Cuban-Americans to Protest Gorbachev's Appearance in Florida

By Steve Brown | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - Saturday's appearance of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at a Florida summit focusing on the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba will draw protests from U.S. House members as well as anti-Castro Cuban-Americans.

Gorbachev is slated to meet with U.S. government officials at the Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., to discuss the possible lifting of the 40-year-old embargo, originally put in place by the administration of President John F. Kennedy not long after Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba and at the height of the Cold War with the Soviets.

Some in Congress have argued it's time to lift the embargo, in order to create another market for American farmers and help sow the seeds of capitalism in the communist island nation.

But congressional members representing South Florida continue to oppose the lifting of the embargo.

"We will be holding a vigil outside to highlight [that] while these folks are promoting opening up trade relations with Cuba, there are thousands of political prisoners in Castro's prisons," Anna Carbonell, district director for Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), told

"We'll also be highlighting the situation of human rights conditions on the island and the fact that if we open up trade now, we're just looking to perpetuate the totalitarian state beyond the life of the current dictator," Carbonell added

At an Oct. 2 speech in Jacksonville, Fla., Gorbachev came to Cuba's defense, saying it "fell victim" as a third-world nation to Cold War being contested by the two world superpowers.

"Now that we have ended the Cold War, it's time to lift the embargo," Gorbachev said. "If you look at the pluses and minuses, you will see that they are all the result of the unique situation, the difficult situation in which Cuba was caught. Nevertheless, the Cubans are a healthy nation, an educated nation with good potential."

The protest, sponsored by the University of Miami Institute of Cuban-American Studies, will feature speeches from Roger Noriega, assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Diaz-Balart, his brother, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

"Gorbachev is on the payroll of multi-national corporations which seek to end U.S. sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship in order to do business with a totalitarian state which denies all rights to the people," Lincoln Diaz-Balart said in an Oct. 2 release. "While Gorbachev earns his pay by calling for normalization with Castro, we will be outside, remembering the victims of the Cuban gulag."

Other anti-Castro activists echoed Diaz-Balart's sentiment.

"The thing to remember with (Gorbachev) is this is the guy who went to Cuba and tried to sell Castro on glasnost and perestroika, and he failed miserably," Dennis Hays, former U.S. ambassador to Suriname and former executive vice president for the Cuban American National Foundation, told "He, of all people, should know that what Castro is interested in is not economic growth and development but maintaining his absolute control over his population."

Hays said Gorbachev "must know" that recommendations to lift the trade embargo against Cuba to bring democracy into the country will fail.

Along with Gorbachev, Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) - another proponent for lifting the embargo as well as the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba - will be on hand to speak at the summit in Florida.

Delahunt recently reiterated his position during House floor debate on an amendment to the 2004 Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies, appropriations bill. The amendment would have prohibited federal funds from being used to restrict U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba. The amendment passed by a 227-188 vote, setting the stage for a larger debate on lifting the ban, which President Bush opposes.

Delahunt called the trade embargo a "failed policy" on the House floor Sept. 9.

"The magnitude of the failure of this policy is so colossal that it is inconceivable that we continue to pursue it because while it has not benefited the Cuban people, it has also diminished American freedoms," Delahunt said.

Hays remarked that the argument over lifting the embargo was one that "we have had many times" with Delahunt.

"The reality is that [Delahunt] is unable to show in any way, shape or form that what he is advocating will have a positive impact in Cuba," Hays said. "He needs to remember that there are 11 million Cubans other than Fidel Castro that live on that island, and they are the ones we should be worried about, not how we should do things to curry favor with a repressive regime."

Mario Diaz-Balart agreed during his own House floor statement Sept. 9.

"The gentleman from Massachusetts (Delahunt) said...he wants to get rid of the embargo. Let us not fund an anti-American terrorist 90 miles away. Let us not fund a person who has said in Iran that he wants to get the United States to be on its knees," Mario Diaz-Balart said. "Let us stand tall with the Cuban people who want to be free. The way to do that is not by helping Castro."

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