Skip to comments.Cubans' return 'just not right,' Gov. Bush says
Posted on 07/31/2003 11:15:11 PM PDT by FairOpinion
With political tension building over the U.S. government's decision to ship 12 boat hijacking suspects back to face prison in Cuba, Gov. Jeb Bush took the unusual step Thursday of criticizing his own brother's administration for the negotiations that led to the repatriation.
The governor's rebuke, delivered during an interview with The Herald, comes as President Bush and the Republican Party face a rising tide of anger among Cuban-American exile leaders, who say last week's repatriation of the boaters is the latest offense by a GOP president who has failed to fulfill campaign promises to toughen policies targeting Fidel Castro's government.
''Despite the good intentions of the administration to negotiate the safety of these folks, that is an oppressive regime, and given the environment in Cuba, it's just not right'' to have sent the Cubans back, Gov. Bush said in an interview aboard his plane from Tampa to Miami.
''There's an expectation that I'm going to be in lock step with the administration, and that tends to happen,'' the governor added. ``But from time to time I have to disagree, and this is one of them.''
While such a public critique of his brother's administration is striking, the governor was also quick to defend the president's overall record on Cuba -- an indication his remarks are intended to diminish any political fallout that could hurt the president's reelection bid and other Republicans next year.
The governor said that he has asked several high-level officials in the administration to review what happened and why, although he said he has not spoken directly to his brother. He said that neither he nor his brother knew of the decision to send the 12 back to Cuba until it was too late.
''Early on, I was under the impression they would be sent to a third country,'' the governor said.
CHANGE IN POLICY
The governor hinted at a major announcement of some kind by his brother's administration in the coming months related to Cuba policy. ''I think this can be rectified,'' he said.
The issue could prove politically damaging to the president, who relied, in part, on hundreds of thousands of typically loyal Republican Cuban Americans in 2000 to narrowly win Florida and, as a result, the White House.
The president's advisors believe Florida could be pivotal for his reelection next year. Democratic challengers are already angling to exploit the flap, with Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman calling a South Florida news conference earlier this week to declare the repatriation an ''abandonment of American values,'' and then showing up at the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana to mingle.
But the statements by the president's younger brother -- a Miami resident and fluent Spanish speaker with credibility among exile activists -- could serve to help repair the damage by reminding Cuban Americans of the brothers' close ties to them.
The governor acknowledged in the interview that losing Cuban-American support could be devastating to the GOP, noting that President Bill Clinton's success in wooing even a mere third of their vote helped him win Florida in 1996.
A key critic on Thursday welcomed the potential for changes in policy but attributed the governor's assurances to politics.
''I think they're going to have to do something, because they can't win Florida without the Cuban-American community's overwhelming support,'' said Joe Garcia, executive director of the influential Cuban American National Foundation, whose top leadership has been especially critical of the Bushes in recent days. ``Unfortunately, it took the foundation and others demanding action over things that were promised three years ago.''
In the interview, Gov. Bush called Lieberman's move a ''repugnant'' political play, saying that he registered his disagreement with the White House ``with respect, not rancor.''
Acknowledging a failure by the White House to articulate a ''coherent policy'' on Cuba, the governor added that the president would announce major changes in policy sometime before the 2004 election.
He declined to offer specifics, offering only that ``there's been work over the last six months to develop a coherent policy.''
Officials at the White House and the State Department did not return calls for comment.
The decision to send back the 12 hijack suspects was particularly stinging to exile leaders in the wake of months of crackdowns by Castro's government against political dissidents.
The U.S. government negotiated with Cuba to return the would-be migrants. The agreement: Their lives would be spared, but the Cubans, suspected of hijacking a boat and three of 15 passengers, could each be sentenced to serve up to 10 years in prison.
The deal unleashed a storm of discontent from foundation leaders, who bashed President Bush along with the three Republican Cuban Americans who represent Miami in Congress.
Exile leaders are upset that, despite Bush's assurances, financial aid to dissidents in Cuba has not been increased and turmoil remains at Radio and TV Martí.
Critics also complain that Bush has maintained the Clinton administration policy of preventing lawsuits by U.S. citizens over land seized by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution.
At the same time, Democrats are trying to make a case that Cuban-American voters should not remain singularly loyal to the GOP. Many leading Republicans in Congress and the business groups that fund their campaigns are pushing to end the trade embargo with Cuba -- a reality that Democrats hope gives them a chance to woo Cuban Americans on other issues such as education and healthcare.
Besides Lieberman, Florida Sen. Bob Graham, another Democratic contender for president, is a popular figure among exile leaders for his support of the embargo.
Two other candidates, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina, have met with exile leaders in recent months as well.
The governor was careful during Thursday's interview to defend his brother's overall record on Cuba policy.
He blamed the lack of action on the national security team's focus on terrorism and war.
''One incident is not what will be remembered about the record of my brother's administration,'' the governor said.
I hope it will be that Bush rescinds the terrible Clinton policy of "wet foot, dry foot", which is what caused the return of the Cuban refugees.
''This is one of the best decisions the Senate has made in more than five years,'' El Salvador Ambassador Rene Antonio León Rodríguez said after the Senate vote late Tuesday. ``U.S. policy will have a champion now. And the region will finally get the attention it deserves.''
Noriega's confirmation came after a long delay because Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., had been blocking the vote for months in an effort to force a Senate vote on his proposal for easing restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba.
''We had all been waiting for so long that we stopped watching,'' said Ana Navarro, a longtime Miami lobbyist and friend of Noriega, the current U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.
Until Tuesday, the Senate had refused to confirm a series of nominees for the State Department job, in charge of relations with Washington's hemispheric neighbors, since 1999 because of a string of political disputes. The post had been held since then on an interim or appointed basis by four officials.***
Hatians returned, no one gives a rats ass.
The double standard is sickening at best, racsist at worst.
I disagree. Any illegals caught here or in territorial waters should be sent back Because I see them as invaders of our country.
Cuban refugees on our soil are not illegal.
They are candidates for asylum.
1. Mexican Illegals = invaders ... generally vote Dem ... send them back
2. Islamic Illegals = terrorists ... blow up things and kill Americans ... shot em on sight
3. Cuban Refugees = Asylum seekers ... generally conservative and vote Rep and may have provided the votes to win Fl. ... let em stay
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