Those Called 'Soft' Are Often Shunned
HELGA SILVA Herald Staff Writer
For the longest time he walked around with a bulletproof vest. He was an easy enough target to spot: a balding, red- haired, pot-bellied man usually sporting an impeccably starched guayabera, always smoking a big fat cigar.
He worried about the safety of his wife and three children. He still
does, although he doesn't wear the bulletproof vest any more.
Life has changed drastically for Miami banker Bernardo Benes since he crossed the 90-mile stretch of water to negotiate with Fidel Castro in 1978.
"I have social leprosy," said Benes, a once visible community activist now shunned. "I have gone through a difficult time in Miami for freeing prisoners and reuniting Cuban imefamilies."
Benes discovered that his efforts in behalf of exile visits to the island and the release of political prisoners were considered a doublecross in Miami. Exile politics demands war, not negotiations, with Castro.
Benes is not the only exile leper. The exile community, from Miami to New York to Los Angeles, is dotted with them.
Some are academicians whose sin was to return to the island as neutral investigators, rather than as infiltrators. Others are publishers whose publications have printed differing views.
Some refused to support the late Nicaraguan leader Anastasio Somoza against the leftist Sandinistas. Some have been shunned simply because they refused to accept CIA money.
A few commit the ultimate heresy: They accept the Cuban revolution.
Marifeli Perez-Stable, 34, is a member of the editorial board of Areito, a Spanish-language magazine published in New York that advocates friendly relations with Cuba.
"We want what thousands of people want: normality with Cuba, which has nothing to do with supporting the revolution," she says. "I believe the immense majority of exiles have remade their lives here. They should be able to debate without having their integrity impugned."
People associated with the magazine, which was first published in 1974, have had their homes bombed. They have received threats on their lives and the lives of their relatives. They fear Miami.
"It's very difficult for people like us, who maintain a position like we do, to live in Miami," says Perez-Stable, who lives in New York City. "Everybody knows everything, and it makes it difficult for those who are 'fingered' as having a pro- Castro position to do something as simple as going to the market."
Anti-Castro exile politics can be described in one word: vertical. To be "vertical" means to adopt a posture of constant, upright opposition to Castro--no concessions, no negotiations. "Vertical" exiles will demand the release of political prisoners based on human rights, but would never negotiate their release with Castro.
Vertical exiles believe an inch of concession to Castro represents a mile of Communist inroad into democracy. Negotiations are a sign of weakness, tolerance is treason.
But the exile community is not monolithic in its attitudes. There are exile anarchists, exile socialists, even old Communists living in the Miami area--all of whom differ with Castro.
Max Lesnik is not a Communist. He is a magazine publisher, but he has faced distrust since he arrived on a boat in January 1961. Lesnik, publisher of the Spanish-language weekly magazine Replica, defected from the revolution he fought for along with various top commanders and ranking guerrillas.
Hours after their arrival, they were shipped to an immigration camp in Texas, where they were kept until after the Bay of Pigs.
"We were not admissible in Cuba and they got us out of the game, and in the United States, where the point of view was further to the right, we were also out of the game," said Lesnik.
"We disagreed (with Castro) because of his left-wing extremism and we disagreed with exiles because of their right- wing extremism."
Replica has been bombed on several occasions, according to Lesnik, because it publishes opposing exile views. In 1974, Luciano Nieves proposed in Replica's pages a kind of rapprochement with Cuba, an undefined dialogue. Nieves was killed in the parking lot of Variety Children's hospital in 1975.
"It is obvious that when a totalitarian political criterion is established, to dissent is a sin and sin is condemned," Lesnik said. "At a political level, sin is punished with violence and that violence is translated into terrorism."