• U.S.

Splits in the Family

5 minute read
John Moody/Miami

In somber progression, the names floated over the air and across the ocean. Pola Alvarez, Jaime Diaz, Orlando Garcia, Ernesto Molina Sosa. For 95 minutes, until he became too hoarse to continue, Miami radio personality Tomas Garcia Fuste broadcast a list of 1,793 Cubans who fled their country last week only to wind up at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. For listeners on Castro’s island, the roll call provided welcome assurance that their loved ones had at least not perished in the treacherous Florida Straits.

For residents of Miami, it sharpened a passionate debate over Washington’s response to the wave of U.S.-bound refugees. Long a solid bastion of conservative influence, the more than 1 million Cuban Americans in South Florida are torn over the wisdom of denying entry to the rafters, over President Clinton’s refusal to negotiate with Castro, over the best approach to pry the Cuban leader from power.

The determination of the current refugees to leave the island works against a basic tenet in the strategy of Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, a leading voice of the exiles. Accused of being every bit as autocratic as the dictator he despises, Mas Canosa threw his support behind Clinton’s decision to bottle up the refugees to keep the pressure on Castro. Mas Canosa insists that the Administration’s economic crackdown and its refusal to deal with Castro will eventually embolden Cubans to drive him from power. “We all want a peaceful solution in Cuba, but that’s not what Castro wants,” he says. “He is leading the country toward a violent | period of change, which I think is inevitable.”

Increasingly, Mas Canosa’s right to speak on behalf of Cuban Americans is being challenged. Franciso Aruca, who ran shuttle flights to Havana, says the exiles used to have the appearance of homogeneity, always backing the conservative right. Now, he believes, “a lot of Cuban Americans are questioning not only Clinton’s policy but are getting mad at the leadership of the community that is linked with that policy.”

Many share the desire of Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, founder of a more moderate and less monied organization called Cambio Cubano (Cubans for Change), to see a more measured policy toward the Havana regime, including direct negotiations with Castro to encourage a phased-in democracy. Says Menoyo: “We want the people to emerge from this with their lives, liberty and their rights. The measures that Clinton is taking serve only to make 11 million Cubans — everyone except Castro — suffer.” He complains that his organization cannot get Washington’s ear because it has less money and political influence than Mas Canosa. “He is promoting the destruction of Cuba,” says Menoyo, “so he can go in after Castro, buy everything in sight and declare himself President.”

Immigration lawyer Magda Monteil-Davis, who arrived from Cuba in 1961 at the age of eight and lost a race for Congress two years ago, thinks that punishing poor Cubans and those who leave will not bring down Castro. She vents much of her anger at Clinton’s crackdown on fellow exiles, who she charges are out of touch with the situation in Cuba. “Most of the Cubans in Miami came out during the 1960s. And the younger ones have never even been there. They sit here with their stomachs full, talking to each other on their portable phones. What’s that have to do with Cuban reality?” But Davis lost credibility in her efforts to sway policy toward Cuba after she kissed Castro during a vilit to Havana last April. The gesture, which she dismisses as a spontaneous social courtesy, still haunts her. Last week, when she stepped onto her office balcony, neighbors shook their fists and shouted “Communist!”

Not everyone involved in the fractious debate has political ambitions. Jorge Albertini, 26, an architect who emigrated in 1980, believes his countrymen have lost the will to help themselves. “The majority of people there are used to the system taking care of them. Now that it’s not, they’re so concerned with the lack of food, electricity and gas that they’ve forgotten about the . greater goal of getting rid of Castro.” Albertini wants the U.N. to impose a total blockade on Cuba, even if such a move causes heightened hardship for residents, including his grandmother and aunt. “A blockade would force the people there to realize that the Americans are not going to invade Cuba and solve the problem for them,” he says. “The change has to come from within. And if that means greater suffering for a while, it’s worth it.”

Only one principle still unites Miami’s largest ethnic community: the need for Castro to go, and even that bedrock article of faith provokes disputes. “I’ve been hearing rumors that Castro was about to leave since I was a little girl,” scoffs Monteil-Davis, “and every one of them was based on absolutely reliable information. It’s a myth that is self-perpetuating.” Garcia Fuste, on the other hand, senses the beginning of the end. “People are waking up with nothing to eat, nothing to do but blame Castro,” he says. “I’m sure that this is the finish of him.” Until that wishful prophecy comes true, Garcia has more long nights ahead, announcing the names of Cubans trapped between two shores.

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