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Menendez calls report a 'mischaracterization' - Hudson Dispatch, October 8, 1987

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Posted by GET NJ on September 28, 2003 at 17:26:18:

Mayor denies remarks

By Douglas Lavin

Hudson Dispatch
October 8, 1987

UNION CITY – Mayor Robert Menendez yesterday vehemently denied ever advocating violence or breaking the law in the fight for free Cuba.

The denial came in the wake of a story appearing in the Hudson Dispatch yesterday which quoted Mennedez as saying "there are times when what one looks at as a law at a given time has to be broken."

In his statement yesterday, Menendez called that story "a great mischaracterization of my position."

The issue was raised after Menenedez attended a dinner Friday night to raise funds to support Eduardo Arocena with legal counsel. Arocena is a convicted terrorist and murderer who has been called the "kingpin" of the Omega 7 anti-Castro group.

"I vehemently deny any statement attributed or implied to me which would indicate that I am in favor of violence or of breaking the law," Menendez said in a written statement issued yesterday.

The statement appeared to contradict Menendez's earlier statements, made Tuesday in a telephone interview during which he justified illegal activities carried out against the Communist government of Cuba.

Menendez said in the telephone interview "there is civil disobedience and other forms of disobedience. You can't just attack the enemy through speeches." Asked if Cuban communists should be combatted in the U.S., Menendez said the fight should be carried out "wherever the enemy may be."

During the interview, Menendez also drew an analogy between anti-Castro violence and the illegal activities during the American revolution.

Menendez was not available for additional comment yesterday.

On Tuesday, he said he contributed toward Arocena's legal defense because he believed Arocena was not represented adequately during his trial. Menendez declined to specify how much he contributed for Arocena, but said the sum was more than a $20 ticket to the fund-raising dinner. Michael L. Tabak, the assistant U.S. attorney who was in charge of Arocena's prosecution, said Arocena was represented by counsel of his choosing during the trial.

In his four-paragraph statement, Menendez said, "I view my actions simply supportive of the Cuban community's goal for freedom and democracy."

"I reiterate my position in favor of freedom and Democracy not only in Cuba, but in Poland, in Grenada, for a united Ireland; and for all other people fighting for political and religious freedom throughout the world," the statement said.

Opponents viewed Menendez's statements as a gaffe.

"If the Republicans play it right, it could cost him the 33rd District," said Libero D. Marotta, a Democrat and a long-time Menendez foe.

The issue, a controversial one ever since anti-Castro terrorists planted bombs in Hudson County in the early 1970s, appeared to widen ethnic divisions here, with Cuban-Americans generally supporting the mayor and non-Hispanics generally attacking Menendez's statement.

Felipe Gomez, one of the organizers of the fund-raiser and a Cuban-American, said the Arocena's murder conviction pales beside and estimated 70,000 people who have died in Cuba and the imprisonment of hudreds of thousands of others.

"Who makes justice for this?" Gomez asked.

He said that with the approximately $10,000 raised for Arocena, a lawyer will be hired to review the trial. "We can prove his rights in this country were violated," Gomez said.

Arocena lost a 1985 appeal for his 1984 conviction of attempted murder, murder, conspiracy, bombings and perjury.

Several non-Hispanics criticized Menendez yesterday.

"I think it is a disgrace that the mayor supports terrorism," siad Brian P. Stack, an aide to Republican Senate candidated Ronald A. Dario.

Menendez and Bernard Kenny of Hoboken are Democratic candidates for Assembly woth Sen. Christopher J. Jackman of West New York in the 33rd District legislative race.

A source close to Assemblyman Jose O. Arango of West New York and Angleo Valente of Hoboken, Republicans who are challenging Menendez for seats in the Assembly, said the campaign intentds to mail 3,000 copies of an account of Menendez's Tuesday statements to voters with Italian last names throughout the district.

Kenny attended the Friday night event but said Tuesday that he did not know it was a fund-raiser.

On Tuesday, Arango said he would contribute to the fund-raiser, but did not endorse illegal activity.

Jackman yesterday criticized The Hudson Dispatch, calling the headline on Tuesday's article, "Mayor aided murderer," a "disgrace."

"The inference was he helped a murderer escape or something when he just bought a couple of tickets," Jackman said. In Menendez's statement, he called the headline "atrocious."

International politics have played a role in local elections ever since waves of Cubans began migrating here in 1959 when Fidel Castro took control of that country.

Menendez's statement read in full:

"Today Mayor Robert Menendez lashed out atthe Dispatch's article of Oct. 7, 1987 by saying:

"I vehemently deny any statement attributed or implied to me which would indicate that I am in favor of violence or of breaking the law. The Dispatch story was a great mischaracterization of my position and the headline was atrocious.

"I view my actions simply supportive (sic) of the Cuban community's goal for freedom and democracy.

"I reiterate my position in favor of freedom and democracy not only on Cuba, but in Poland, in Grenada, for a united Ireland; and for all other people fighting for political and religious freedom throughout the world.

"Those of you who have lived under the yoke of a communist dictatorship, or who have fled your country because of oppression or who have relatives and friends who were tortured for years as political prisoners understand by postion."

–Robert Menendez

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