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A dispute decades old, a deserved honor stalled

Published Aug. 28, 2005

The Mayor's Latinos Unidos luncheon overflowed with warmth Wednesday as guests from different Hispanic backgrounds and political views greeted each other with big smiles and pecks on the cheek.

Mayor Pam Iorio thanked the audience for their cultural and economic contributions to the city, while the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council, which organized the event, announced a $190,000 endowment for college scholarships.

It's disappointing that such enthusiasm doesn't extend to other significant issues, such as the naming of the post office in Ybor City.

The dispute regarding U.S. Rep. Jim Davis' efforts to rename the post office after the late Roland Manteiga, longtime publisher of Ybor's trilingual newspaper La Gaceta, contrasts greatly with the zeal the Hispanic community displayed at the seventh annual luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Tampa.

This type of commemoration requires congressional approval and an endorsement from the state's entire congressional delegation. Such requests are typically a formality but, in this case, conflict is trumping formality.

Three Republicans from Miami, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are blocking the attempt to name the post office after Manteiga because of his political views on Cuba.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Cuban-American representatives argued that "Mr. Manteiga never wrote a word of concern about or disagreement with any human rights violations by the Cuban dictatorship, despite having repeatedly defended that regime at a time when it was carrying out mass executions."

Patrick Manteiga, Roland's son and current La Gaceta publisher, said his father initially supported Fidel Castro and the revolution but later renounced the regime. For proof, he's searching for old articles or letters that detail his father's position.

Not everyone agreed with Roland Manteiga's weekly opinions, but people respected him because he cared deeply about the community. Last year, a life-sized statue of Manteiga, who died in 1998, was erected at Centro Ybor in his memory.

For a Miami contingent to decide how Tampa should honor one of its own is disheartening. Davis, D-Tampa, said he believes this may be the first time a delegation outside the affected community has blocked a commemoration.

"I'm deeply disappointed, but not shocked," Davis said Wednesday. "I've been trying for the last few weeks to get him (Lincoln Diaz-Balart) to budge, but we fundamentally disagree that he should have the right to exercise what's appropriate for our community.

"It's an outrageous position he took."

For now, the debate is dead. A spokesperson in Mario Diaz-Balart's office said they would have no further comment until someone can show documents in which Manteiga denounced the regime.

Even if that happens, I don't think discussions will result in a compromise. Patrick Manteiga said he has called Lincoln Diaz-Balart six days in a row but hasn't reached him.

"The guy isn't man enough to call me back," Patrick Manteiga said. "That's bad."

What's really bad is that the fate of Roland Manteiga's deserving commemoration is threatened because of an age-old debate. If the spirit of the Latinos Unidos luncheon could permeate the dispute, perhaps a more amenable solution could be found.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or