The Miami Herald
Mar. 29, 2002

Both sides of embargo issue meet at Biltmore

                      BY NANCY SAN MARTIN

                      It was billed as a ''historic'' event to propel a change of U.S. policy toward Cuba. About 300 people
                      attended a daylong conference Thursday calling for a lifting of the 43-year-old embargo and easing of
                      trade and travel restrictions, even as influential proponents of current U.S. policy and protesters
                      gathered to urge that the laws remain in place.

                      ''The current policy has lost the support of the American people,'' Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass.,
                      said at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, adding that polls indicate most Americans want the United
                      States to lift the embargo and restrictions on travel and sale of food and medicine.

                      ''The world does view this policy as hypocritical and inconsistent with the values we preach,'' said Delahunt,
                      who was joined at the conference by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. ``We're at a new era. If the administration hears
                      from this community that times are changing, I guarantee you the policy will change.''

                      Although some groups have advocated a change in policy for years, it was believed to be the first time
                      that a significant conference opposing the U.S. embargo of Cuba was held in Miami-Dade County.

                      ''There is no longer a monolith of opinion in South Florida,'' Sally Grooms Cowal, president of the
                      Washington-based Cuba Policy Foundation, said to resounding applause.

                      ''This is the silent majority,'' she said. ``Today, it's not silent.''

                      OPPOSING EVENT

                      Meanwhile, on the other side of the hotel, U.S. Reps. Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both
                      Miami Republicans, held a press conference along with several former Cuban political prisoners
                      denouncing the event.

                      They said pressure against the Cuban government will continue until President Fidel Castro meets
                      three objectives: freedom for all political prisoners, free speech and free elections.

                      ''The question is not whether or not to have sanctions,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. 'The question is, `When is
                      [Castro's] regime willing to lift its sanctions?' ''

                      Outside, a small group of opponents waving Cuban, U.S. and other flags carried signs that read
                      ''Freedom for Cuba, Helping Castro is Crime'' and ``No deals for a Terrorist Cuba. U.S -- Get Tough.''

                      Some shouted insults and called the conference participants ''traitors.'' The gathering of about two
                      dozen demonstrators lasted less than three hours.

                      EYE ON WASHINGTON

                      Antonio Zamora, one of the conference organizers, said they plan to deliver a written copy of the
                      proceedings to Washington and increase lobbying efforts.

                      ''This conference is not intended to antagonize anybody,'' said Zamora, of the U.S./Cuba Legal Forum in
                      Miami. ``It's intended to show that there are different points of view in Miami and we believe that
                      Miami has changed. It's not the closed community it was 10 years ago. We want to be part of the
                      reassessment of U.S.-Cuba policy.''

                      The renewed debate comes as Otto Reich, President Bush's top Latin American diplomat, has indicated
                      that the administration's policy is under review and that restrictions on Cuba will likely be tightened

                      Speakers at Thursday's event also promoted the idea of free trade, specifically the sale of food and

                      Studies indicate that Cuba could account for between $684 million and $1.2 billion annually in
                      merchandise trade with the United States, with U.S. exports dominating the relationship by a 9-to-1
                      ratio, according to a February 2001 study by the U.S. International Trade Commission for the House
                      Ways and Means Committee.

                      The sale earlier this year of $30 million in agricultural products and medical items to Cuba has fueled
                      interest in extending what both Cuba and the United States contend is a one-time deal prompted by
                      the devastation of November's Hurricane Michelle.

                      Herald staff writer Judy Odierna contributed to this report