Thursday, January 10, 2008

Do You Know Where Your Senator Is?

Yesterday, Florida Senator Mel Martinez called in to Radio Mambi from Prague. According to the Prague Daily Monitor, Sen. Martinez, who is currently leading a US congressional delegation through Morocco and Europe, is in the Czech Republic voicing his support for a US missile defense shield. (Sen. Martinez is a member of the US Senate Armed Services Committee.) Washington and the Pentagon is planning to install a missile radar base in the Czech Republic, and 10 missile interceptors in Poland.

"[Sen. Martinez] said it is important for the project that prominent NATO members start to actively support the [missile defense] shield and that they change their 'neutral' stand."

Recent surveys by Opinion Research Corporation for the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance shows that public support is mixed. Americans (70%) fully support installation of the missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, with Poles (58%) also in support, but with lack of support by Czechs (51% opposed, 38% in favor).

Poles and Czechs also differed on the security benefits of the missile defense shield to their respective countries. 48% of Poles surveyed believe the project will "provide greater security," but 43% opposed that thought. The majority of Czechs also felt the project would not provide greater security (57%). While both populations surveyed agreed that Iran is a substantial/sizable threat to Europe, they also felt ambivalent about the threat posed to their own country. 51% of Poles saw Iran as hardly any or no threat at all, versus 43% who saw them as a substantial/sizable threat. 54% of Czechs saw Iran as hardly any or no threat at all, versus 37% who saw them as a substantial/sizable threat.

A recent poll in Poland also found that about 70% of the population opposed the missile defense shield. The Polish government has also recently voiced their concern over the risks of housing US missiles, even voicing some opposition. From the New York Times: "This is an American, not a Polish project," Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said in an interview published in the weekend edition of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. And, Russia has threatened a new arms race if the missile defense shield is approved.

While in Prague, Sen. Martinez also met with the Senators of the Czech Republic and "spoke about human rights and the situation in Cuba" and "praised the Czech Republic for its uncompromising stand on the Cuban regime it takes in the EU and for its support to dissidents."

In the past, the Czech Republic has advocated a tougher stance on Cuba, which in turn has worsened relations between them. The International Committee for Democracy in Cuba (ICDC) is based in Prague. The ICDC supports the Cuban dissidence through "channeling of funds... to democratic activists" and works towards the "sensitization of European and Latin American public opinion on the topic of Cuba."

Sen. Martinez told Radio Mambi listeners that support for the US embargo towards Cuba is important and must remain unchanged, especially now that the Cuban government is going (or has gone) through leadership changes. By supporting the embargo, Sen. Martinez feels confident that the is US best prepared to support the Cuban dissidence IF a significant political event occurs (which he didn't specify), and IF it occurs this year.

Sounds like more waiting to me.

[Photo by AP]

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