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Rep. Becerra’s Trip to Cuba Hits a Nerve

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The selection of Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles as chairman of the House Hispanic caucus Wednesday immediately sparked a controversy, as two Cuban American lawmakers angrily resigned from the group to protest the Democrat’s recent meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana.

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both Republicans from South Florida, said that they were “personally insulted” by Becerra’s four-day trip to the island nation in December.

Before making the trip, Becerra had been campaigning to head the coalition of Latino lawmakers.

“He can travel anywhere he wants but when you assume a leadership position, you should take into account how your actions affect others,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I guess he doesn’t care how his actions hurt others.”

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Diaz-Balart said that he would not contribute membership dues to the caucus until Becerra “demonstrates minimal respect for the rights of Cubans to be free and calls for free elections for that oppressed island.”

The resignations leave the caucus with 17 members, all Democrats. In the past, the coalition generally found common ground among its Democratic and Republican members on issues such as immigration, welfare reform and English-only legislation. But U.S. policy toward Cuba has been a sensitive topic bubbling below the surface.

Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart are strong supporters of the U.S. boycott of Cuba, a policy coming under increasing scrutiny.

Becerra was on his way to China on Wednesday on a separate trip and could not be reached for comment. But aides said that he had attempted to hear from all sides during his tour of Cuba, everyone from government dissidents to Castro himself.


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