McCain Campaign Palling Around with Terrorists in Miami?

As the home of GOP-linked individuals known to advocate and use violence to advance their cause, South Florida is not the best place for Republicans to talk tough on terrorism.
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Governor Sarah Palin's denunciations of Senator Barack Obama's alleged links to former Weather Underground member and self-identified -- but never convicted -- bomber, William Ayers, make Cuban-American exile Max Lesnik's 76 year-old body shiver in anger. Palin's claim that Obama "pals around with terrorists" reminds him, he says, of the many bombings, drive-by shootings and other terrorist acts perpetrated against him and his family in Miami over the course of many years. "Her [Palin's] declarations make me think about how very contradictory it is that a Presidential candidate and his political party have direct links to known terrorists and terrorist supporters" said Lesnik, a commentator on the popular Radio Miami morning show. "I don't understand how Mr. McCain and the Republicans can talk about Obama and 'terrorism' when they themselves embrace terrorists here in Little Havana."

Lesnik and other Miami residents hear a double standard in the renewed attacks against Obama for his affiliation with Ayers. As the home to a constellation of GOP-linked, anti-Castro Cuban American organizations and individuals known to advocate and use violence to advance their cause like the Ayers and the Weathermen did, South Florida is not, Lesnik and other critics say, the best place for Republicans to talk tough on terrorism. "It's interesting to see how Governor Palin avoided Miami during her visit to Florida on Tuesday," said Lesnik whose experience of domestic terrorism began after he criticized the U.S. embargo against the island where he fought alongside Fidel Castro, who he has also criticized. "She was probably asked by some South Florida Republicans like the Diaz-Balarts (two brothers in very tight Congressional re-election bids this year) not to come here because it might cause them -- and Mr. McCain -- problems. They don't want Palin to come here screaming about 'terrorism' right now"

Lesnik and other observers point, for example, to McCain and his supporter's affiliations with long-time anti-Castro activists like Roberto Martin Perez. Perez, a member of numerous Cuban exile groups who appears in a recent McCain campaign ad, is one of the chief sponsors of a campaign to free Eduardo Arocena, the Cuban exile leader of the alleged terrorist group, Omega 7. Arocena was convicted on 25 counts and is serving a mandatory life sentence for his role in several terrorist incidents including 32 bombings and 2 politically-motivated murders. In his summary of the Omega 7 case, New York Appeals Court Judge Lombard declared, "From 1975 to 1982, Omega 7 conducted a series of bombings in the New York metropolitan area that injured bystanders and damaged homes, businesses, and a church. The bombsites included Avery Fisher Hall, Madison Square Garden, JFK Airport, the ticket office of Aeroflot (the Soviet airline), and the Cuban Mission to the United Nations." Arocena supporter Perez was recently seen hugging the GOP presidential candidate at a recent campaign event. In addition to Perez, supporters of Arocena, whose victims include Eulalio José Negrin, a New Jersey man who died in his 13 year-old son's arms, include one of John McCain's closest allies, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. As recently as last July, Lieberman promised Arocena's wife that "I will carry it [the pardon request] back. I will carry it back. Yeah. I feel...I think of you like you were my family."

Other McCain supporters in South Florida have also drawn fire for their connections to persons critics say are not designated as terrorists precisely because they are connected to powerful Republicans. "The GOP is the same party that is giving safe harbor to terrorists living on our midst, but these terrorists have powerful friends" says Silvia Wilhelm, Executive Director of the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights, a non-partisan not-for-profit organization that advocates for looser travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba. "What moral authority do they [Republicans] have to denounce links to terrorists? None," states Wilhelm, who has had to call the FBI after receiving bomb threats for her work around the travel restrictions. "Many of McCain's main supporters here in Miami -- Lincoln and Mario Diaz Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- back Luis Posada Carriles, a known, convicted terrorist, who is walking around here with complete impunity."

Though they have been silent about the Posada case since the election campaign started, the Diaz-Balarts and Ros-Lehtinen lobbied the Panamanian government to pardon Posada and three other exiles caught with explosives in Panama during an assassination attempt targeting Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2000. In a signed letter to the Panamanian written in 2003 on Congressional stationary the 3 Cuban American Congress members from South Florida stated, "We ask respectfully that you pardon Luis Posada Carriles, Guillermo Novo Sampol, Pedro Crispin Remon and Gaspar Jimenez Escobedo.'' Posada was convicted by civilian courts in Panama for his involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, most of whom were teenage and twenty-something members of the Cuban fencing team. A declassified FBI report states that "[a confidential source] all but admitted that Posada and [Orlando] Bosch had engineered the bombing of the airline." McCain appointed Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart as his campaign's chief adviser and spokesman Latin American issues.

For his part, Lesnik hopes that the Ayers controversy will lead to a wider definition of who is a domestic terrorist in the United States. "He [Ayers] didn't kill or injure anyone, but these Cuban terrorists have killed many - and killed them inside the borders of the United States," said Lesnik, his voice screeching with decades of anger. "The Cuban terrorists were convicted and still get support from McCain's backers. It's unjust not to designate people who commit terrorist acts as 'terrorists'" he lamented, adding "It shouldn't matter that they're friends of some politicians."

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