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Joe Garcia, David Rivera spar on Cuba, immigration in nationally televised Univision appearance

U.S. Rep. David Rivera and challenger Joe Garcia engaged in a nationally televised, informal debate on Spanish-language television Sunday — the rivals’ most high-profile appearance in the closely watched congressional race.

Rivera, a Republican, and Garcia, a Democrat, touched on Cuba, immigration and Rivera’s ongoing federal investigation woes on Univision’s Al Punto (To the Point) with Jorge Ramos, who was accompanied by local WLTV-Univision 23 affiliate reporter Mario Andrés Moreno.

The debate, which lasted less than 20 minutes, was hardly long enough for the two rivals — who also ran against each other in 2010 — to delve into issues important to Congressional District 26, which extends from Kendall to Key West.

They got into the most detail on Cuba, an issue Rivera has pushed on the campaign trail to rally his base of hard-line, older Cuban-American voters. Rivera decried Cuban Americans who benefit from U.S. social programs and then return to the island to spend that money.

“I think that is in abuse, that these people are receiving these benefits and are traveling subsidizing a terrorist country with those benefits,” he said.

Earlier this year, Rivera filed legislation in Congress that would amend the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act to sanction Cuban Americans who return to the island before they obtain their U.S. citizenship, which generally takes up to five years. The decades old law allows Cubans to obtain U.S. residency a year and a day after they arrive in the U.S. — a benefit offered to citizens of no other country.

Garcia said he and Rivera both oppose the Castro regime in Cuba and support the U.S. trade embargo toward the island — a key question not only for Cuban-American voters in the Southwest Miami-Dade portion of the district but also for more moderate voters in the Florida Keys, many of whom favor lifting the embargo.

More here. Watch the debate, in Spanish, after the jump.

Part 1

Part 2