Democratic Senate front-runner Jeff Greene is backtracking on his claim that he had visited Cuba as part of a Jewish humanitarian trip, and a former deckhand says he's still not telling the truth.
Greene spokesman Luis Vizcaino said Tuesday that the real estate mogul's 145-foot yacht Summerwind docked for two days in Havana's Hemingway Marina in 2007 while awaiting repairs. In Sunday's Bay News 9 debate against Democratic rival Kendrick Meek, Greene said he went to Cuba on a Jewish mission.
"During the debate Jeff misspoke," Vizcaino said after receiving media inquiries about the trip. "What he meant to say was that in 2007, he went on the boat from Honduras to the Bahamas, and en route the boat had a hydraulic problem. … The captain said we could wait for the part at Hemingway Marina."
But a deckhand on that trip tells a different story.
John Walenczyk said the boat traveled from Fort Lauderdale directly to Cuba and docked for about one week.
"It was their total intention to go to Cuba," he said Tuesday. "We never went to Honduras, not even close. I figure it was the glamour of wanting to go to a banned country."
Travel to Cuba is an explosive issue in Miami's Cuban-American community, where some exiles view visiting the repressive regime as tantamount to treason.
Tuesday marked the second time that Greene tried to clarify the trip since a St. Petersburg Times story on Sunday quoted former deckhands recounting a lot of partying aboard the yacht.
When Meek grilled him about the incident during Sunday's debate televised in St. Petersburg, Greene insisted he had not personally taken the yacht to Cuba in five years.
After the debate, though, Greene acknowledged he may have gone in 2007. He said the Jewish Federation had obtained a visa for him to visit Cuba and that he and other members of the federation visited a synagogue.
"There's still a Jewish community there, I don't know if you know that," he said. ''There's still two synagogues. But there was no partying going on. Who would you party with?"
On Tuesday, Vizcaino said of the Jewish Federation visa, "again, he misspoke."
Vizcaino said the captain cleared everyone aboard the yacht through Cuban customs officials. Greene went to visit a synagogue while he was there because he had heard about a Jewish humanitarian mission.
"He didn't meet up with them," Vizcaino said. "He wanted to observe. … What he came away with was firsthand knowledge of the plight of the country."
Under U.S. law, Americans are not allowed to freely travel to Cuba unless they receive permission from federal authorities.