Cuban Government Attacks Coral Gables Candidate For Mayor

Cuba's communist government is looking to disrupt James Cason's run for Coral Gables mayor, bringing some Cold War era spookiness to the City Beautiful's election season. Earlier this month, the American ex-diplomat, whom Fidel Castro nicknamed "El Cabo Cason," was accused by the country's state-run newspaper Granma of "pocketing money from the U.S. Agency for International Development to cover up fraudulent operations" by a an exile group called the Center for a Free Cuba.

Cason denied the claims on Miami-based America Teve's political program A Mano Limpia. "None of it is true," Cason insisted. "It is payback time for what I did when I was in Cuba."

When he was head of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana from 2002 to

2005, Cason pissed off Castro by empowering the dissident movement

on the island with Internet access and other forms to disseminate free

information. In a story that ran on March 9, Granma claims while Cason was in Havana, US AID accountants "found false invoices that did not correspond with the goods delivered" by Center for a Free Cuba.

The article says the center's executive director, Frank Calzon, inflated the costs of books "known for their poor quality, were of short-runs and were charged at a price well above" market rates. In 2008, a U.S. congressman from California temporarily froze USAID's $45 million Cuba program following a series of troubling audits and cases of massive

fraud, including a $500,000 embezzlement at the Center for a Free Cuba.

The Granma piece followed a blog post by former El Nuevo Herald reporter Rui Ferreira who recommends Coral Gables voters reject Cason because, in part, he has exaggerated the number of books the U.S. Interest Section handed out in Cuba. Ferreira also dismisses Cason's campaign ploy of using his foreign service work in Cuba to win Cuban American voters. "I don't know about you," Ferreira wrote. "But for me this is a tremendous lack of respect for the Cuban exile community."

During Cason's appearance on A Mano Limpia, host Pedro Sevcec introduced Cason as "the victim of these accusations," but then noted that some folks may think, "caramba, nothing could be better for a candidate running for mayor in south Florida than being attacked by the Castro regime."

Cason, who has raised $66,195 for his campaign, followed the script. "This can only help my campaign," he said. "In Cuba, no one can vote. Here the definitive result comes from the people at the ballot box." He emphatically denied any wrongdoing when he was in charge of the U.S. Interest Section. Cason also defended his public claims that he distributed more than 250,000 books, magazines and other literature to Cubans on the island.

"Every year we had 50,000 people using our consular services," Cason asserted. "It wasn't just for the dissidents, but for the general population." Then El Cabo all but painted Ferreira as a communist infiltrator. "That is what you expect from a guy who is an agent of Cuba," Cason said. "He was part of the propaganda campaign by the Cuban government to discredit me before I arrived in Havana in 2002."

The Coral Gables election is April 12. Cason's opponents are incumbent Donald Slesnick, who is running for a third term, and attorney Thomas Korge.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.