The Miami Herald
September 10, 2000

Castro aide, exiles exchange ideas


 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
 follow up.''

 Among those spotted walking in to the reception at Cuban Mission was Miami
 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 as he
 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 that Castro
 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 policies,'' said
 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 Kofi Annan
 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 maybe 20
 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
 see it.''

 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 report.