Exiles Press Cuban's Exit From Panel
ALFONSO CHARDY And JAY DUCASSI Herald Staff Writers
The independent status of President Reagan's commission on Central America policy is being challenged by opposition to panel member Carlos Diaz-Alejandro, accused by fellow Cuban exiles of being sympathetic toward Fidel Castro.
A senior administration official said Tuesday that Reagan's staff had
considered dumping Diaz-Alejandro from the so-called Kissinger commission,
after getting information on the appointee
from Sen. Paula Hawkins (R., Fla.) at White House meetings July 29 and Aug. 4 and 5.
The idea was discarded, the official said, after some White House officials argued that such action might compromise the credibility of the commission. But he added that the matter may hinge on whether Diaz-Alejandro passes his FBI security clearance for the sensitive post.
Although Cuban-Americans in Miami have loudly opposed the Diaz-Alejandro appointment for several days, the controversy did not gain national significance until White House and State Department representatives commented on a newspaper report Tuesday that the administration would bar the Cuban exile from serving on the commission.
Administration officials acknowledged for the first time that the seating
of Diaz-Alejandro on the National Bipartisan
Commission on Central America was in question because of criticism from Hawkins and members of the conservative Cuban- American community.
Other exiles in Miami, aroused by the controversy, said they were sending telegrams to Reagan Administration officials to show their support for Diaz-Alejandro.
The White House and State Department officials insisted that the 46-year-old Yale University economics professor, and the other 11 members of the panel named on July 18, would be sworn in as scheduled today at a 2 p.m. ceremony at the State Department.
"For the moment, he remains," said White House spokesman Larry Speakes. "He is the President's appointee, and, as it stands now, he'll serve."
Officials pointedly noted, however, that the FBI was still working on Diaz-Alejandro's security clearance and that "if something is found" -- as Speakes put it -- he could be removed.
Commission members whose security checks are incomplete will be given temporary clearance so they can attend "classified briefings" on Central America scheduled for the balance of the week.
One White House official, who asked not to be quoted by name, said Reagan's chief advisers are concerned that the Diaz- Alejandro issue could weaken the President's base of support among Cuban exiles.
The official also pointed out that the removal of Diaz- Alejandro at this point, in the wake of accusations that he backs leftist causes, could upset liberals and moderates in Congress who believe that the commission should reflect a broad range of viewpoints.
Other officials noted that Diaz-Alejandro has impressive credentials as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, consultant to the Rockefeller Foundation, and chairman of the Joint Commission on Latin American Studies from 1976 to 1979.
Leftist leanings would not be sufficient grounds to bounce Diaz-Alejandro from the panel, Speakes and other officials said.
"What we would have to have," said a senior White House official, "is solid evidence that he has a conflict-of-interest problem, or that he has been involved in aiding and abetting Castro or any other U.S. foe in undermining U.S. interests and security."
The accusations against Diaz-Alejandro were not a surprise to the White House, Speakes said, noting: "We were certainly aware of the leftist leanings, but this would not be a factor on whether a decision is actually made to remove him from the panel."
Speakes said the White House staff was aware of speculation that Diaz-Alejandro's appointment was an administration error -- that the White House had intended to appoint another man with the same surname.
Speakes suggested that this was not the case, but he declined to say who had nominated Diaz-Alejandro. Other White House sources said that the panel was "put together" by the President's assistant for personnel, John Herrington.
Herrington was on vacation, his office said. The committee's chairman, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, referred all queries to the White House.
Diaz-Alejandro's secretary at Yale said the professor had been away from his office for more than a week.
Hawkins' aides said she had met with Vice President George Bush, White House Chief of Staff James Baker, presidential counselor Edwin Meese and national security adviser William Clark to demand that the nomination be rescinded.
The aides said the officials were "stunned" when the senator gave them documents outlining Diaz-Alejandro's background, and promised to look into the matter.
The senator's aides said they did not have a copy of Hawkins' documents, but noted that the Cuban-American National Foundation -- a Washington-based exile group -- had prepared extensive background information on Diaz-Alejandro.
On Aug. 4, the group said Diaz-Alejandro had served for several years as a member of the advisory board of Areito magazine, a New York-based journal that "supports Cuban government views."
Supported by some
Diaz-Alejandro took part in the 1978 "dialogue" between some exile sectors and Castro that led to the release of thousands of political prisoners and the opening up of Cuba to travel so that exiles could visit relatives there.
In Miami, Maria Cristina Herrera , professor of social sciences at Miami Dade Community College and a friend of Diaz- Alejandro, said the appointee is "very able and very suitable" to serve on the panel.
"We don't want the administration to think that all Cubans are against Diaz-Alejandro," Herrera said.
Herald Washington Bureau correspondent Saul Friedman contributed to this report.