HAVANA (AP) -- Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said Wednesday that he hopes Sen. Jesse Helms, Cuba's most vilified conservative nemesis, makes good on his promise to not seek re-election.
"He should have done this a long time again," Perez Roque told Associated Press Television News. "Not because of his age, but because of his ideas ... I hope he doesn't change his mind."
Helms has been a chief American opponent of communist Cuba and its leader Fidel Castro for three decades.
"I don't care how he leaves there. Horizontally or vertically," Helms said of Castro in January 1998, the month Pope John Paul II visited the island nation. "I want him out of there, and the Cuban people want him out, too."
Helms co-authored a 1996 law that tightened the U.S. embargo on Cuba that has been in effect since 1961.
Among other things, the Helms-Burton Act penalizes foreign companies that invest in or use properties in Cuba confiscated without compensation following the 1959 Cuban revolution.
HEAD:Cuban official says he hopes Helms doesn't change his mind
By SCOTT MOONEYHAM
RALEIGH, N.C. -- After three decades of dogged, even obstructionist loyalty to the conservative cause in Congress, Sen. Jesse Helms says the battle must go on without him after 2003.
In a broadcast from WRAL-TV, where his fiery editorials helped build support for his 1972 election to the Senate, the 79-year-old Republican confirmed Wednesday he will not seek a sixth term.
Helms quoted a Democrat, the late Sen. Sam Ervin Jr., in saying time had taken its toll.
"I would be 88 if I ran again in 2002 and was elected and lived to finish a sixth term," he said. "This, my family and I decided unanimously, I should not do -- and, ladies and gentlemen, I shall not."
But Helms also was clear that he wouldn't be giving up his political fights until the day his term ends.
"I am by no means announcing my retirement because a great deal of work lies ahead of the United States Senate this fall, and next year, when there will be much significant legislation," he said.
Long before Helms' plans became public, possible successors had begun exploring bids to replace him.
A group of Republicans announced this week they were trying to persuade Elizabeth Dole to run. The former labor secretary and head of the Red Cross was born and raised in North Carolina.
"Senator Helms' decision to retire in 2003 signals the end of an era in our state," she said. "He has been a relentless watchdog with a strong commitment to North Carolina and our nation."
Other Republicans considering a Senate bid include Rep. Richard Burr, former Sen. Lauch Faircloth, former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot and Lexington lawyer Jim Snyder.
Thad Beyle, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina, said national GOP officials clearly see Dole as the best candidate to keep Helms' seat in Republican hands.
So far, the only Democrat to enter the race is Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. Former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt reiterated Wednesday night that he will not seek the seat.
During his years in the Senate, Helms became known as "Senator No," blocking legislation he opposed with all means at his disposal. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he helped place sanctions against communist regimes and blocked the payment of U.S. dues to the United Nations.
He also became an icon to social conservatives, advocating a return to prayer in the classroom and condemning "the homosexual agenda."
The conservative firebrand frustrated presidents and agitated liberals, and on the eve of his announcement, he was both praised and condemned.
"I guess the 19th century is over now," quipped Sam Watts, a North Carolina-based Democratic pollster.
Republicans said Helms will be hard to replace.
"Senator Helms by virtue of his rigid, inflexible stances on many issues is perceived by many as uncaring and insensitive," said Rep. Howard Coble. "I think that belies the truth. I think Senator Helms is a man of principle."
President Bush praised Helms as "a tireless defender of our nation's freedom and a champion of democracy abroad."
Helms, who had taped the address, headed to his vacation home on Lake Gaston, north of Raleigh, to watch the broadcast with his wife, Dorothy.
People close to him said for weeks relatives had been urging him not to seek re-election. Helms has had years of health problems, affecting his heart, legs and balance, and he had both knees replaced in 1998 and has since used a motorized scooter.
Helms' departure will force the GOP to defend another open seat in its bid to recapture the Senate, where Democrats hold a 50-49 majority, with one independent.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.