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web posted February 21, 2000

Bush wallops McCain in South Carolina

Alleged front-runner George W. Bush cruised to an easy victory in South Carolina on February 19, defeating John McCain and Alan Keyes handily. Bush scored 53 per cent to McCain's 42 per cent. Keyes came in third with 5 per cent.

Bush's huge Palmetto State win solidified his front-runner status for the upcoming sprint toward the Republican nomination and vindicated his campaign's "firewall" strategy for the conservative, southern state.

The victory also put the brakes on the rolling momentum the McCain camp enjoyed after its victory in the New Hampshire primary. McCain will now look for a new bounce to keep his campaign alive while Bush concentrates on widening his delegate lead.

"I got knocked down in the snows of New Hampshire, so I went to my leaders and said 'Put me in front of the people and let me show them my heart,'" an elated Bush said Saturday night.

"I am honored and humbled by the huge victory we had here in South Carolina," Bush said during his victory speech in Columbia. "It is the victory of a messenger who is a reformer with results."

"I congratulated Governor Bush on his victory here and wished him a happy celebration and a good night's rest. He's going to need it," McCain told supporters.

McCain said Americans have a clear choice in the Republican Party -- a "choice between experience and pretense" and a "choice between a record of reform and an empty slogan of reform."

"I'm a real reformer," he said. "I just don't say it. I live it."

Election officials reported record voter turnout that more than doubled 1996 totals and reached an estimated 600,000 -- or 20 percent of the voting age population.

Conservatives, especially so-called religious conservatives, drove the Bush train to victory. Six in 10 voters called themselves Republicans in the primary, according to exit polls, and they favored Bush by more than 2-to-1, while McCain won about 60 percent of independents and 80 percent of the Democrats who crossed over to vote.

Bush's win gives him 31 of South Carolina's 37 delegates. He now has 84 delegates of the 1,034 needed to be nominated for president.

Cuba rejects U.S. order to expel diplomat

Cuba's government has rejected a U.S. request that an unnamed Cuban diplomat leave the United States within seven days because of possible ties to a Cuban-born U.S. immigration official suspected of espionage.

A senior U.S. administration official said the expulsion was connected to the arrest of Mariano Faget, the Immigration and Naturalization Service official in Miami who was charged with violating the federal Espionage Act and making false statements.

James Foley, a State Department spokesman, said the U.S. asked for the diplomat's expulsion after the FBI presented evidence that showed "actions by the Cuban diplomat were incompatible with his diplomatic status."

In Cuba, a government statement condemned the U.S. espionage charges and the explusion request as a "desperate and spectacular maneuver."

The statement said, "The Cuban government will not withdraw any officer." It added that Cuba would urge that "this compatriot, so vilely accused, remain in United States territory to give testimony and demonstrate the total falseness of this accusation, whatever the consequences may be."

The statement went on to say, "Never in 22 years has the Cuban interests section in Washington carried out intelligence activities in the United States."

The statement was read to a rally in Baragua, in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba. The rally was attended by more than 20,000 people, including President Fidel Castro and senior government officials.

An earlier statement from the Cuban interests section in Washington offered no comment on the ordered expulsion but said the allegation of Cuban espionage is a "colossal slander." It said the purpose of the Cuban mission is to promote better relations between the United States and Cuba.

The statement from the interests section said it is no coincidence that the espionage accusations are being leveled at a time when the custody battle over Elian Gonzalez is reaching a critical stage. Court proceedings are scheduled in the coming week in the case involving efforts by the 6-year-old Cuban boy's Miami relatives to forestall an INS order that he be returned to his father in Cuba.

Foley would not give the diplomat's name or position. He said only that the person enjoys "diplomatic immunity" and that the U.S. government expected the man to leave the country within seven days.

Foley said Charles Shapiro, the U.S. coordinator for Cuban affairs, called Felix Wilson, the acting head of the Cuban interests section in Washington, to the State Department to request that a member of the interests section leave.

Nun: Cuban grandma wanted to defect

A nun involved in a meeting between Elian Gonzalez and his Cuban grandmothers decided the 6-year-old should remain in the United States after she was told one of the grandmothers wanted to defect, her spokeswoman said February 20.

After meeting with the grandmothers last month at her home in Miami Beach, Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, the president of Barry University, said she was abandoning her neutral stance.

O'Laughlin was influenced to change her position by several things she had been told about the case by people she trusted, Michele Morris, a spokeswoman for Barry, said.

O'Laughlin didn't want to divulge the information to the media after the reunion because she heard it secondhand, Morris said.

The Miami Herald reported that one of the grandmothers told O'Laughlin directly that she wanted to defect. But O'Laughlin said in a prepared statement that "unfortunately the article had some misinformation. I never met with the grandmothers alone."

"While some of the specifics noted in the Herald contributed to my decision, it is untrue that I heard any of that from the grandmothers. Any information attributed to them came from other sources," the statement said.

The Herald did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Elian was found clinging to an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day off the Florida coast. His mother and 10 others traveling with him in an effort to flee Cuba drowned.

O'Laughlin was told by people she trusted that Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and his family knew about the voyage to Florida 10 days before the boat left Cuba, Morris said.

The Herald quoted the nun as saying she learned that Elian's father had been physically abusive to the boy's mother.

"This talk of defecting got me to thinking; if one of the adults wanted out, perhaps it was not a good place for the child," she told the Herald.

There was no immediate reaction from Elian's family in Cuba or from the Cuban government. O'Laughlin has been maligned by Cuban media since saying Elian should stay with his relatives in Miami.

When O'Laughlin first told reporters she had changed her mind about remaining neutral, she said she believed Elian had bonded with his 21-year-old cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez. She also said she sensed fear emanating from the grandmothers, which she believed was caused by the Cuban government.

Elian is currently staying with relatives in Miami. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has ruled in favor of his return to Cuba and to his father, but Elian's U.S. relatives are challenging that decision in federal court.

A Miami judge will hear arguments on February 22 to decide whether the court has jurisdiction in the case.

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