By TRACI CARL
Associated Press Writer
SILAO, Mexico – Jose Maria Garnica has newspaper photos of his daughter Columba and her husband, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, along with articles on his grandson [George P. Bush], who lobbied for the Latino vote during his uncle`s presidential campaign.
But that`s about the only information he has on his daughter`s family. Garnica says he hopes President Bush`s visit to Mexico on Friday may help him make peace with his 47-year-old daughter.
Garnica said he hopes to catch a glimpse of Bush. He has gained the support of several local leaders and has a framed poster of Jesus he wants to give the president.
Local broadcasters and newspapers have portrayed Garnica as the victim of an ungrateful daughter, but Columba Bush has said her father left the family when she was 3.
Reforma, one of Mexico`s leading newspapers, accused Columba of “forgetting her roots.” She hasn`t publicly responded to the reports, and declined to speak directly with The Associated Press.
Families divided by a border are common in Mexico. Garnica said he traveled to California in 1960 – when Columba was about 7 years old – got construction work and brought his family north four years later. By then, he and his wife had grown apart and they soon separated, the father said, adding that Columba continued to visit him in California. [Emphasis added, throughout.]
Garnica said their three children – Columba, Francisco and Lucila – spent time with both parents in Mexico and California.
He said he last saw Columba in 1973, when she told him she was going to the post office in La Puente, Calif. They haven`t talked since.
“That was so many years ago,” the 77-year-old Garnica said. “Twenty-seven years isn`t just a little bit. It`s almost a lifetime.”
Gov. Jeb Bush refused Tuesday to comment on Jose Garnica`s account of his relationship with Bush`s wife, Columba. A member of the Bush`s staff, speaking only on background, said there was no truth to the story that Mrs. Bush went to the post office and never returned.
Garnica said his daughter Lucila called him this week and told him to stop talking to the media, saying he was “hurting Columba.”
“I don`t want to hurt her, but everything I say is true,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Jeb Bush, Katie Baur, said it was a “personal, family issue” and Columba Bush wouldn`t comment.
Columba Bush has kept a relatively low profile. One of the few times she has been in the news was when she failed to declare $19,000 worth of clothing at customs after a Paris shopping spree. She paid a $4,100 fine.
Garnica receives pension and Social Security checks from the United States – money that lets him live comfortably in Silao. The town is 200 miles northwest of Mexico City and a few miles from the ranch where President Vicente Fox and Bush will meet Friday.
Garnica said he met Jeb Bush once, in California, when Bush and Columba were dating. The couple met when she was 17 and Bush was on an exchange program in Mexico.