- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2000

Complaints on the Cuba, U.S. coordination article

The lead story from June 8 and its headline are misleading, inaccurate and irresponsible ("Cuba, U.S. 'coordinated' Elian seizure strategy").

Your reporter claimed that State Department officials sought to work with the Cuban government to manage reporting on the Elian Gonzalez case. Monday evening, your reporter contacted a State Department spokesman about the story he was intending to write. He was informed in detail that his assessment was incorrect and that under no circumstances does the Department of State coordinate any press effort with the Cuban government or its Interest Section. In spite of this clarification, The Washington Times proceeded with publication.

The reporter quoted an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) e-mail that "[Department of State] wants to have a daily conference call to coordinate press guidance and communications with the Cubans." We made clear to the reporter that this e-mail was merely restating standard operating procedures for interagency activities. The first part of the sentence refers to press guidance coordination between INS and the Department of State. The second part refers to the Department of State's performing its function as the official point of contact with foreign government officials, including Cubans.

It is unfortunate that The Washington Times chose to portray this e-mail inaccurately and incorrectly.

PHILIP T. REEKER

Deputy spokesman

U.S. Department of State

Washington

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The story "Cuba, U.S. 'coordinated' Elian seizure strategy," by its headline, is grossly misleading and seems to play directly into the hands of the Miami-based anti-Castro crowd.

Despite the attention-getting "Elian seizure" headline, the article is devoted to documents pertaining to the Jan. 21 visit by Elian Gonzalez's two Cuban grandmothers. According to the reporter, these documents were dated Jan. 15 and Jan. 19. The seizure of Elian by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which didn't occur until April, is not a topic of these "smoking gun documents," as Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, called them. Mr. Fitton's gun seems to be smoking three months before it was fired.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Ballart says the documents prove "[the Clinton administration] lies, lies, lies to the American people" about the coordination of Elian's return between the governments of the United States and Cuba. This leads me to ask, with what other government should the United States coordinate a family visit by two grandmothers from Cuba?

What the article proves is that The Washington Times lies, lies, lies by its misleading headline in this instance to gain partial favor and worldwide attention on a topic that was buried long ago under a pile of Castro-haters' soapboxes.

JOSEPH HATCHER

Bethesda[p

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A lot of people don't like the Clinton-Gore administration (me included), but your headline "Cuba, U.S. 'coordinated' Elian seizure strategy" is a cheap shot.

Nothing in the article supports such a headline nothing. The Times quotes Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, who opines, based upon documents relating to the visit of Elian's grandmothers, that "… the administration was doing the bidding of Fidel Castro when it raided the Gonzalez home… ." There is no evidence in the article to support that conclusion.

Mr. Fitton brings discredit upon his organization when he makes such a leap of logic, and The Washington Times discredits itself when it headlines (front page, banner headline) a story that has no basis in fact.

JOHN D. HELLER

Leesburg, Va

Social Security works well for some, but what about the rest of us?

I have to respond to Louis DeFreitas' June 8 letter, "Leave the Social Security fund alone." Mr. DeFreitas says Social Security works. Yes, it works for people like him who collect what they have contributed in a matter of less than four years. But who pays for his retirement once the money runs out? Working stiffs like me, that's who.

I don't attribute this kind of thinking to self-interest, because Mr. DeFreitas is already vested in the system. I think it's just a lack of understanding of the founding principals of this nation the most basic of which is freedom. That includes freedom to make wise or unwise personal choices.

Maybe those of us who truly believe in individual free choice could be allowed to do what is in our best interest, as we see it, and invest in "failing" blue-chip stocks and day trades or whatever else we want to invest in for our retirement.

W. PATRICK WALSH

Centreville

Client unhappy with changes to MetroAccess program

I am writing in behalf of the many residents with disabilities who live in Montgomery County. As a MetroAccess and paratransit client for the past eight years, I'm concerned about the takeover of the service by Logisticare Inc., which is scheduled to go into effect July 1. When Logisticare was awarded the MetroAccess contract, important aspects were not taken into consideration. The omission of these elements could jeopardize the safety of MetroAccess clients throughout the area, should the contract go through.

The MetroAccess program and its present carriers, Barwood taxi and Regency cab, have served clients well since those companies were awarded the contract in 1995. I have quadraspastic cerebral palsy and use an electric wheelchair. For my safety, it is necessary for drivers to both strap my wheelchair down and drive cautiously. The drivers at both Barwood and Regency are skilled in these areas and take extra care to ensure that I arrive at my destination safely. Those who awarded the MetroAccess contract to Logisticare did not take into consideration my safety or that of my fellow riders.

Logisticare has proposed transporting MetroAccess riders on large wheelchair-accessible vans. While this would save time, it is not in the best interest of passengers in terms of safety. I have ridden Logisticare's vans on occasion. My experiences indicate that their drivers are not skilled in passenger safety or the proper securing of wheelchairs. On one occasion, the driver did not strap my wheelchair and drove recklessly. We were almost in a serious accident. This was because of a lack of consideration and sensitivity on the driver's part. As a result of this terrible experience, I ride Barwood and Regency exclusively for my transportation. I suffer from osteoarthritis and am in constant pain. I cannot afford to jeopardize my health and safety by riding on Logisticare's vans.

In an effort to cut costs, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which oversees the operations of the MetroAccess program, is forcing more than 1,000 metropolitan area clients to unknowingly jeopardize their safety and possibly their lives.

Additionally, I am concerned by the lack of public input in the awarding of the MetroAccess contract to Logisticare. There was no public hearing or opportunity for MetroAccess passengers to share their views. By WMATA's own admission, the contract was awarded to the provider with the lowest price tag. As MetroAccess is a government program, one would expect that passengers would have input about the awarding of new contracts. Our government is based on the premise of freedom of speech. MetroAccess passengers were given no opportunity to speak before the Logisticare award.

Safe transportation is crucial to my life and well-being. If Logisticare is awarded the MetroAccess contract, area residents will find their safety in jeopardy. As a result, our opportunity as people with disabilities to be as independent as possible will decrease all for the sake of money.

AMANDA LAY

Rockville

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