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New York Times' Caucus Blog - McCain's Tough Line On Castro, Chavez


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New York Times' Caucus Blog - McCain's Tough Line On Castro, Chavez

By Michael Cooper

Senator John McCain is warning that as president he "will not passively await the long-overdue demise of the Castro dictatorship" in Cuba in a speech on Latin America that he plans to deliver in Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday afternoon.

Besides taking a tough line on Cuba, Mr. McCain's speech contains harsh words for Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela; calls for pushing forward the moribund Free Trade of the Americas agreement and proposes reestablishing an independent agency like the old United States Information Agency "with the sole purpose of getting America's message to the world,'' according to excerpts obtained from the campaign.

In the speech he is set to deliver to the Florida Broadcasters Association, Mr. McCain calls Cuba "a national security threat." He calls for providing "more material assistance and moral support to the courageous human rights activists who bravely defy the regime every day," for increasing America's Radio and TV Marti broadcasts into Cuba and for using the Justice Department to prosecute Cuban officials who are implicated in crimes. And he calls for continuing the embargo.

Such a hard line on Cuba could appeal to the Cuban-Americans who make up a vital voting bloc in Florida, which recently moved its primary to Jan. 29, making it an early, delegate-rich prize next year. Last month Mr. McCain chose the Miami area to make a speech ardently defending the Senate's immigration proposal, which came under fire from conservatives.

But the speech set for tomorrow addresses Latin America. In it Mr. McCain accuses Mr. Chavez of using "the cloak of electoral legitimacy to establish a one-party dictatorship in Venezuela.''

"Since his election, he has overseen the dismantling of Venezuelan democracy,'' Mr. McCain plans to say. "After undermining the parliament and the independence of the courts, he is now targeting the media, free labor unions, and private enterprise. Chavez closed Radio Caracas Television after some 53 years on the air and is even going after small cable networks. He is calling for the creation of a common defense pact between Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia, to oppose the United States.''

And Mr. McCain calls for jumpstarting the stalled Free Trade Area of the Americas, an idea for a hemispheric free trade zone that President Bill Clinton formally proposed in 1994.

"We need to build on the passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement by expanding U.S. trade with the region,'' he plans to say. "Let's start by ratifying the trade agreements with Panama, Peru, and Colombia that are already completed, and pushing forward the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Too many Democrats have embraced economic isolationism, paying off special interests by opposing trade agreements with our democratic neighbors. They could not be more wrong.''

"My administration would reduce barriers to trade and press for renewed Trade Promotion Authority,'' the speech says.

And Mr. McCain calls for reestablishing an agency like the United States Information Agency, which oversaw a variety of agencies including the Voice of America radio network before it was merged into the State Department in 1998.

"Dismantling an agency dedicated to promoting America and the American message amounted to unilateral disarmament in the struggle of ideas,'' he plans to say. "Communicating our government's views on day-to-day issues is what the State Department does. But communicating the idea of America, our purpose, our past and our future is a different task. We need to re-create an independent agency with the sole purpose of getting America's message to the world. This would aid our efforts in the global struggle against Islamic extremism. It would aid our efforts to communicate accurately with the people of Latin America when some try to propagandize them.''

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