There's plenty of political news to digest. I'll highlight two Cuba-related stories: Sen. John McCain's phone call to Radio Mambi and Raul Martinez's official announcement to challenge Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
COLD WAR WARRIOR
Yesterday, Arizona Sen. John McCain visited Miami and stopped at the famous Versailles Restaurant. But, before making his way over there, he made a quick call to Radio Mambi (morning show "En Caliente") where Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart were waiting for him. The radio studio was packed as the three representatives (with other McCain supporters, such as Ana Navarro) lauded Sen. McCain as the best Republican candidate to run for the US Presidency. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was very clear on why voters should stick with Sen. McCain: several polls have shown that Sen. McCain is the ONLY candidate with the possibility to beat the leading Democrat candidates. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart made sure to give praise to the other Republican candidates, but was adamant that voters not supporting Sen. McCain were throwing away their vote. The polls that Rep. Diaz-Balart referred to were not named.
After some waiting, Sen. McCain finally called in to Radio Mambi, where he was welcomed by the three Cuban-American representatives and the hosts of "En Caliente," with less than ten minutes left on the program. Last time (March 2007), Sen. McCain made it to the studio and was interviewed by a very passionate Armando Perez-Roura. This time, McCain was spared, but has now realized what Cuban exile hard-liners want to hear. A militant candidate.
One political reporter (Jill Zuckman) accurately described Sen. McCain in Miami as "a warrior of the Cold War, who understands the importance of keeping up the fight against Communism in nearby Cuba." Zuckman further quotes Sen. McCain:
"I'm proud to have fought for and defended freedom for the people of Cuba, consistently calling for continuing the embargo until there are free elections, human right organizations and a free and independent media... Then and only then will the United States of America extend the aid and assistance because we don't want American tax dollars to go to a corrupt government headed either by Fidel or Raul Castro or anyone else who has denied freedom from the Cuban people."
Sen. McCain has been reminding the public in Miami that he was stationed on the USS Enterprise during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This nuclear-powered air-craft carrier was among the American fleet that formed a blockade around Cuba during the Crisis. "I understand Cuba... I am proud to have sat on a flight deck of a United States Navy aircraft during the Cuban missile crisis," said McCain at the Versailles Restaurant.
But Sen. McCain wasn't always such a hard-liner. It was just one year ago that Sen. McCain supported a different position with respect to a Cuba in transition. In a January 2007 interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sen. McCain had offered "a package of trade, of assistance, of economic development, of assistance in democratization" once Fidel Castro would die and a date for free and fair elections was set. Now, several conditions have been added, regardless of the state of Fidel Castro.
Also, recently Sen. McCain has supported renewed investigations and indictments of the Cuban government for the shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes. McCain has also recently been highlighting his status as a former POW and mentioning a Cuba Program in Vietnam where torture of American POW's during the Vietnam war has been confirmed.
In 1999, POW survivors alleged they had been brutally tortured by Cuban agents in a Vietnamese prison. Reports in the Miami Herald at the time revealed the cruelty of the events and the possible identification of some of the Cuban agents. Committee hearings in the House and Senate were also held that same year. Since then one Cuban agent has been allegedly identified by a POW survivor, but the Cuban government has rejected these allegations and "U.S. officials said the evidence remains inconclusive and contradictory."
Sen. McCain arrived into Miami yesterday with a warrior mentality, and made sure to let the hard-liners in Miami know it. On the phone with Radio Mambi, Sen. McCain reminded everyone that he was a pilot on the USS Enterprise during the Cuban Missile Crisis and a POW in Vietnam:
"And I also remember a fella from Cuba who came and tortured and killed some of my friends and I look forward very much to seeing him again in Havana after the Cuban people are free."
Ninoska Pérez-Castellón: "And I suppose in a court of law."
Sen. McCain: "Yeah, I guess if necessary."
Everyone in the Radio Mambi studio laughed. They were amused at Sen. McCain's attempt to be a militant, just like militants in exile. But, McCain now understands that this is what hard-liners want to hear. The talk of revenge, hidden within the talk of justice.
[Audio of Sen. McCain's comments to Radio Mambi in MP3]
[Photo above of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. John McCain by AP/J. Pat Carter]