The Cincinnati Post
May 6, 1994, 19

Castro deceived Miami exiles

B.J. Cutler

When most Americans think of the Cuban exile community living in South Florida, they think of ferocious opponents of "maximum leader" Fidel Castro and his Communist dictatorship.

That description may fit a majority of Cuban Americans, especially the most politically active. But there are others who favor dialogue with the Castro regime and lifting Washington's 33-year-old embargo on trade with Cuba.

Given the intense hostility their follow Cuban Americans display toward communism, these liberals carefully deny they are pro-Castro or supporters of his one-party state. They claim that trade and contacts with Cuba would moderate his rule and eventually lead to political democracy.

Last month Castro invited about 200 hand-picked exiles to Havana for a closed door conference on bettering relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Then, for reasons that are unclear, Castro and his minions politically destroyed their guests, the segment of the community that is most sympathetic to them.

They did so by secretly videotaping the conferees as they hugged, kissed, praised and fawned on Castro and other Communist officials. The visitors knew that reporters were barred from the rummy receptions and thought they could let their hair down.

The voices on the videotape are so clear that Castro must have been wearing a hidden microphone.

Even before some of the delegates left Havana, Cuban officials sold the tapes to Miami television stations for $700 each. They were played and replayed. Infuriated anti-Castro Floridians denounced the unwitting movie stars as "dupes" and "traitors."

No one was damaged worse than Magda Montiel Davis, a Democratic lawyer who ran for Congress against Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican.

Montiel Davis is shown kissing the bearded despot on the cheek and gushing to him: "Fidel, I want to tell you something. Thank you for what you've done for my people. You have been a great teacher for me."

When she flew back to Miami she needed a police escort from the airport. Her terrified office staff resigned. Hot-headed exiles sent her death threats, which are redundant since she is a political corpse.

At a rally called to protest the conference, Ros-Lehtinen said of the participants, "They're in a theater making concessions as if they were students in a Communist class."

Just what Havana had in mind is not known. Some think the videotape was a move to divide the exiles. But they already were polarized, as testified to by the vitriol poured on Montiel Davis. Others believe that Castro, who has a famous ego, wanted to show that part of America's Cubans admire him and to use that as a tool to get the trade embargo ended. If that was his motive, he shot himself in the foot. The video kisses have helped hardliners portray Castro's friends as collaborators, discrediting them in the embargo debate.

An outburst by Aurelio Alvarez Triana of Unidad Cubana, an anti-Castro group, was typical: "All the people who went took off their masks. They are agents. That now is proven."

Finally, there is the theory that Castro acted out of habitual vindictiveness. Over the years, comrades-in-arms in the anti-Batista struggle drew long prison terms for merely questioning Castro's policies. Generals who became too popular were shot.

Castro used to call the Miami exiles "gusanos" - worms. Now he has treated them as such.