MH: Candidate's friendship with Cuba trade backer at issue
- MIAMI HERALD
Posted on Thu, Jul. 01, 2010
Candidate's friendship with Cuba trade backer at issue
BY CARRIE WELLS
State Rep. David Rivera's close relationship with a businessman who facilitates trade with Cuba is becoming increasingly awkward for the congressional candidate, one of Florida's most outspoken proponents of the embargo on the island.
Rivera, chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party and House budget chief, is publicly distancing himself from Ariel Pereda, the former chairman of a political fundraising committee Rivera was associated with and principal of the Havana Group, a firm that advises companies on how to trade with Cuba.
One of Rivera's opponents in the congressional race, Republican Paul Crespo, describes trade with Cuba as an ``incredibly emotional'' issue in the heavily Cuban-American district now represented by Mario Diaz-Balart. Diaz-Balart is moving to run in the district held by his brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who is retiring.
Rivera and Pereda both deny being more than acquaintances, though other Republicans say their friendship is common knowledge.
``Like hundreds of other individuals, he is someone I've met and seen in Republican Party political circles,'' said Rivera in a statement. ``There is no relationship beyond that.''
State Rep. Juan Zapata laughed when he heard Rivera and Pereda denied their friendship. ``They're not only friends but they're good friends,'' said Zapata, who has served in the House with Rivera since 2002.
Said Mary Ellen Miller, former Miami-Dade Republican Party chairwoman: ``I know Ariel and I know David and they are friends. They've been friends probably since they got involved in Republican politics.'' (Two days after her comment, Miller said she had gotten a call ``from a friend'' she decline to identify and wanted to change her statement to deny the two men had ever been friends.)
Rivera recently accused Gov. Charlie Crist of ``cavorting with collaborators of a communist dictatorship'' for raising money for his Senate bid from business leaders who advocate open travel to Cuba. Pereda attended that event, according to organizers.
Rivera's rival Crespo said most Republican voters support the embargo on Cuba. ``They'll care about hypocrisy and the issue, and they'll feel like they're being played by a politician,'' he said.
State and federal records show Rivera on the Future Leadership Committee at the same time Pereda was chairman, even though Rivera says he was involved with the committee only after Pereda had stepped down.
Rivera said he was authorized to raise money for the Future Leadership Committee -- but not when it was chaired by Pereda. State records show the group raised $243,000 between 2004 and its closing in February 2010. Pereda was listed as chairman of the committee on May 22, 2007. On the same day, Rivera filed a ``statement of solicitation'' required by law if he intends to raise or get money from the committee.
The person who chaired the committee later, Jose Mallea, has the same address and phone number on committee records as Pereda's firm. Mallea did not return Herald calls seeking comment.
The Future Leadership Committee paid tens of thousands of dollars to three Rivera campaign workers and political advisors: Ileana Garcia, Esther Nuhfer and Bridget Gregory Nocco. There is no evidence that Pereda ever contributed to Rivera's campaigns.
A website for the Future Leadership Committee that listed Rivera as the ``associated representative'' was taken offline days after a Miami Herald inquiry. So was a website for The Havana Group.
Pereda did not return calls for comment. His attorney, Nelson Diaz, said his client is on the board of entities ``that provide humanitarian relief assistance and goods'' to Cuba.
Through his lawyer, Pereda said he is supporting the campaign of one of the Democrats in the race, Joe Garcia, and added that Rivera had been ``nothing but an obstacle to my activities related to Cuba.''
Garcia confirmed that he and Pereda are friends and that Pereda has raised money for him.
Rivera opposes contact with Cuba on the grounds that it props up the island's repressive government. He sponsored a bill two years ago that would have required businesses to post a $250,000 bond if they booked direct tours to Cuba. The law was overturned in court. Rivera also passed a ban on universities using taxpayer money to pay for trips to Cuba.
Miami Herald staff writers Beth Reinhard and Marc Caputo contributed to this report.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/07/01/v-print/1709645/candidates-friendship-with-cuba.html#ixzz0sPLGDpXB