Research: Commentary

Congresswoman's allegiance in question

Sun Sentinel, March 19, 2008 | Article

By Wayne Smith

Democratic congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the co-chair of Red to Blue, a Democratic congressional group working to expand the number of Democrats in the House of Representative. Democrats believe for the first time they have a good chance of unseating one or more of the three Republican Cuban-Americans representing South Florida - Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart.

The Democrats running to unseat them will have to do so, however, without the support of Wasserman Schultz. Her ties of friendship with the three Cuban-Americans are such, she says, that she cannot support her fellow Democrats. She will have to sit this one out. So will Democratic congressman Kendrick Meek, who reportedly has close ties to the Diaz-Balart family.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, we should note, have long supported arch-terrorists Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. Now, both reportedly are also pressuring the White House to free Eduardo Arocena, another terrorist, formerly the head of Omega-7, who has been described by the FBI as the "most dangerous in the United States." One can only wonder if in their professed close friendship with Ileana and Lincoln, Wasserman Shultz and Meek have any reservations about the latter's support for these terrorists - and thus for terrorism?

This isn't the first time Wasserman Schultz has gone against Democratic Party initiatives. Back in August of last year, when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel put forward an amendment to simplify the method of payment for U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba, it was expected to pass easily. After all, it would have facilitated sales and thus served the interests of the American farmer. It was estimated that sales, which were hovering at about $400 million a year, could increase to well over a billion, if the method of payment were simplified. Moreover, similar amendments had passed in recent years by voice vote, only to be sidetracked by the Republican congressional leadership. Now, with the Democrats in control, surely the amendment would sail through.

But to the surprise of many, and to Rangel's chagrin, it was defeated, with some 66 Democrats crossing party lines and voting against it. Wasserman Schultz got much of the credit for bringing the 66 over. "I was about as active as you could be," she acknowledged. And her friend Ileana Ros gave Wasserman Schultz full credit for the amendment's defeat, calling her "a tiger."

She certainly was not simply following the wishes of her constituents, only about 5 percent of whom are Cuban-Americans. But there was of course the money. Some 58 of the 66 Democrats who voted against the Rangel amendment had received one or more contributions from the Republican-oriented U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in the months prior to the vote, with contributions running from $1,000 to $11,000. Wasserman Schultz has reportedly received more than $22,000 from the PAC.

Some money was paid, as usual, but hardly for a noble cause. Preventing the simplification of payments for U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba in no way advanced the cause of human rights. It put no pressure on the Cuban government, which can buy agricultural products from dozens of other countries. The only ones hurt by the amendment's defeat are American farmers.

Wayne S. Smith is former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (1979-82) and is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.

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