In CD 26, Joe Garcia and Carlos Curbelo Clash Over Venezuela

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: February 21, 2014 3:55 AM
Joe Garcia and Carlos Curbelo

Joe Garcia and Carlos Curbelo

With the Venezuelan government cracking down on protesters this week, that South American nation has become a contentious issue between U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., and Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo, the favorite for the Republican nomination to challenge the freshman congressman, in what is expected to be one of the most competitive congressional elections in the nation come November.

On Tuesday, Curbelo praised the protesters and slammed the Venezuelan government’s actions -- but he also went on the attack against Garcia over the matter.

“I strongly condemn the actions of Nicolas Maduro’s and his chavista regime,” Curbelo said. “Venezuela’s youth and the just cause they are fighting for require the absolute solidarity of the American people and of the U.S. government. Regrettably, there are congressmen like Joe Garcia who advocate for freedom in Miami while accepting campaign cash from the apologists and defenders of the Maduro regime in Washington.”

Curbelo noted that former U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., who is now lobbying for Venezuelan companies, sent $2,500 to Garcia and demanded the congressman return the money. Curbelo’s team insisted that “Delahunt was a personal friend of Hugo Chavez and was a guest of honor at his funeral service.”

“I demand that Joe Garcia immediately return the thousands he has received from Bill Delahunt and from other allies of governments like Nicolas Maduro’s which repress those who courageously fight for freedom,” said Curbelo.

Garcia pushed back on Wednesday, insisting he was an opponent of the Maduro government and noting that he had attended a rally in Doral on Tuesday supporting more democracy in Venezuela.

“I am deeply troubled by the ongoing violence against peaceful protesters in Venezuela,” Garcia said. “As the situation continues to escalate, it is critical we continue to show our support to the people of Venezuela. Just yesterday, I attended a rally in Doral where hundreds of people came together in unity for those who are enduring this unjust treatment.

“Over the last 15 years, crime in Venezuela has skyrocketed, private corporations have been seized, media outlets and democratic institutions have been threatened, and human rights have been trampled upon,” Garcia added. “As students have bravely taken to the streets frustrated by the dimming future they see for their country, it is clear that Maduro’s ascent to power has only made conditions worse. But the Venezuelan people are resilient and will continue to push for a safe, stable, and prosperous Venezuela.

“I encourage the U.S. government and the international community to condemn the Venezuelan government’s assaults on universal democratic principles, and I remind President Maduro that the world is watching and the voices of dissent will not be so easily silenced,” Garcia continued. “Venezuelans deserve to be free from political persecution and repression, and the Venezuelan government has an obligation to restore the basic universal human rights that have been so wrongfully stripped from its people. The very first bill I introduced in Congress was the Venezuelan Liberty Act, which would allow Venezuelans who came to the United States after Chavez to obtain green cards, regardless of their current immigration status. Now, more than ever, it is vital that we stand with our Venezuelan brothers and sisters, from those marching in the streets of Caracas to those seeking freedom and opportunity in South Florida. I urge our administration to provide asylum to those fleeing from Venezuela and Temporary Protected Status for those already here.”

The two sides continued to tangle over the matter on Thursday, with the Garcia camp telling the Miami Herald that both Curbelo and Delahunt lobbied for Genting, and Curbelo insisting he has no connection to the former Massachusetts congressman.

Curbelo is the favorite for the Republican nomination to challenge Garcia come November. Other candidates running in the Republican primary include Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, former Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck and Jose Peixoto, a maintenance engineer who ran for Congress back in 2012.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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