Rights group leader urges Hispanics to back free vote

Trying to heal a breach between Cuban Americans and other Hispanics, a prominent Mexican-American civil rights leader night called on all Hispanics to recognize the need for free elections in Cuba.

Raul Yzaguirre, longtime president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic advocacy group, told the annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute dinner that all Hispanics should ``reject dictatorships of the right in Chile and of the left in Cuba.''

''Every country in the hemisphere should have free, transparent multiparty elections,'' said Yzaguirre, who received a Medallion of Excellence from the caucus. ``We must denounce human rights violations whether they are of Mayan Indians, aboriginals in the Brazilian rain forest, or Cuban dissidents.''

Reps. Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart, Cuban-American Republicans from Miami, attended the event because the brothers said they wanted to recognize Yzaguirre's effort to remind all Hispanics, at a gala attended by 2,200 people, of the plight of Cubans.

''This is a welcome step, and very important, especially given Raul's stature and this setting,'' said Lincoln Díaz-Balart.

``All segments of the Hispanic community have to recognize each other's key issues, and each other's dreams and pain.''

The divisive issue of Cuba drove Lincoln Díaz-Balart from the Hispanic Caucus in 1997. He and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another Cuban-American Republican from Miami, quit the caucus in disgust after the incoming chairman at the time, Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., visited Havana and criticized the U.S. embargo.

Yzaguirre attended a recent dinner at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables with several Hispanic business leaders and the Díaz-Balart brothers. One topic was how to begin to mend the breach between Cuban Americans and other Hispanics.

''I hope I can be a bridge-builder and build some unity,'' Yzaguirre said before his brief speech.

``It's important for all Hispanics to understand the turmoil of Cuban Americans and be sensitive to that.''

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that offers scholarships and fellowships to Hispanic students.

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