The Miami Herald
Wed, Sep. 22, 2004

Exile: President Bush has failed to bring democracy to Cuba

At a Little Havana rally, a prominent exile figure denounces President Bush and his administration's policies toward Cuba.


Speaking at a Democratic Party rally Tuesday in Little Havana, a prominent Miami exile figure denounced President Bush as leading ``probably the worst administration we've ever had on Cuban policy.''

The remark by Joe Garcia, former executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, signals what could be an unprecedented battle for Hispanic voters in the upcoming presidential race.

''Part of it is our fault,'' Garcia said. "Because he's been saying exactly what we want to hear -- words like freedom, democracy, liberty. But he hasn't done anything to bring this about in Cuba.''

Garcia left CANF this month to accept a post with the New Democrat Network, a recruitment arm of the Democratic National Party that is launching a $6 million media campaign targeting Hispanics.

The group showcased its first batch of political ads at the Manuel Artime Theater for the Performing Arts, 900 SW First St., before a partisan crowd. ''Beware of the name Bush,'' one of the ads stated ominously, flashing images of the president as a young man with a seemingly charmed upbringing.

The ad took jabs at Bush, showing him as a cheerleader in college, then as a national guardsman, while other men his age fought and died in Vietnam.

Another ad accused Bush of gutting public education, and featured a young Hispanic girl saying: "President Bush, why have you broken your promises?''

The event drew about 200 people, but catered to Cuban-American voters such as Rosanne Vazquez, a Miami Lakes physical therapist.

''I've always been a Republican, but I'm undecided this year,'' said Vazquez, 35.

"Bush has done an OK job, but I'm concerned about the war.''

Vazquez said her friend Mariela Fuentes, also Cuban American, persuaded her to attend.

''I was raised in a Republican home,'' said Fuentes, a New Jersey native who later moved to Miami.

"And then I got an education. Now that I know better, I'm a Democrat.''

Hialeah Mayor Raúl Martínez said he believes many Cuban Americans are closet Democrats, while still others are ready to be converted.

'They didn't want to be seen as `bad Cubans,' '' Martínez said.

"In the Cuban community it's a stigma to be a Democrat. But I think they're starting to come out.''

Martínez recalled Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba, saying the same message applied in Miami: 'He said, 'No tengan miedo. . . Don't be afraid.' ''