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Cuban Americans in O.C. Applaud Clinton Measures

February 27, 1996|JEFF KASS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

TUSTIN — Huddled over sandwiches and glued to CNN, local Cuban Americans gave President Clinton the thumbs-up Monday as they listened to his proposed retaliatory measures against Cuba for shooting down two U.S. civilian planes over the weekend.

The planes were flying through international airspace, Clinton said in his nationally televised speech, but Cuban authorities have maintained that the planes--flown by a group opposed to the Cuban government--violated the country's airspace.

Measures proposed by Clinton range from restricting the movement of Cuban officials in the United States to halting all charter flights from the United States to Cuba.

"For me, Clinton has to walk a political tightrope . . . he's done what he could do," said Ralph Sanchez, owner of Rafi's Cuban Cafe in Tustin, where about a dozen Cuban Americans gathered for the president's speech. "You can't exercise the full might of the United States for an incident like this."

Still, Sanchez and others overwhelmingly condemned the incident, expressing hope that countries trading with Cuba will realize they are dealing with a pariah nation.

"I hope they take a second look and realize it's an embarrassment to deal with the man [Cuban leader Fidel Castro]," Sanchez said.

Although most supported Clinton's measured response, some took a harder line.

"Anything short of a [naval] blockade is not sufficient," said Santiago Martin, a Santa Ana resident and vice president of the statewide Cuban-American Scholarship Fund. "Unless there's some show of force, you're not going to satisfy Cuban Americans in Florida."

Martin was the only one at the cafe who advocated a blockade, but everyone agreed that he probably represented the majority opinion of Cuban Americans in Miami.

About 8,000 Cuban Americans live in Orange County, Martin said, compared with more than 100,000 in Miami--the Cuban community's stronghold.

Another Cuban American at Rafi's, businessman William Hernandez Requejo, approved of Clinton's measures but took exception to restricting charter flights.

"If one of my aunts is sick," said Requejo, who like the others had taken time out of his workday to watch and discuss the speech, "I want to be able to visit her on her deathbed."

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