From email@example.com Tue Aug 22 13:03:36 2000
Lieberman a close ally of Miami's Cuban exiles
By Anthony Boadle, Reuters, 11 August 2000
WASHINGTON - At a time when the U.S. embargo against Cuba has come under unprecedented attack, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman is a firm opponent of relaxing the pressure on the island's communist government.
Since his election to the Senate in 1988, Lieberman has been a close ally of anti-Castro exiled in Florida and has voted to toughen the four-decade-old embargo at every turn.
By picking the Connecticut senator as his running mate, Democratic nominee Al Gore can hope to recover support among Cuban Americans lost by the Clinton Administration's decision to return the shipwrecked boy, Elian Gonzalez, to Cuba in June.
This year, Lieberman was the top recipient among three senatorial candidates of campaign contributions by the Free Cuba PAC, the political action committee of the largest exile organisation, the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).
Free Cuba PAC contributed the maximum $10,000 to the senator's reelection campaign, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign funding.
"He's been a friend of the Cuban cause," CANF executive director Joe Garcia said.
"We have no questions where Joe Lieberman stands. He's a friend and the foundation stands with its friends," he said.
Garcia said Cuban Americans went to bat for Lieberman when he first ran for the Senate, to block his Republican rival and incumbent Lowell Weicker, a former Connecticut governor.
Weicker advocated closer relations with Cuba and visited Havana, returning with a box of cigars given to him by Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
"We were very happy we got a man of Joe Lieberman's integrity and honesty," Garcia said. "His entrance into the U.S. Senate displaced one of the greatest enemies the cause of a free Cuba ever had."
Lieberman voted for the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act and the 1996 Helms-Burton Act tightening the embargo, which critics say is a Cold War relic that has failed to budge Castro.
U.S. farmers and the pharmaceutical industry have been lobbying hard to get into the Cuban market.
In the growing debate on whether to relax the embargo to allow food and medicine sales to Cuba, Lieberman voted in June against a proposal to create a national commission to review U.S. policy toward the island that had been introduced in the Senate by fellow Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd.
Lieberman joined Republican politicians in asking Attorney General Janet Reno to delay the return to Cuba of six-year-old Elian Gonzalez, the shipwrecked boy caught in a custody battle between his father in Cuba and exiled relatives in Miami.
The senator has also consistently supported funding of the controversial U.S.-government's Radio and TV Marti stations that broadcast to Cuba.
CANF spokeswoman Ninoska Perez said Lieberman was a friend of the organisation's founder, the late Jorge Mas Canosa, the figurehead of the anti-Castro hardliners.
CANF has been a a powerful lobby in Washington for two decades. Until 1996, officers, directors and trustees of CANF and the Free Cuba PAC paid out $3.2 million in political money, according to a 1997 study by the Centre for Public Integrity.
A spokesman for Lieberman, Dan Gerstein, said the senator has strongly supported the Cuban exiles community and received strong support in return.
But he stressed: "His views on this have nothing to do with any contributions he has ever received, This is something he believes in his heart. He firmly believes this policy is based on principle."
Lieberman and Gore have identical views on the goals of U.S. policy on Cuba, that the embargo should stay in place until Castro undertakes reforms, Gerstein said.
"They agree very strongly that American policy should do nothing to prop up Castro or extend his ability to oppress the Cuban people," the spokesman said.
Both men broke with the Clinton Administration on Elian Gonzalez, opposing a decision to send the boy back to Cuba. U.S. agents stormed a Miami home to seize the boy from his relatives to end the seven month drama.
Gore's change of position may have endeared him to some Cuban Americans, but the shift was seen poorly in the country, opinion polls showed.
Most Cuban Americans vote Republican and are expected to do so once again in the November election in which the party has a tough anti-Castro platform that calls for active U.S. support for dissidents in Cuba.