This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, August 30, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.
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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Karl Rove (search), President Bush's senior adviser, said recently that Florida is again ground zero in the 2004 campaign. If that's the case, the president has one heck of a fight on his hands. One of his main constituencies, the Cuban-American community in south Florida, has threatened to withhold its support for the president, support critical to Bush's hopes for winning Florida for a second term.
Here to tell us all what that's all about is Joe Garcia, the executive director of the Cuban-American National Foundation.
Thanks for being with us.
JOE GARCIA, CUBAN-AMERICAN NATIONAL FOUNDATION: Pleasure.
KONDRACKE: Now, what is this fight all about? Why might Cuban- Americans withhold their support for Bush?
GARCIA: Well, I mean, there's a great amount of expectation we had for this president, and we still do, and we're good friends. He received 82 percent of the Cuban-American vote. That's better than he did in Crawfordville.
And he had a lot of promises, and we want him to meet those promises.
FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Well, Joe…the precipitating event, though, was, wasn't it those 12 Cubans who were escaping from Cuba, were caught by the Coast Guard on the high seas, sent back to Castro (search) in Cuba, where…and the Bush administration negotiated jail cells, jail sentences for them.
What was going on there? What should the Bush administration have done in that case?
GARCIA: It's just plain un-American. Look, the existing wet foot-dry foot policy, in other words, high tide, you have no chance, low tide, welcome to America, is absurd. That isn't what the greatest country built by immigrants should have its policy designed by.
This president criticized it severely before he came into office. And yet here we are not only implementing Clinton's Castro accords, but now we've got the Bush Castro accords, where Bush, the same government that goes to Geneva every year and talks about the inhumane conditions in Cuba's jails, is literally negotiating jail sentences for people trying to escape the most repressive and longest-lasting dictatorship in the history of the hemisphere.
BARNES: Well, Joe, look, I've talked, I've talked to people in the Bush administration, as you have, and they say their biggest fear is, if they don't go along with Castro and send these people back from the high seas, the ones who don't actually touch ground in Florida, if they don't send them back and, and, and continue, basically, the Clinton policy, then what will happen is…like the one more than 20 years ago where hundreds of thousands of Cubans will be sent to Florida.
Is that a legitimate worry?
GARCIA: It's not a legitimate worry, especially for a nation like ours. Our policy shouldn't be designed by a two-bit dictator in the Caribbean. What we need to have is a policy that rewards those who seek freedom, instills freedom, and promotes it. And we shouldn't be scared of what Castro's going to do. We should have a policy that tells Castro: Look, you do the wrong thing, you're going to pay a price.
But when you turn people around, I mean, imagine throwing people back over the Berlin Wall (search), imagine us saying no every time a Soviet defected, we'd say, No, we've got enough. Look, this is the last dictatorship in this hemisphere. People fear for their lives.
And what we need to do is take control of immigration policy and have an immigration policy that promotes freedom, have a policy, a foreign policy, that helps dissidents on the island, so that the fight can be taken to the streets of Cuba, not to the, not to the straits of Florida.
KONDRACKE: So is, is the Cuban-American community really going to boycott President Bush against, say, Howard Dean or somebody like that in a general election, and let a Democrat be president, who is likely to, to lift the embargo, maybe?
GARCIA: Well maybe, maybe not. What I do find is that this administration created tremendous high expectations. Three years after they've been in power, they haven't done anything. We started, you know, demanding that they take action on some basic points that they had promised well before they came into power.
Last week, we saw the first steps. They indicted two pilots and a general who shot down three American citizens that were flying over the straits of Florida. They also made a renewed commitment to make TV Marti work, which is a government broadcast station to Cuba.
We're hoping those are the first steps for them to live up to the promises they made this community. If they do that, look, Cuban-American support is not up to Cubans or Democrats, it's up to the president of the United States. If he lives up to his promises, I don't think he's going to have problems in south Florida. If he doesn't, I think there's going to be a competitive race.
Think about it, less than 1 percent of Cuban-Americans would have changed their vote in the last election, and we'd be, I'd be complaining about Al Gore.
BARNES: Well, you had Jeb Bush, the governor of the Florida and the president's brother, on your side. He criticized his brother for his Cuba policy. What, you mentioned the things the president has done just recently. What should he do next?
GARCIA: Well, I think he needs to take control of immigration policy.
BARNES: But what does that mean, though?
GARCIA: That means we give Castro 20,000 visas a year. But the problem is, Castro decides who gets them and who doesn't. Look, when we give a visa, if we give one to Fred Barnes, a dissident in Cuba, Fred Barnes gets out or no one gets out. We should control our visas.
Secondly, there should be a reviewable process. If we stop you at high seas, and you've taken a boat, and you're going to suffer persecution in Cuba, we should give you an opportunity; to get out.
Thirdly, we should have an immigration…dissidents, the same way that Ronald Reagan helped all those dissidents in Eastern Europe to bring about the change, this president promised to do that over a year and a half ago. Promised to do that before he came to power. And he's done nothing. The dissidents have gotten little to nothing.
Yes, they're getting meager, meager things compared to what Clinton did, but we need to really help the dissident movement and put money in their hands...so that they can fight this system.
KONDRACKE: So your policy is not that anybody who gets picked up by the Coast Guard, no matter how many there are, automatically gets into the United States.
GARCIA: Absolutely not. We need a policy that promotes freedom and promotes freedom seekers. I think people who are coming for economic reasons can apply for a visa just like everyone else does, and we've got 20,000 a year through the U.S. interest section.
What we've got to realize is not let Castro control those visas. The United States should control them.
BARNES: One final question. We only have a few seconds left, Joe. And that is, remittances from Cuban-Americans sent to relatives in Cuba help keep the Castro government afloat…less keep the country alive. Should those be stopped or not?
GARCIA: No, I don't think so. I think if we're going to do that, we've got to do it across the board, and that requires third countries to help us. And I don't think, with all the things we've got on our plate, we can do that.
That being the case...we've got to use remittances to foster the growth of civil society in Cuba.
BARNES: Joe, thanks a lot.
GARCIA: Thank you. Waiting for your piece on this.
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