Before a cheering crowd of Cuban exiles, Sen. Jesse Helms suggested that foreign nations doing business with Fidel Castro are making the same mistake as those who appeased Adolf Hitler before World War II.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee found enthusiastic support Monday for tough new legislation intended to punish Cuba's trading partners.The North Carolina Republican equated opponents of his bill to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who made one of history's great blunders when he tried to negotiate with Hitler.
"They made a deal with the devil," he said of European leaders who tried to make peace before World War II. "They said, `We can do business with this man.' "
The rally on the 34th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion was sponsored by the conservative Cuban American National Foundation. Helms fumbled several efforts to speak Spanish to the standing-room-only crowd, but he was speaking their anti-Castro language.
"All loopholes in the embargo must be closed," he said. "You can dress (Castro) up in a suit and make him take a bath and have him sip tea with the French intellectuals, but it does not alter the fact that Castro is an evil, cruel, brutal, murdering thug."
The proposed Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act would set up obstacles for foreign businesses that trade with Cuba, including the denial of U.S. travel visas and trade restrictions.
The bill is immensely popular among Cuban-Americans, a key Republican constituency in Florida. But it has raised concerns in Latin America and Europe about strong-arming the international business community.
President Clinton supports the current embargo against Cuba but doesn't favor tightening it. Helms predicted his bill would pass both the House and Senate.
Cuba depends heavily on investment from Latin America and Europe to offset the pain of the U.S. embargo. Rallies were planned across Cuba to drum up public opposition to Helms' bill; Cuban officials denied reports they were threatening to permit a new exodus of refugee rafters.
Many Cuban exiles still bitterly blame Democrats for failing to deliver promised U.S. air support during the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Oscar Martinez, a retired U.S. Air Force major who assisted in the invasion and celebrated the anniversary in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, said Helms' visit was appreciated by Cuban Americans.
"He's a Republican. We're Republicans," he said. "What happened there happened with the Democrats. We never forget."