Castro aide, exiles exchange ideas
BY FRANCES ROBLES
NEW YORK -- Left-leaning Cuban exiles, including several from
Miami, came to
Manhattan Saturday for a meeting with one of Cuba's top cabinet members.
``I consider it an exchange of opinion and a social gathering,''
said Eddie Levy,
president of the Miami-based Jewish Solidarity, which sends humanitarian aid to
Cuba. ``Many people from this community have been invited. We began our
project eight years ago, and this gives us an opportunity to continue contact and
Among those spotted walking in to the reception at Cuban Mission
lawyer Magda Montiel Davis, whose video-recorded kiss on Cuban President Fidel
Castro's cheek at a pro-dialogue conference in Havana six years ago made her a
pariah among conservative exiles. Also invited were lawyer Alfredo Durán, a
member of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, and Andrés Gómez, of the
Antonio Maceo Brigade.
A handful of women holding yellow ``Indict Castro'' signs greeted them.
Most of those who flew in for the event had expected to meet Castro
concluded a four-day visit to the U.N. Millennium Summit. But the exiles'
gathering in New York came hours after Castro's unannounced departure to
In fact, this affair was planned last month, before the announcement
would be attending the summit.
Levy said a number of people from South Florida were invited.
The reception, he
said, should be viewed no differently than when Venezuelans seek to hobnob with
their president, Hugo Chávez. Most of the people who went were Cuban
Americans who advocate lifting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
Officially, the event was a reception with Foreign Minister Felipe
Pérez Roque, a
close Castro aide. Pérez Roque, 35, was named foreign minister last year after a
decade as Castro's chief of staff.
Their cause is timely: Congress has proposed legislation this
year that would
allow U.S. farmers to sell food to Cuba, although whether the Castro government
could afford to buy it is an open question.
``This is for communication for those who don't support damaging
magazine publisher Max Lesnik, who flew from Miami for the cocktail party. ``We
are not pro-Castro or pro-government. What is certain is that we are publicly
against the embargo. We're going to listen and interchange ideas.''
Castro took off Saturday for Havana after an hours-long speech
at the Riverside
Church on Manhattan's Upper West Side. He offered his version of Wednesday's
chance encounter with President Clinton.
Castro said guests at a VIP lunch hosted by U.N. Secretary General
were asked to head to a nearby room for a group photo. The line that formed,
Castro said, somehow became an ad hoc reception line for Clinton.
``What was I to do?'' Castro asked. ``I could see him greeting
every leader who
passed by. . . . First, I was about three minutes away, then two, then one and
there I was with President Clinton.''
He said they briefly shook hands and then moved on. ``It lasted
seconds. What I was to do? Leave the line and walk away? There was no reason
to,'' he said. ``I only regret that there was no television or photographers there to
Castro criticized reports that said he sought out Clinton.
``Cubans are proud people and will never beg, even for a handshake.''
Herald special correspondent Stewart Stogel contributed to this