- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) Anastasia Garcia said she respects President Clinton. But she walked out on him anyway.
Miss Garcia and three other Cuban-American delegates walked off the floor of the Democratic National Convention on last night, just as Mr. Clinton walked onto the stage to give his speech. Their protest was over awards given to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents who carried out the raid to seize Elian Gonzalez.
"It was difficult to walk out, but the Cuban-American community has gone through so much already," she said today. "They should have thought about the pain this community has suffered."
The 114 agents who took part in the April 22 pre-dawn raid received congratulatory letters from INS Commissioner Doris Meissner at a ceremony in Glynco, Ga.
Plaques were given to the Miami INS district, the Miami Border Patrol Sector and the high-risk entry team that entered the home, according to INS spokeswoman Maria Cardona.
The awards hurt the Cuban-American community, said Miami delegate Arthur Costa.
"Regardless of where you stand on the Elian issue, the sensitive thing would be to put it behind you and not bring it up again," he said. "I have a lot of respect for the president, but I feel he could have put a stop to the awards."
Augustin Garcia said the walkout was non-disruptive and respectful.
"I regretted what I was doing, but it was the only forum I had," said the 45-year-old consultant from Miami.
Jacksonville delegate Rahman Johnson, 23, didn't see the Cuban-American delegates leave the floor, but said he disagreed with their action.
"We need to put this aside and move forward," Mr. Johnson said. "Them walking out just draws attention to something that's already been closed."
All four demonstrators said they support Al Gore and his running mate, Joseph I. Lieberman, and would not have walked out on Mr. Clinton if not for the awards.
Bob Poe, the chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, said the delegation acknowledged the difference of opinion of the Cuban-Americans and respected their decision.
Elian was rescued Nov. 25 by fishermen off the coast of Florida after surviving a boat sinking in which his mother and 10 other Cubans drowned while trying to reach U.S. shores. He became the subject of a seven-month international custody dispute between his father in Cuba and their Miami relatives, who fought unsuccessfully all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to block his repatriation.
Elian returned to Cuba on June 28 after the Supreme Court refused the relatives' petition.
Miss Cardona said the award ceremony was nothing out of the ordinary.
"The commissioner does this all the time," she said. "Her job is to congratulate and recognize when INS employees do an excellent job under extraordinary circumstances, and that certainly was the case here."
Anastasia Garcia said that although a majority of Cuban-Americans in South Florida are Republican and many vowed to vote Republican after the raid Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman have a chance to get their votes. Miss Garcia pointed out that Mr. Gore broke with the Clinton administration in saying that the case should be worked out in family court.
Miss Garcia, a member of the convention's rules committee, said the raid and the awards are not the fault of the Democratic Party, just the current administration.
"We want to show our community that they shouldn't punish Gore and Lieberman," said Miss Garcia, of Coral Gables. "It's an uphill battle for us to educate Cubans that Democrats are working in their best interest."


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