Sunday, July 03, 2005

Upon Further Review…The Case of Sgt. Carlos Lazo

In the last few weeks the U.S. media has made Carlos Lazo and his plight famous. Do a google news search right now and you’ll find no less than 40 hits among the newspapers and leading media sources in the country and the world. Lazo’s case seemed simple enough. This National Guardsman and Iraqi Freedom veteran wants to see his two sons in Cuba. But since he was last there in 2003, U.S. policy has changed and allows Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba only once every 3 years. Mr. Lazo first made news in 2004 when he supplied the news media a videotape in which he openly criticized this new policy implemented by his Commander in Chief.

But recently Sgt. Lazo has been at the center of a coordinated publicity tour. In Washington, he made rounds on Capital Hill where he expressed his displeasure about the travel restrictions to various Senators and Representatives just in time for debate on several amendments to the spending bill for transportation and treasury issues. Three amendments in particular were brought forth by Charles Rangel (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Jim Davis (D-FL) respectively, that would have weakened American sanctions on Cuba. And so all of the media quickly jumped on Sgt. Lazo’s bandwagon, and brought to light how America’s heartless policies were keeping a family separated. Many Cuban-Americans sympathized with Lazo’s plight, especially so in light of the fact that, by all accounts, he has served his adoptive country honorably, but they felt that the policy was for the greater good. After all the sanctions are in place to try achieve some change in what is regarded not only as a terrorist state but also a state that is a chronic human rights violator.

But the story is a little more complex than has been reported thus far. You see while Sgt. Lazo was busy telling anyone who would listen that the United States has unfair travel policies towards Cuba, some began to ask themselves why his sons couldn’t come here to visit their dad. Would Castro allow these two boys to come to U.S. to merely visit with their dad? Or would he reverse his position about family unity (as expressed in the Elian Gonzalez incident)? The sad thing is we’ll never know what the Castro regime would have done because Sgt. Lazo rejected the idea.

U.S. Congressman, Licoln Diaz Balart (R-FL) says that one of his aides offered to start the paperwork on obtaining visas for his sons and that he did not want that. Additionally, Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) offered visas and asylum to his entire clan. Such offers were also made on the floors of the House and Senate. So with all due respect to Sgt. Lazo, one has to wonder if he’s really interested in seeing his sons. Or is he simply trying to prove a political point by injecting his family situation into the equation in a situation reminiscent of the flap created by Al Gore when he claimed that his mother-in-law’s dog’s medication was cheaper than her own in an effort to score cheap political points?

I think Sgt. Lazo has some explaining to do. I, for one, would like to know how many times he actually went to see his sons (that he decided to leave behind) before the stricter travel policies were in place.

I think it’s obvious that the media either worked in concert with opponents of the sanctions against Cuba to make Lazo the poster boy for the “bad” U.S. policies or at a bare minimum, they did a poor job investigating this story beyond the very surface. If the reporters and editors around the country that picked this story up had asked themselves the same questions that freedom loving Cuban-Americans had (why can’t his son’s come visit him here in the States?) they may have seen that this was possibly all a political stunt designed to manipulate the media and put pressure on the Congress to ease the sanctions.

In his 2004 videotape, Sgt. Lazo accuses President Bush of playing politics and that the strengthening of travel restrictions was merely an effort to win the votes of conservative Cuban-Americans in Florida. Perhaps this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. It is a apparent that Sgt. Lazo wants to influence U.S. foreign policy more than he wants to see his sons. The blame for separating thousands of Cuban families falls squarely on the shoulders of Fidel Castro and it's precisely to remedy that situation that sanctions exist against his regime.

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