“Joe Garcia has now completely and clearly transformed openly into one of the esbirros Fidelistas that we have in this community. And that’s going to come in the weeks and months that will follow in this campaign. We’re going to talk about all of that, of how he has unmasked himself as an agent of Castro’s interests,” David Rivera said in Spanish. “And indeed God forgive us if he (Garcia) is elected as congressman, because he will be the most vocal and official spokesman in favor of Castro’s interests in the U.S. Congress.”
“Unfortunately the people of Collier are being treated to the worst of Miami politics thanks to David Rivera,” Joe Garcia said Friday. “He says one thing in English and then says another thing in Spanish, thinking somehow that the English-speaking electorate is ignorant.”
MIAMI — The specter of Cuban government infiltration into South Florida has surfaced in the race for a Congressional seat representing Miami and Collier County.
Republican candidate David Rivera has labeled Democratic opponent Joe Garcia as an esbirros, or henchman, of Fidel Castro’s Communist regime, among other harsh claims made in Spanish in a Sept. 3 radio interview with a radio station in Miami.
When confronted by the Daily News in Miami on Thursday, Rivera denied _ twice _ making the remark or ever using such a word in his life. When he was informed the Daily News had a copy of the radio interview, he redirected his attack by labeling Garcia’s supporters as agents of Castro’s regime.
In response, Garcia said Friday that Rivera’s tactics are what has been typical of Miami-Dade’s political system, and that Rivera assumed people would be too ignorant to translate Spanish into English.
At the root of the issue is the interview Rivera did with Lourdes Ubieta and Ricardo Brown of Miami’s Actualidad 1020 radio station.
Rivera told the hosts that Garcia destroyed the Cuban American National Foundation _ and then accused his opponent of being an agent of Castro.
“He (Garcia) has the support of all of the allies of the Castro regime in this community. All of the owners of Castro’s travel agencies are supporting Joe Garcia. All of the esbirros (and) Fidelistas (Castro sympathizers) that we have in this community are supporting Joe Garcia,” Rivera said in Spanish.
Garcia served as executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation from 2000 to 2004 and was on the group’s board for more than 20 years.
Rivera then also called Garcia what some in the Cuban American and exile community would consider the ultimate insult — an esbirro.
“Joe Garcia has now completely and clearly transformed openly into one of the esbirros Fidelistas that we have in this community. And that’s going to come in the weeks and months that will follow in this campaign. We’re going to talk about all of that, of how he has unmasked himself as an agent of Castro’s interests,” Rivera said in Spanish. “And indeed God forgive us if he (Garcia) is elected as congressman, because he will be the most vocal and official spokesman in favor of Castro’s interests in the U.S. Congress.”
After that response, radio show host Brown asked Rivera if he was in fact calling Garcia an agent of the Cuban regime.
“He (Garcia) has converted into an agent for the interests of Castro’s regime, by the fact that he (Garcia) is lobbying for unilateral concessions toward the Cuban regime,” said Rivera, again referring to Garcia as a henchman of Fidel Castro. “With the support he has already received from the esbirros Fidelistas that we have in this community, and the fact that he is an ally of those people demonstrates that he is totally and openly responsible for being an agent of the interests for and pro-Castro.”
On Thursday, two staff members from the Daily News and Vista Semanal, the Naples News Media Group’s Spanish weekly, met with Rivera at his Miami campaign headquarters. The staffers didn’t immediately disclose they had a copy of the radio interview.
Initially, when asked in general about mudslinging in the race, Rivera said he was trying to remain above the drama.
“I have way too much respect for the voters and for the intelligence of voters to get mired down in false allegations and negative campaigning,” Rivera said, noting his pledge to stick to the issues. “We have some monumental challenges facing this nation, and I think the voters deserve enough respect that at the very least candidates should speak to those issues _ particularly the economy and job creation.
“The voters aren’t interested in gutter politics, not interested in mudslinging. They want a different type of politics, particularly in this day and age when we have such important issues facing the country,” he said.
When asked whether he thought accusing Garcia of being an esbirros was extreme, Rivera denied using the term.
“First of all, I’ve never said that. I think your information is wrong, or perhaps you’ve been given the wrong information. I have never called my opponent an esbirros,” Rivera told the Daily News in Spanish.
“What I have said is that all of the allies of Castro’s tyranny, all of the people that do business with the Castro tyranny, all of the owners of travel agencies that are Castro sympathizers that we have in our community _ people like for example John Cabañas, who has said that he the son of Fidel Castro and that Fidel is his father _ all of those people that are allied with tyranny are supporting my opponent (Garcia),” he said.
“All of the allies of liberty and democracy in Cuba are supporting my candidacy. They are supporting David Rivera. All of the allies of the Castro regime, of Castro’s esbirros in Cuba, all of his (Castro’s) allies are supporting my opponent.”
Asked by the Daily News if he categorically denied ever calling Garcia an esbirro, Rivera reiterated his statement.
“What I’m saying is that your information is totally wrong,” Rivera said. “I have never called him an esbirro.”
Rivera then was informed the Daily News and Vista Semanal had a recording of the Spanish radio station interview in which he called Garcia an esbirro.
Rivera responded that regardless of how the interview is translated, his position remains clear.
“The allies of the regime in this community are all supporting my opponent. All the allies of freedom and democracy in Cuba are supporting me. The people that support me are Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Rubio, the organizations of political prisoners and the exile organizations. Those are the folks that support my candidacy,” he said. “The folks that support my opponent’s candidacy are the owners of the travel agencies to Cuba, owners of businesses that do business with Cuba, all of the folks that are the allies of the regime. And that was the point I was making.”
It’s a point Garcia strongly called into question.
Created in 2002, District 25 covers the eastern part of Collier County, western Miami-Dade County and some of Monroe.
The seat is being vacated by GOP Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who ran unopposed for his brother Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s District 21 seat. In February, Lincoln Diaz-Balart announced his intent to retire from office.
Joe Garcia and David Rivera will also face off against Whig Party candidate Craig Porter and Tea Party candidate Roly Arrojo on Nov. 2.
“Unfortunately the people of Collier are being treated to the worst of Miami politics thanks to David Rivera,” Garcia said Friday. “He says one thing in English and then says another thing in Spanish, thinking somehow that the English-speaking electorate is ignorant.”
As for the claim he is an agent for Castro?
“This accusation is as ridiculous as him denying that he raised taxes while voting himself a pay raise, and denying that he tried to highjack a mail van on a busy highway,” Garcia said. “The people of Florida need leaders who focus on the issues affecting our families _ job creation, cutting taxes, and getting spending under control.”
In another part of the radio interview, Rivera discussed a 2008 attack against Lincoln Diaz-Balart, which accused the GOP congressman of accepting bribes.
“The campaign they did against him (Lincoln) in 2008, with him in handcuffs was so dirty, so horrible. This is the same. It’s just a continuation of that by the Democrats,” Rivera said, adding that Garcia was involved in that attack. “This isn’t just the Democrats, but it’s the same candidate from 2008. Joe Garcia is who is doing all this dirty campaigning (now). Joe Garcia is one of the biggest liars that we’ve had in this community.”
However, it was ex-Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez _ not Garcia_ who ran against Lincoln Diaz-Balart and who was tied to the negative campaign in 2008.
Rivera on Thursday told the Daily News he denied directly tying Garcia to the smear campaign and said he was likening the Democrats’ previous election tactics to his opponent’s attacks this time around.