The four leading candidates for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat in 2010 were in the same room for the first time Monday at the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee's annual luncheon — where they staked out their positions on the future of Cuba and its relations with the United States.
"The quest for an open, democratic and free Cuba has to guide all of the United States' actions with respect to Cuba," said Democrat Maurice Ferré, the former Miami mayor who was the first to speak at the event at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Ferré was joined on the dais by his rival for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, and by the Republican hopefuls, Gov. Charlie Crist and former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio.
The PAC favors maintaining economic sanctions against the Cuban government. Among the more than 400 attendees at the luncheon were leading Cuban-American business executives and politicians, including U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario and Lincoln Díaz-Balart, and local state representatives.
Ferré said the recent crackdown by Cuban authorities on dissidents and civic activities were "deliberate steps" by the Cuban government to sabotage Washington's efforts to normalize relations.
"It is clear that Cuba uses confrontation with the United States as a means to legitimize its totalitarian government and to justify decades of repression," Ferré said.
Rubio -- the only Cuban American among the candidates -- maintained that freedom and human rights were pillars of the United States' policy toward Cuba.
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