Sgt. Carlos Lazo won’t get to see his kids this year.
The U.S. combat medic who was awarded a Bronze Star for his courage in Iraq will not be allowed to travel to Cuba, where his teenage boys live with their mother.
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart blocked a measure on the floor of the House of Representatives that would have exempted Lazo, on humanitarian grounds, from the Bush administration’s travel restrictions to the island.
The amendment never even made it to a vote, as Diaz-Balart found a way to snuff it on procedural grounds.
“It wasn’t a surprise that he blocked it,” Lazo told me by phone from his home in Seattle. His Washington state National Guard unit just finished a year in Iraq.
Lazo, who came to the United States from Cuba in 1992, tried to see his kids last year during a two-week leave. He flew from Iraq to Miami and had a plane ticket to Havana in his hand at Miami International Airport when the new restrictions went into effect.
Cuban Americans can only visit immediate family members once every three years. Lazo last saw his boys in 2003 and won’t be eligible again until next year.
Ever since Lazo, 40, was denied a chance to see his sons, he has waged a campaign to call attention to the cruelty of the travel restrictions. It is a battle he has continued since returning home from Iraq in March.
“Now we are behaving no differently than the Cuban government,” Lazo said. “Castro keeps families apart and now we keep families apart.”
Thursday’s congressional action was extraordinary. The House killed several proposals that would have loosened the travel ban for humanitarian reasons. In the Alice in Wonderland world of the hard-liner, preventing a father from visiting his sons will somehow hasten the demise of a regime that has been in power for 46 years.
“For so many exiles, the dream of going back to Cuba is almost gone,” Lazo said. “They are old and their policies are filled with hate. I try to be more pragmatic. Restricting travel is not going to bring Castro down. It will only hurt the families.
“I think Castro is just laughing over this,” Lazo continued. “He’s watching us hurt ourselves and it doesn’t cost him anything. He’s getting his oil from Venezuela, he has his deal with China, he is getting what he needs to survive. And yet we’re arguing about whether children in Miami should be allowed to attend their parents’ funeral in Cuba. It’s very sad.”
I wanted to talk to Lincoln Diaz-Balart about this and ask him about a statement he made on the House floor Thursday, saying how lucky Cubans were to be able to go back every three years. “If one is from any other country in the world . . . and they are a political asylee, they cannot go back once every three years,” Diaz-Balart said. “They cannot go back, period, until the political situation changes in the country they have left.”
That didn’t seem right, especially since many asylum seekers from other countries become U.S. citizens, just like the Cubans who come here.
So I checked with the State Department. And sure enough, Diaz-Balart is wrong. Take, for instance, the terrorist state of Iran — a founding member in the “Axis of Evil.” As far as the United States is concerned, if you fled Iran and became a U.S. citizen, you can go back as often as you want to visit your family. The United States won’t stop you.
The same applies to China, North Korea, Vietnam, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Kyrgyzstan. In fact, I couldn’t find another country that had travel restrictions similar to what we do with Cuba. A State Department spokesman couldn’t think of one either.
I spoke Friday to the press liaison for Diaz-Balart’s office, who, after several hours of trying, informed me she couldn’t reach the congressman because, “he and his family went on vacation.”
How perfect is that? Deny a man the opportunity to see his kids and then get an early jump on the holiday weekend with your own family.
Lazo’s right — you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
On the morning after George W. Bush spoke to the nation from Fort Bragg, Americans started marching off to Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.” Both halves of this double feature invoked 9/11, perfectly timed for this particular holiday. Ever since “Jaws,” a movie set on the July Fourth weekend, broke box office records 30 summers ago, Independence Day has come to stand for terror as much as for freedom.
Decide for yourself if “War of the Worlds” is more terrifying than “Jaws.” Either way, it’s scarier than the president’s speech. Yet the discrepancy between Mr. Spielberg’s ability to whip up fear and Mr. Bush’s inability isn’t merely a matter of aesthetics. On Independence Day 2005, this terror gap is an ideal barometer for gauging the waning political power of a lame-duck president waging what increasingly looks like a lame-duck war.
Mr. Spielberg’s movie illuminates, too, how Mr. Bush has flubbed the basic storytelling essential to sustain public support for his Iraq adventure. The president has made a tic of hammering in melodramatic movie tropes: good vs. evil, you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists, “wanted dead or alive,” “bring ’em on,” “mission accomplished.” When you relay a narrative in that style, the audience expects you to stick to the conventions of the genre; the story can end only with the cavalry charging in to win the big final battle. That’s how Mr. Spielberg deploys his platoons, “Saving Private Ryan”-style, in “War of the Worlds.” By contrast, Mr. Bush never marshaled the number of troops needed to guarantee Iraq’s security and protect its borders; he has now defined “mission accomplished” down from concrete victory to the inchoate spreading of democracy. To start off sounding like Patton and end up parroting Woodrow Wilson is tantamount to ambushing an audience at a John Wayne movie with a final reel by Frank Capra.
Mr. Bush could have addressed that question honestly on Tuesday night. Instead of once more cooking the books – exaggerating the number of coalition partners, the number of battle-ready Iraqi troops, the amount of non-American dollars in the Iraq kitty – he could have laid out the long haul in hard facts, explaining the future costs in manpower, money and time, and what sacrifices he proposes for meeting them. He could have been, as he is fond of calling himself, a leader.
It was a blown opportunity, and it’s hard to see that there will be another chance. Iraq may not be Vietnam, but The Wall Street Journal reports that the current war’s unpopularity now matches the Gallup findings during the Vietnam tipping point, the summer of 1968. As the prospect of midterm elections pumps more and more genuine fear into the hearts of Republicans up for re-election, it’s the Bush presidency, not the insurgency, that will be in its last throes. Is the commander in chief so isolated in his bubble that he does not realize this? G.W.B., phone home.
New York Times:
Makes you wonder what’s going on here….
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made a heavily guarded surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday, praising Iraqi’s commitment to democracy in the face of sustained deadly attacks by insurgents.
Gonzales, on his first trip to Iraq, said he chose the Independence Day weekend to show support for U.S. troops and Iraq’s nascent government. “We are doing a lot to promote democracy and the rule of law,” Gonzales said aboard an Air Force plane en route to the Middle East.
His predecessor, John Ashcroft, did not visit the country while attorney general.
Gonzales was meeting with U.S. soldiers, Justice Department officials working in Iraq and his counterparts in the Iraqi government.
The trip was a closely guarded secret, even at the Justice Department. A handful of senior department officials accompanied Gonzales, including Max Wood, the U.S. attorney in Macon, Ga., who is beginning a posting as the senior U.S. law enforcement official in Iraq.
Maybe it’s just a follow-up to Abu Ghraib…seeing how things worked out there.