Republican presidential candidate John McCain has attacked Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama on his Cuba policy. Speaking to a friendly Cuban-American audience in Miami, Senator McCain vowed to maintain a strict U.S. economic embargo on Cuba until the communist government grants basic liberties to its people, releases political prisoners and holds internationally monitored elections. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
Senator McCain timed his speech to coincide with Cuban Independence Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the Caribbean island's transfer of power from Spain in 1902. He also used the chance to again attack his anticipated Democratic opponent for the White House, Senator Obama, suggesting he is weak on foreign policy.
When Barack Obama ran for the U.S. Senate in 2003, he had suggested that he would support lifting the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba. McCain said Obama has now changed his position, but that it is still wrong in his eyes.
"Now Senator Obama has shifted positions and says he only favors easing the embargo, not lifting it," he said. "He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro… an unconditional meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba's dictators: there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in U.S. policy."
McCain's remarks provoked an emotional reaction from his Cuban American audience. Many in Miami's Cuban American community are victims of the communist government and strongly oppose any dialogue with President Raul Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel Castro in February.
Cuban-American voters represent an important voting bloc in Florida, which has also often been a key battleground state in U.S. presidential elections.
Obama has said he favors talking to the Cuban government and allowing Cuban Americans to travel freely to the island, in hopes of encouraging democratic reforms.
During a debate with his Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton, Obama said he would be willing to hold talks, without preconditions, with leaders of countries hostile to the United States, including Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba. McCain has been hammering Obama on this pledge, calling him naïve, inexperienced and reckless.
Democratic Senator Bob Casey, a strong supporter of Senator Obama, stepped up to defend him.
"The Republicans now nationally, Senator McCain's campaign, the president, all of the Republican leaders around the country are trying to gang up now on Barack Obama," he said. "That is understandable, because they see a candidate who can beat them in November. So I understand why they are doing that."
Obama is arriving in Florida on Wednesday for a three-day visit, and will have a chance to speak to the Cuban American National Foundation in person on Friday, and outline his Cuban policy. Clinton has also announced a visit to Florida this week.