U.S. decision to send 15 suspected hijackers back to Cuba. They said the move does not mean the group will support the Democrats, but rather that Cuban-Americans will vote for whoever supports their cause.
"We are becoming noncommittal," The group's leader, Jose Basulto said.
Basulto, a familiar figure in Cuban exile politics in Miami, made the announcement at the Versailles Restaurant in downtown Miami, a popular gathering spot for members of the generation that fled the island after Castro came to power in 1954 following a coup that overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Members of the group publicly filled out new voter registration cards, changing their affiliation from Republican to "no party affiliation."
Basulto said the group's action comes amid what he called the "un-American" actions of the Bush administration in repatriating the migrants.
"I believe that the United States has committed an un-American act under the George W. Bush administration by sending our compatriots back to Cuba, a country where there is state terrorism and where they do not respect any human rights," Basulto said, adding that those sent back are not criminals. "They are called migrants," said Basulto. "They are refugees."
The decision leaves Cuban-American, Republican elected officials in an awkward position, particularly as other prominent politicians like Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, a Democrat, vie for the national stage. Penelas has announced that he will consider seeking Bob Graham's U.S. Senate seat if Graham chooses not to run for reelection. Graham is running for president.
Exiles Had High Hopes, Now Question What They've Gotten
With U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq, Cuban exiles have been increasingly agitating for a U.S. policy of "regime change" in Cuba as well. They want more money for Radio Marti, which broadcasts anti-Castro radio messages to the island. And they want more overt support for dissident groups seeking democratic reforms on the island. This comes as Castro undertakes the largest crackdown on dissent on the island in decades, jailing more than 70 dissidents in recent months and executing a group of men accused of hijacking a ferry boat in a vain attempt to reach Florida.
In fact, Bush administration rhetoric regarding Cuba has been harsh, with everyone from the president to Secretary of State Collin Powell blasting Havana's treatment of dissidents. But the administration's policies have been driven as much by security concerns in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as by concerns for democracy. Keeping U.S. borders secure means increased Coast Guard patrols, and strict enforcement of laws calling for the interdiction of migrants at sea, and the return of any who fail to reach land under the 40-year-old "wet foot/dry foot" policy.
The growing rift between some exile groups, including the Cuban American National Foundation and others, boiled over this week, amid outrage over the U.S. decision to return 15 Cubans to the island. The 15 were accused of attempting to hijack a boat to Florida.
The 15 migrants were returned to the island on Monday, after the U.S. struck an agreement with the Castro government in which Havana promised Washington that the accused hijackers would not be executed, and that, "taking into consideration the exceptional circumstances of the case" prosecutors here would seek no more than 10 years in prison for the two accused of stealing the boat.
The Cuban government praised the decision to return the migrants, along with a decision by U.S. officials earlier in the year to prosecute a Cuban man charged with hijacking a plane full of passengers to the United States, but Cuban-American groups excoriated it, taking to the airwaves on Spanish-language radio stations to issue rare denunciations of a Republican administration.
Discuss U.S.-Cuba relations
It wasn't the first complaint from loyal Cuban-Americans about the GOP. In May, Ros-Lehtinen publicly groused that her letters to the White House were being ignored. And NBC 6 reporter Hank Tester reported in that month about a growing dissatisfaction among many older exiles, who have heard Republican presidents since Richard Nixon "talk the talk," but who have seen Castro continue to rule anyway.
But what is new about the complaints is that they come with more than grousing, and they are exposing internal rifts in the exile community as sharp as the differences with Washington.
The three Cuban-American congressmen from South Florida, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mario Diaz-Balart, all Republicans, issued a joint statement condemning the decision to repatriate the migrants, calling it an "act of infamy in coordination with the Cuban tyranny," and "a condemnable monstrosity," but that proved too little for many in the Cuban-American community, including the CANF's Executive Director Joe Garcia, who called Lincoln Diaz-Balart "impotent" for his alleged lack of influence with the Bush White House, according to The Miami Herald.
As the controversy over the repatriation has boiled over, Garcia and others have been questioning what the community has gotten for its loyalty to the GOP. And Garcia, a Democrat, has been leading a push within his organization to encourage the Cuban exile community to seek influence in both political parties. Former President Bill Clinton won 30 percent of the Cuban-American vote in 1996, though his administration lost much of that support during the Elian Gonzalez controversy in 2000. Still, Garcia and others have begun to talk about modeling their political strategy after that of Jewish Americans, who keep their vote in play between the parties, though a majority continues to vote for Democrats.
The Bush administration has expressed solidarity with those seeking democracy on the island, but American officials have said they will be tough on those who try to hijack planes or boats in order to get to the U.S.
"I will repeat my earlier statement that hijackings of boats and aircraft are extremely serious violations of international law and of United States law," said an English language version of the statement provided by the U.S. mission in Cuba announcing the repatriations.
"The United States will deploy its homeland security forces to interdict any hijacked conveyance bound for the United States," it said. "Any individual of any nationality -- including Cuban -- who hijacks an aircraft or vessel and successfully arrives in the United States will be prosecuted with the full force of the U.S. legal system."
Since when is sending Cuban rufgees back to live (or die) under a brutal communist dictatorship a conservative value? Who is selling out who?
Besides, it was a shame and a huge waste to sink that '51 Chevy truck...what a shame!
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