Bush lauded as 'first Cuban-American governor'

December 20, 2006

Miami Herald- Casey Woods

A crush of the Cuban-American community's power brokers honored outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush today, in a loving farewell to a leader the exile community sees as the most staunch champion of their cause -- a free Cuba -- in the state's history.

'As a Cuban American, I want to thank you for being what I would call in my mind, the first Cuban-American governor,' U.S. Senator Mel Martinez said. ``Not only with his language, but also with his understanding and intrinsic love for the Cuban people . . . he has been an immense help to the cause of freedom.'

Bush responded with equal affection. 'If Bill Clinton can be the first 'African-American' president, I can be the first Cuban-American governor,' he said during his address to hundreds of supporters.

The event, an annual lunch of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, drew a who's who of the exile community and its supporters, including Republican U.S. Representatives Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat. The political group has lobbied heavily in Congress to quash efforts to weaken elements of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

In his remarks to more than 800 people gathered at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Bush referred to the controversial comments of Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, who last month called Miami a ``Third World country.'

'Miami is the most beautiful place in the world,' he said in Spanish. ``The congressman from Colorado doesn't know anything about Miami.'

Bush did not directly opine on another controversy roiling the Cuban-American community, one over the possible congressional investigation of the government-funded Radio and TV Martí, though he did express support for the Martís' efforts.

'The people that want more truth to come [to Cuba] because they believe that will hasten the transition to freedom in Cuba believe we've got to find out ways to get Radio and TV Martí into Cuba, and I'm on that side,' he said in an interview afterwards.

With a $37 million budget, the Martís, which were created to promote democracy in Cuba, have been dogged by political cronyism and mismanagement, according to audits in 2003 and 1999. Another government audit is now underway. TV Martí has also struggled to expand its audience, which a government study estimated at 9,000 last year, because of jamming by the Cuban government.

On Tuesday, Martí officials announced that they will spend $377,500 to air certain programs over South Florida broadcast stations, using a loophole in the law that bans the dissemination of propaganda in the U.S.

U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., announced today that he will move to hold hearings next year on the alleged problems at the Martís. Delahunt is slated to head the oversight and investigations subcommittee for the House International Relations Committee.

Martinez was openly critical of the investigation.

'We'll have to see what the [investigations] say, but it is important to recognize that when there was Radio Free Europe, they didn't do these [investigations],' he said.

He also criticized the recent legislative delegation to Cuba, which included Delahunt, calling it a ``colossal failure.'

'They were not considered important enough for Raúl Castro to take his time to meet with them,' he said. ``They only came back to confirm the intransigence of that regime, at least with this current leadership, is complete and total.'

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