Giuliani appeals to Cuban exiles

Times Staff Writer

When then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani renamed a New York corner for four Cuban Americans killed when their planes were shot down by Fidel Castro's armed forces in 1996, he won over South Florida's most powerful voting bloc.

On Thursday, Giuliani basked in the gratitude of Cuban exiles as his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination swept through the community that gave President Bush the winning edge over Al Gore in 2000. Giuliani had to abandon his bid for the U.S. Senate that year after being diagnosed with cancer.

Running well ahead of the Republican pack in Florida while his national lead dwindles, Giuliani left no anti-Castro epithet unvoiced in campaigning for the Cuban vote. He called Castro "the world's longest-reigning dictator" -- ruthless, brutal and an unrepentant abuser of human rights and freedoms.

He assured aging, arch-conservative veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that their mission to overthrow Castro's communist regime would prevail in their lifetimes, and that a free and democratic Cuba was the "inevitable" outcome of their struggle.

But, Giuliani said, "a new day in Cuba is going to need more" than the death of Castro, who at 81 has been ill for some time.

Raul Castro, the bearded revolutionary's 76-year-old brother, has assumed much of the regime's leadership duties. But, Giuliani said, he represents no hope for democratic change.

The Republican candidate recalled that as defense minister, the younger Castro was believed to have given the order to shoot down the Brothers to the Rescue planes for allegedly violating Cuban air space.

All four men aboard the two light aircraft, who had been on a leafleting mission over Havana, died.

"He has been at Fidel's side from the beginning and all throughout. He's been at the head of the secret police and intelligence. He has blood on his hands," Giuliani said of Raul Castro during a speech to about 200 exiles crowded into the small Bay of Pigs Museum in Little Havana.

Citing his decision to dedicate Brothers to the Rescue Corner, Giuliani said he had been in solidarity with the Cuban struggle for freedom "for a very, very long time."

"That touched the hearts of all Cubans," said Ibis Noda, a Miami city finance worker. "He went the extra step to name a street for them, and we won't forget that."

Among those applauding Giuliani's denunciation of Castro and his vow to hold tight to an economic embargo of the island was Jorge Gutierrez, a pre-invasion infiltrator who spent 18 years in Cuban prisons after his capture a month ahead of the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

"At least he won't try to get better relations with Castro unless democracy comes to Cuba," said the 71-year-old, who was shot during his capture.

In truth, Gutierrez said, he feels more kinship with GOP presidential candidate John McCain -- a fellow prisoner of war -- but fears the Arizona senator won't get the nomination.


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