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Miami's War of Words

For members of Miami's Cuban-American community, the war with Castro rages on
Jonathan Kandell
From the Print Edition:
Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00

(continued from page 1)

Sánchez-Aballí uses another phrase popularized by exiles--"amnesia y amnistía" ("forget and forgive")--as a guide for political action in a post-Castro Cuba. It sounds like the pragmatic course followed by the post-Communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where the consensus was that totalitarian rule had lasted so long and implicated so many people that it was impossible for new, democratic governments to prosecute human rights offenders. But like "no hay regreso," the slogan "amnesia y amnistía" cannot be taken at face value.  

Certainly, the 10 million Cubans who stayed behind, says Sánchez-Aballí, will decide the fate of a post-Castro Cuba. It will be necessary to negotiate a democratic transition with post-Castro Communists, but only with those "who do not have blood on their hands," says the lawyer.  

"It's going to be difficult to determine who does and who does not....I may not be the person to do it because I'm very angry." Not much room for amnistía, forgiveness, there. And, insists Sánchez-Aballí, the victims of Communism must be honored throughout the island. "We have to build monuments commemorating all those people who were killed or had to get on a boat or suffered human rights violations." Apparently, there won't be much amnesia either.  

The Cuban-American National Foundation is generally thought to be the exile group most likely to exert influence in Cuba after Castro's demise. Local businessman Jorge Mas Canosa created the CANF in 1981 and built it into the country's most powerful and effective Cuba lobby organization, running it until his death from lung cancer in 1997.  

But lately, under the leadership of his 37-year-old son, Jorge Mas Santos, the CANF sometimes seems adrift. In 1998, in response to Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba and his call for new humanitarian initiatives, the CANF suggested that surplus U.S. food be distributed to hungry Cubans, perhaps under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Church. With considerable embarrassment, the CANF backed off from the plan when its own supporters bellowed that it was a betrayal of the economic embargo.  

More recently, the CANF stubbed its toe over the Elián affair. Mas Santos tried to broker an accord with Washington that would have allowed the boy to rejoin his father peacefully, but then beat a hasty retreat when the crowd in Little Havana expressed outrage over such a deal. When federal agents finally raided the home of Elián's Miami relatives and returned him to his father, the CANF's views on the incident weren't even solicited by the national press.  

I ask Mas Santos what has gone wrong at the CANF since his father died. "Obviously, my father's death was a blow to the foundation," says the son, who tries to walk a fine line between praising the older Mas as irreplaceable and insisting that the CANF has survived his death better than critics suggest. He claims that CANF membership has actually increased by 20 percent, to 60,000, since Mas Canosa's death. He also points out that his father was fortunate to have a loyal son managing Mastec, the family's telecommunications business.  

"I ran this company on a day-to-day basis since 1991 so my father could spend time on his passion, which was Cuba and the foundation," says Mas Santos, at the sprawling glass-and-concrete headquarters near Miami's airport where he directs Mastec's 10,000 employees. To give Mas Santos credit, he nearly doubled Mastec's market capitalization to $2 billion in the past three years. "I just haven't had enough time to devote myself to the foundation," he says. But he promises that will soon change because he has appointed a hands-on manager for Mastec and assumed the less demanding post of chairman.  

The embargo against Cuba has been the CANF's primary issue, and Mas Santos bridles at assertions that it's a failed policy.

"Yes, if you look at the big picture, Fidel Castro is still in power," he concedes. But he goes on to offer a dubious defense of the embargo, one that I had not heard before. Thanks to the embargo, insists Mas Santos, the Cuban regime has lost so many potential trade revenues that it has been forced to cut back spending on its repressive apparatus. "That's why you see people in Cuba expressing their opinions a bit more and criticizing the regime," he says.  

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