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Cuban exiles form CDPAC to lobby against lifting embargo
CubaNews / September 2005

By Larry Luxner

The Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp., a Section 501 (c)(4) nonprofit organization, says it’ll lobby Congress as hard as it can to make sure the U.S. embargo against Cuba remains in place.

Mauricio J. Claver-Carone, a Florida-born lawyer who grew up in Madrid, is executive director of the Washington-based entity. He’s also one of eight executive committee members of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, an unrelated organization that raises money to support candidates who are tough on Fidel Castro.

Claver-Carone says that PAC has raised around $750,000 from some 2,000 contributors since its establishment in August 2003; it has given $400,000 of that total to various political campaigns.

According to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media & Democracy, 61% of the PAC’s money went to Republican candidates, and 39% to Democrats. Among GOP recipients of the PAC’s funds were Florida’s Katherine Harris, Georgia’s Phil Gingrey and Pennsylvania’s Don Sherwood.

No less than 53 prominent individuals have donated the maximum $5,000 a year allowed by law to the PAC, including Alvah Chapman, former chairman and CEO of Knight-Ridder Inc., parent company of the Miami Herald; Jorge Cutillas, CEO of Bacardi Ltd., and well-known South Florida car dealer Gus Machado.

CDPAC was technically formed in 2000. At the time, it was called Cuba Libertad, and its first executive director was Otto Reich. He was succeeded by Lino Piedra, and by mid-2002, the group was largely inactive.

“Historically, we always hear about the political activity of the Cuban-American community, and think back to the days of Jorge Más Canosa. But after his death, that tapered off. The community really took a back seat with regard to Congress,” he told CubaNews.

“President Bush has remained a good friend of the community, but after 1996 with Helms-Burton, U.S. sanctions against Cuba were codified into law,” he said. “We left an open field for those in favor of eliminating the sanctions to maneuver in Congress.”

But then, things started changing.

“The Cuban-American community began to wake up. They saw the trend in Congress, in which year after year the votes to ease sanctions kept growing, and said ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ There was a huge vacuum in congressional advocacy by the community, aside from the Cuban-American members of Congress who were fighting an uphill battle.” Claver-Carone added that “many members of Congress think the strategy is just about business. Cuba is an export market that wants to buy from us. That’s very seductive for a lot of members, especially those who don’t know much about Cuba.

“Frankly, they think it’s just like any other country. So we created personal relationships, helping them to get to know the communitiy and about what’s going on in Cuba. I think they’re becoming more and more educated in that regard.”

On Sep. 4, CDPAC hosted a luncheon at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., to honor Roger Noriega, who recently announced his resignation as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Among those in attendance were Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Mel Martínez (R-FL) and Caleb McCarry, the Bush administration’s newly appointed “Cuba transition coordinator.”

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