BRENDAN FARRINGTON | Associated Press
MIAMI - Republican Senate candidate Bill McCollum wants to send undercover agents disguised as tourists into Cuba and wants to change U.S. policy so that no one fleeing the communist country has to be returned, he announced Monday.
McCollum said he supports an embargo of Cuba as strong as the one that helped end South Africa’s white minority apartheid rule, but said that the United States has to look at other options since that hasn’t been achieved.
“With agents under cover as foreign tourists, liaisons can be developed inside Cuba that can provide valuable information, prepare for a post-Castro Cuba and help undermine the Castro regime,” McCollum said in an outline of his proposed Cuba policy.
But rival Mel Martinez, a former member of President Bush’s Cabinet who was born in Cuba, questioned the wisdom of openly talking about plans for covert missions.
“It’s not something that would be unique or novel, but it’s not something that ought to be discussed because it would jeopardize potential success of the missions,” Martinez said, adding that it would be inappropriate for him to comment on his knowledge of espionage in Cuba.
McCollum announced his policy during a Miami news conference. The proposal also detailed a plan to end the wet foot-dry foot policy implemented by President Clinton that calls for Cubans found at sea to be returned to the communist island while those who make it to shore remain in the United States. McCollum said that Cubans found at sea could be held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba before being allowed into the country or relocated to a third country.
Opposition to the wet foot-dry foot policy and calls for tougher sanctions against Cuba are not unique to the campaign. Republican Larry Klayman has even called for removing Cuban dictator Fidel Castro by force.
“I would first try to negotiate a worldwide economic embargo, a real embargo like we had in South Africa,” Klayman said in an interview before McCollum’s announcement. “Let’s try that. If that doesn’t work, yes, force if necessary. Cubans are asking themselves the question, why can we liberate Iraq and we don’t liberate Cuba?”
Among the Democrats, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas is a first generation Cuban-American who has also called for a change in the wet foot-dry foot policy, saying freedom should not be based on one’s ability to swim.
Martinez said he welcomed McCollum’s position paper on Cuba, adding that he hopes Cuba policy plays a prominent role in the campaign.
“It’s an important discussion to have,” said Martinez, who was 15 when he arrived from Cuba without his parents. “Anything you want to know about Cuba, I can talk to you about it. I can’t imagine anyone that would have any more passion. I suffered it in my own bones. I’ve had school mates that have been in Cuban prisons and have talked to them about their experience.”
Other Republicans running for the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Bob Graham include state Sen. Daniel Webster, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith and Miami businessman Doug Gallagher.
Other Democrats include U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch and former Education Commissioner Betty Castor.