Giuliani flails Castro in S. Florida

The presidential candidate makes his scorn clear to the Cuban-Americans.

Published June 22, 2007

HIALEAH - Rest assured, Florida Republicans. Rudy Giuliani hates Fidel Castro. A whole lot.

"Castro is a murderer. I will never forget it. So is his brother, " the Republican presidential candidate assured an enthusiastic crowd of more than 250 people at La Carreta restaurant in Miami-Dade County on Thursday.

Amid chants of "Rudy! Rudy!" and signs declaring "Hialeah Loves Rudy, " the former New York mayor made his first pilgrimage to the heart of the Cuban-American Republican base in South Florida. He touted his admiration for the Cuban-American work ethic, his love of Cuban food and his hatred of Castro, whom Giuliani once barred from attending a United Nations anniversary celebration in New York.

All the major Republican candidates are heavily courting South Florida Cuban-Americans, and Giuliani touted nearly 20 endorsements from state legislators and county and city officials Thursday. Arizona Sen. John McCain has already won the support of the Miami-Dade congressional delegation and the Miami-Dade mayor, among others, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the backing of some major Hispanic fundraisers, including former state GOP chairman Al Cardenas.

"Politics are local, " said state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami. "On the streets of South Florida and Dade County, the grass roots where it counts, this is Giuliani country."

South Florida is loaded with transplanted New Yorkers or people with family in New York, and many people in the heavily Hispanic crowd talked of Giuliani's efforts to clean up the city. Giuliani, who does not speak Spanish but said his wife is learning the language, recounted his frequent marches in Cuban-American parades and naming a corner near the Cuban Mission to the U.N. after the Brothers to the Rescue anti-Castro group.

Speaking later to reporters, he repeated his fervent opposition to Castro, and suggested some Hollywood personalities romanticized Castro, "a man who was horrible to gays and lesbians."

Several recent polls have shown Giuliani leading among Florida Republicans, but with likely Republican candidate Fred Thompson in striking distance. Florida is tentatively set to be the first major state to vote in the series of nominating contests, and it is a top priority for Giuliani.

"You're going to have a big say in picking who the nominee is going to be, " Giuliani said of Florida's Jan. 29 presidential primary.

"We're going to be in the Cuban community a lot campaigning. I hope you don't get tired of me."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727893-8241 or asmith@sptimes.com