Mr. Diaz-Balart Goes to Washington

When an unsuspecting Colorado congressman tries to cut funding to Radio and TV Martí, the freshman lawmaker gives a taste of exile politics, Miami-style

As the press release reads,"Colorado Rep. David Skaggs's opposition to peaceful U.S. radio broadcasting to Cuba has apparently cost his district $23 million in federal funds. The money was earmarked to build a National Institute of Standards and Technology facility at a Boulder-area university. During today's House debate on the fiscal year 1994 appropriations bill. Mr. Skaggs announced his intention -- "By the way, I did not so announce, in any case.

"Announced his intention to eliminate $8.7 million in federal funds for the continuation of Radio Martí."

It goes on:
"The NIST project was subsequently excised in a point of order by Cuban American Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Florida), a firm backer of Radio Martí and freedom for Cuba, after Rep. Skaggs rebuffed Rep. Diaz-Balart's attempts to reach a compromise on cutting Radio Martí."

Let me just say, I wish there were grounds or an opportunity for compromise. It was basically my understanding of my colleague's proposition to me that I either back off or else. There was not much of an opportunity to compromise.

Perfectly legitimate for Mr. Diaz-Balart to raise the point of order that he did. The program, the NIST construction money that he attacked, has not been specifically authorized in statute so, under the rules of the House, there was nothing intrinsically improper about the move against the NIST funding.

It is troubling, though, that given this press release, his motivation seems to be not that he objects to funding for the National Institutes for Standards and Technology but that he objects to me and the way I try to carry out my responsibilities as a member of the Committee on Appropriations.

I think it is sad and unfortunate that given the necessary give and take of the legislative process in the House, with members' deeply held views and principles in the balance, that matters might degenerate into any kind of vindictiveness along these lines.

Certainly, the alliances and the antagonisms that exist in this House shift and realign day to day, as different issues come before us. I think we all have to keep in mind that those with whom we may disagree today will be our allies on another issue tomorrow, and it is essential to and really critical for us to keep in mind the paramount requirement for civil discourse, if this legislative body is to carry out its responsibilities in a respectful and respectable way.

To use the old aphorism, we need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.

My colleague, the gentleman from New York [Mr. Serrano], has been kind enough to join me on the floor this evening and has some substantial experience of his own with respect to these issues.

I yield to the gentleman from New York [Mr. Serrano].
MR. SERRANO: First of all, let me commend the gentleman on two points that I think are extremely important.

First of all, for his ability to stay totally calm, cool, and collected during what I know is a very difficult situation, a situation which requires for many members to be very concerned about the kind of actions that were taken today and, actually, to be very upset.

But at the same time, I feel that it was important for him to take the time to put forth this information.

The problem, having said those two things, is that I am almost tempted to sort of smile a little bit and say, "Welcome to the club." There is a situation that exists in our country which is well known in some communities and totally unknown in others, that there is a group called the Cuban American National Foundation which uses difficult, difficult tactics whenever you disagree with them on any policy that has to deal with the island of Cuba, its present, its future, and, in many cases, even its past.

This group is one that is funded through private contributions as well as receives government monies. It receives grants from the National Endowment for Democracy. It receives grants in an indirect way through Radio and TV Martí, because the chairman of the CANF is also the chairman of the board of TV Martí and the chairman of the board of Radio Martí. And so it all becomes a conglomerate, more or less, used to put forth a policy, a philosophy towards bringing about political changes in Cuba.

That is okay. Interestingly enough, if we were to discuss it, the gentleman from Colorado, myself, and members of the foundation would agree on political changes in Cuba. What we do not agree on and what the gentleman is now a member of the particular club is that if you disagree in any way, shape, or form, you are questioned not on that particular action you took, in this case Radio and TV Martí, but in many cases you are labeled.

I cannot tell you how many times people I know are labeled on Spanish radio as being Communists because they may oppose, for instance, the embargo, the trade embargo on Cuba.

Article after article and publication after publication will indicate that this foundation continues to attack anyone who disagrees with them.

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