Cuban Exiles Begin Two-Day Blitz In Washington

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:29pm EDT

( -The recent House vote to lift the travel ban on Cuba and talk of further easing the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is drawing Cuban exiles to Washington for two days beginning Tuesday. People on both sides of the embargo issue plan to lobby Congress.

On Tuesday, a "National Summit on Cuba," described by organizers as a "pro-democracy" event, will be held at the National Press Club in Washington.

The group Americans For A Free Cuba is spearheading the event, along with the Cuban-American National Foundation and the Center For A Free Cuba, as well as numerous other anti-Castro Cuban exile groups.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Cuban exile and the Castro government's biggest critic in the House, called on all Cuban-Americans to attend.

"Together we can defeat the efforts of those who seek to establish diplomatic and economic ties with the Castro regime. Please support the maintenance of the sanctions against Fidel Castro's dictatorship," she said.

Among those speaking will be her Arizona Republican colleague Jeff Flake, a member of the House International Relations Committee. Flake supports lifting the U.S. economic embargo, but he also criticizes Fidel Castro's human rights record.

"The Cuban-American community knows firsthand what a failure our current policy has been," said Flake. "If our country is serious about undermining Castro and bringing democratic reforms to Cuba, we need to try a new approach."

The Americans For A Free Cuba has scheduled a noontime press conference to tell "the story the big business lobby does not want known -- that Castro has historically sponsored terrorism and remains hostile to the United States; that Cuba is one of the worst credit risks in the world, and trading with Canada, Europe, Japan and Latin American has done nothing to promote freedom in Cuba."

Those expected to attend the press conference include Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, a Cuban exile; Sen. George Allen (R-Va.); Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a Cuban exile, and a Canadian shipping executive who has detained Cuban cargo in West Africa.

Later in the afternoon, the Americans For A Free Cuba will hold a vigil on Capitol Hill at the Russell Senate Office Building.

On Wednesday, the Americans For A Free Cuba and their allies will meet with various members of Congress as will other Cuban-American groups who support lifting the embargo and easing trade and travel restrictions with Cuba.

The anti-embargo groups are titling their event, "Cuban-American Lobby Day." It will begin Wednesday with a morning press conference at the Cannon House Office Building. A major initiative for a new approach toward Cuba will be unveiled at that press conference, according to officials.

Participants include members of the "Congressional Cuba Working Group" such as Reps. JoAnn Emerson (R-Mo.) and Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.).

Other Cuban-Americans leaders expected to attend are: Alfredo Duran of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo of Cambio Cubano, Delvis Fernandez Levy of the Cuban American Alliance, Silvia Wilhelm of Puentes Cubanos, and Ambassador Sally Grooms Cowal, president of the Cuba Policy Foundation.

But in a statement, the anti-embargo groups said they would like to see language on the House Treasury and Postal Appropriations bill that cuts funds for the enforcement of all "travel and humanitarian trade restriction to Cuba, including licensing, as well as enforcing the cap on money sent to family and friends on the island."

After the press conference, these groups will also meet with lawmakers and conclude their activities with a rally on the Supreme Court steps and remarks by Attorney Antonio Zamora, president of the US-Cuba Legal Forum.

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