"Working together for a free Cuba"




Republican Party General Chairman Mel Martinez Addresses RNC Members At Winter Meeting

Washington, D.C. – Friday, January 19, 2007. Republican Party General Chairman Mel Martinez addressed the RNC members today at the winter meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, DC. The following is a transcript of General Chairman Martinez’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Sharon, Joyce, and Luis, for your nominations and your kind words.

And thank all of you for honoring me by electing me to serve as general chairman of the Republican Party. I am humbled by your confidence and your faith in me.

I would also like to thank President Bush for recommending me to this position. Once again, he’s given me a tremendous privilege. I was honored to serve in his cabinet during his first term, and I am honored to serve him and our Party again today as General Chairman.

I want to congratulate Mike Duncan. I know for a fact that without Mike’s hard work and support in running the day-to-day operations of the RNC, it would be impossible for me to take this position as General Chairman. Mike is already a good friend, and I know that our relationship will continue to grow and be a strong one as we strive together to lead our party.

And congratulations and thanks, of course, to Ken Mehlman. Ken has done a terrific job over the past two years as chairman of our Party. I know everyone in this room wishes you well. But more importantly, I know everyone wants to give you our heartfelt thanks for a job well done. Thank you for your dedication, for your work, and for your passion. Ken, thank you.

Finally, I’d like to introduce you to someone who’s very special in my life: my wife of 36 years, Kitty. Without Kitty’s support and dedication, it would not be possible for me to serve the people of Florida and, now, to take on this important role helping our great Party. Kitty, thank you so much.

We are all gathered here today because we share the core principles and ideals that make our Party great.

My life and my experiences are why I share those ideals with you, and why I am so proud to be able to serve this Party.

My story is like so many other American stories. A story of hope, and the promise of the American Dream. A story of trying to create a better life for the next generation, so that they might have opportunities to succeed in ways that their parents and grandparents were not able to succeed.

I was born in Cuba. As a boy, I watched as my country, my home, turned into a living hell under totalitarian communism. My childhood went from one of carefree happiness to one where I watched freedom and the rule of law erode and disappear.

I will never forget the moment that crystallized for my parents what our home had become, and what they had to do to protect their family. One day, when I was 14, I was playing a game of basketball, and while I was playing, I was wearing a symbol of my faith, a scapular.

There was a group of armed men there at the game, members of the government militias, who saw that scapular and began chanting, taunting, “kill the Catholic.”

My parents were in the stands watching that game, and they saw those men with guns, and heard the threats. And that was the moment that my parents made the decision to do something that today would seem totally unthinkable. My parents and the parents of more than 14,000 other Cuban children sent us to America while they remained behind in Cuba.

My parents thought our separation would be brief and that I would soon return to Cuba. The Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 changed the equation. They were unable to leave and my return was unthinkable. Our hope then turned to someday reuniting in freedom.

The Catholic Church, working with our government, arranged for my entry into the United States through “Operation Pedro Pan” – or Peter Pan. They not only got so many young people out of the clutches of tyranny and into a nation of freedom, but they also sent out a call from pulpits across Florida for families who would be willing to take in children they had never met, who spoke a language they did not understand, and came from a land they had never seen.

It would have been easy for Walter and Eileen Young to sit quietly in the pew that Sunday morning -- but they raised their hands, and took me in. Not only did they open their home, but they opened their hearts to me, and treated me as a member of their family.

They cared for me for more than two years, and another couple, June and Jim Berkmyer, cared for me for another two years after that – until more than four years later, my parents were able to leave Cuba and our family was reunited in Orlando.

In the four years that I waited for my parents to escape Cuba, I worked after school and summer jobs, and managed to save $320 – enough to buy the family’s first car, a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Aire – big fins and all. And I lined up a job for my father, who was a veterinarian, at the local dairy farm.

He was willing to do whatever it took to begin supporting his family, to begin contributing to this great country, a country that had taken in his family and given him back the right to speak freely, to practice his faith, to participate in democracy. He and I, like so many other immigrants, came here not to change America, but to be changed by the American experience ... and we were.

From the moment I arrived I did not have to look far to see the greatness of America, and the genuine goodness of the American people. The Youngs, the Berkmyers and thousands of other families who opened their homes and their hearts in a way that is uniquely American made it clear.

They were part of what has become known as the “greatest generation,” and because of their generosity of spirit, I had the opportunity to live in freedom and pursue my American Dream.

The fact that a boy at age 15 can come here from another country, with nothing, not even speaking the language of this country – and stand before you today as a leader of our great Party, and a United States Senator – is a miracle that could only happen in America.

My journey was not made possible because of some giant government program or handout – but rather, because of strong, loving American families who were eager to do what was right to help someone who needed help.

And also because of a strong personal desire on my part to become a contributing member of my new community, to get an education, to pull myself up by my bootstraps and succeed as an American.

My story is like so many of your families’ stories—maybe not this generation, maybe not in this century. But we all came to this country to work hard to better our lives and those of our children and grandchildren.

It’s a profoundly American story. And it shaped my life and my own philosophy.

It’s the story of the American Dream. The dream that regardless of your personal circumstances, your financial situation, the lineage of your family or the color of your skin – the dream that in America, if you work hard, have faith in your God and play by the rules, all things are possible.

The American Dream, that belief in endless opportunities, in the power of freedom and individual achievement, is what our Party is all about. I’m a Republican because I have lived the American Dream. And I am excited to take this position as General Chairman because I believe our Party needs to be in the business of making the American Dream come true for everyone.

The American Dream might take different forms for different people.

To the young families who are the roots of our society, it might mean owning their very first home.

To the single mom who needs medicine for herself and her child, it might mean health care you own and can take with you when you switch jobs.

To the small family business owner who dreams of growing his business, it might mean lower taxes and less regulation.

To our seniors, including members of that Greatest Generation, it might mean knowing that they can control their own retirement.

But to all of them, it means opportunity, and a limitless future. And that is what our Party is all about.

We’re the party of lower taxes and less spending because we know that government doesn’t create jobs and economic growth. The American people, the most industrious, innovative, driven people in the world do that. Today, across this great country, millions of men and women are hard at work.

Some of them are on factory floors and construction sites. Some of them are on family farms. They’re in office buildings and restaurants, cabs and semis. They are working for their families and their futures.

We’re the party that believes in the power of faith, and the power of individuals and communities to do good in a way that government can’t.

I am here today because of good people who volunteered in a church on a Sunday morning, saying; “I care enough to help.” Ronald Reagan once said that “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

Every day, in churches, synagogues, and mosques … soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and community centers … men and women are proving him right. They are showing that individuals and families, churches and communities can accomplish what bureaucracies cannot.

We’re the party that is passionate about freedom for all people, and understands the stakes in the War On Terror. I’ve been to Iraq, and I’ve talked to our men and women in uniform. I’ve never been prouder or more awed by the sacrifice of the people in our armed forces. Our job is to stand behind those brave Americans in their mission, a mission that I believe is vital to our safety and security here at home.

The President’s new plan will give them the support they need, and simultaneously require the Iraqi government to step up fully to its responsibilities. We have a long way to go in Iraq, but the President and this Party understand that the consequences of defeat would be disastrous.

Those are our principles. We believe in the power of the American people more than the power of the government. We believe in the power of good in the world over the power of evil. We believe in the power of faith and the power of freedom. We are the party of big ideas, and a vision for a bright future.

To be the Party of the future means that we also have to be a party that opens the door wide-open so that all Americans feel welcome. There are too many Americans who do not understand that the principles of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan speak to their hopes, their dreams, and their aspirations. I will take the message of our Party to all Americans.

As a member of the Cuban-American community, it was easy for me to understand that the Republican Party, the party of Ronald Reagan, was a party for us.

I want to make sure that we take that message to the broader Hispanic community, to the African-American community, and to all communities that may never have believed that Republican ideals spoke to them. So they, too, understand that if they care about education for their children, accountability in their schools, if they care about entrepreneurship, about beginning a small business and growing it into a large business, if they care about a Party that stands for less government, but more individual freedom … then we are the party for them and their American Dream.

Those principles are why I am a proud Republican, and why I am so honored to take this position as General Chairman of the Republican Party.

It would be tempting today for me to talk to you about our strategies and tactics as we plan to retake the Congress and elect a Republican president in 2008.

But not today. What I am going to do over the next two years is assist our Party in a renewal of the principles that have made us great: lower taxes, limited government, individual responsibility, freedom here and abroad, and the power of faith. I am going to carry those principles to the American people, explaining why the Republican way of doing things is the best way to solve America’s problems.

And if I do my job right, if we all are successful in communicating our message, if we stand for our principles, we will be rewarded with success … and the high responsibility of governing.

I am going to concentrate on talking about a Republican Party that is the party of optimism, the party of the future, the party that stands for solutions to the American people’s problems. I want to describe my passion for a Party that speaks to America’s hopes, aspirations, and dreams. I want to lead the Party of a bright future.

Just a few weeks ago, we lost a great Republican and a great American: President Gerald Ford. President Bush said it best: “In President Ford, the world saw the best of America -- and America found a man whose character and leadership would bring calm and healing to one of the most divisive moments in our nation's history.”

President Ford brought this country together at a time when it seemed like our divisions might be too deep to overcome. He never stopped being a Republican, but he also never stopped being an American.

Neither will I. My life was changed by America. My life was changed by freedom. I know how important this moment in history is, and how important our duty to the future is. And I intend to lead this party by spending every day of the next two years fighting for that future. I owe it to our Party, I owe it to you, and most importantly, I owe it to a nation that has given me so much.

In 1964, Ronald Reagan changed the Republican Party and started down a path that changed the world when he spoke to the nation with these simple words: “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.”

Today, we have a similar rendezvous. We have a vision for a bright future for our nation, and today we start down the path toward that future.

Thank you, and God bless you all.