Friday, December 22, 2006

Representante Flake dice que va a Cuba a reunirse con el pueblo, pero se niega visitar a opositores.

Published: 12.22.2006
Rep. Flake focuses on Cuba issues
The Arizona Republic

Rep. Jeff Flake, just back from Cuba, has the answer to this particular question down pat.
How did an Arizona guy get so involved with Cuban issues?
"I took a poll of Cuban-Americans in my district, and both of them said, 'Go right ahead. Do what you're doing. We like it,' " Flake says.
He is kidding about the number of Cuban-Americans in his Phoenix-area district, of course, although it isn't far from the truth. Statewide, Cuban-Americans account for less than 1 percent of the population.
Still, Flake's effort to open up U.S. trade and travel to Cuba is among the issues with which he is most associated.
Others are immigration reform and his criticism of the costly pet projects of some of his congressional colleagues.
The 10-member congressional delegation that Flake helped lead last weekend was the largest group of U.S. lawmakers to travel to Cuba in more than 40 years, when the U.S. trade embargo began.
Over his three terms in Congress, Flake has become one of Congress' biggest advocates of ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
His efforts have put him at odds with President Bush and other fellow Republicans but have also generated lots of ink and photo appearances in national newspapers.
Experts on Cuban-American affairs scratch their heads over what drives Flake.
"He really has somehow become captured by the issue, and it has become his bit of (political) turf to farm," says Larry Birns, director of the liberal-leaning Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
A testament to the national reputation Flake is building, particularly among the intelligentsia, Birns says, may have come last weekend.
Birns was speaking at Bowdoin College in Maine and was asked, "Why is Jeff Flake involved in this?"
At the core of Flake's explanation is his belief that opening trade and travel into a country fosters democracy.
He says he sees inconsistencies in U.S. policy toward Cuba compared with communist governments in China, North Korea and Vietnam.
"It's a freedom issue," Flake says.
Flake, who will turn 44 on Dec. 31, is a practicing Mormon who grew up on a ranch in Snowflake.
He says his interest in Cuba dates from his service as a Mormon missionary in southern Africa in the early 1980s, "where the Cuban issue was at the forefront."
He returned to southern Africa to serve from 1989 through 1990 as executive director of the Foundation for Democracy.
The group monitored democratic progress in Namibia, which gained its independence in 1990.
Even as they embraced democracy, he says, many in that country admired Cuban President Fidel Castro because he supported them when nobody else would.
Flake, a member of the House International Relations Committee, is no admirer of Castro.
He has refused to meet with the leader in past trips, calling him a thug.
But he says U.S. policy should not keep other voices from reaching Cuban people.
Less than six months after taking his congressional seat in 2001, Flake got his House colleagues to pass an amendment lifting restrictions on U.S. citizen travel to Cuba.
The Bush administration and Republican leaders removed it in negotiations with the Senate.
By early 2002, Flake had teamed with Rep. Bill Delahunt, a liberal from Massachusetts, to form the House Cuba Working Group, a bipartisan collection of lawmakers dedicated to ending the travel ban and normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations.
In terms of potential agriculture sales and other business interests, Flake says there may be no real payoff for his congressional district or for Arizona.
There is also no large Cuban-American constituency in Arizona to which Flake is appealing. But, as Flake sees it, the problem with the debate over U.S. policy on Cuba is that it is too closely tied with the Cuban-American constituency and those with a stake in trade.

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