Where’s the Brief

Congressman Robert Torricelli is Washington’s most aggressive anti-Castro politician, even though 90 percent of his northern New Jersey district is non-Hispanic (mostly Italian, Jewish, or Irish descent) and less than 2 percent is Cuban. These Cubans have yet to organize even one demonstration against Castro. But recently people have begun to demonstrate against Torricelli. Even The Bergen Record, his county’s paper, has begun to question his stance: “It is an odd twist, perhaps, that Torricelli should find himself leading the offensive against Castro,” reports Thomas Moran. “He represents a district that is just 10 percent Hispanic, yet he is a champion for anti-Castro voters nationwide.”

Anti-Castro groups gave Torricelli $26,750 for his re-election in 1992, and about $10,000 so far this year. He has already secured the powerful Cuban vote based in Hudson County, adjoining his district, should he ever seek statewide office. And if he entertains higher ambitions, he can count on help from the Miami Cuban exile community’s hard-line leader, Jorge Mas Canosa, as one of his biggest fans. “He is presidential material,” Mas Canosa told the Record. “You have dinner and drinks with him, and you come to know him. There are very few people who have his sense of purpose, of direction, and destiny. He has been called for a bigger mission.”

Torricelli defends his Cuba interest by saying that he is motivated by principle and commitment to a democratic ideal. Indeed, as chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, he has been an active supporter of human rights in Latin America. During his first campaign in 1982, he criticized the Salvadoran government’s abuses. (His current companion in Englewood, Bianca Jagger, was once an activist on El Salvador.)

Later, like many of his colleagues, Torricelli questioned the way U.S. officials handled the 1989 murders of sic Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. Shortly after the killings, U.S. Army Major Eric Warren Buckland implicated El Salvador’s High Command and its Chief of Staff, Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, in testimony to the F.B.I. But State Department officials buried the affidavit for nine months, and, when it was “discovered,” claimed that the F.B.I. had bullied Buckland, a Special Forces Green Beret, into making a false statement. Last year, after the United Nations Truth Commission found that Ponce himself had ordered the murders, the official U.S. response went something like, “Gee whiz, whaddaya know?”

Torricelli, however, expressed outrage and promised to investigate whether U.S. officials had committed perjury when testifying to Congress about that and other crimes. Eighteen months later, no such investigation or hearing has occurred. When asked why, Torricelli declined to comment. He made a promise to principle and to the people in his district. But so far he has shown more loyalty to the Cuban vote outside it.