Talking About Cuba too Risky, Some Say
By JUAN FORERO
27 -- As a playwright in Cuba, Carmen Duarte knew all too well what
state-controlled repression meant. Her work was often censored, Ms. Duarte
said, and she and the actors in her theater troupe were once beaten by
policemen incensed by the scathing social commentary in one of her plays.
Now living here,
in the heart of the nation's largest and most potent
Cuban-American enclave, Ms. Duarte is trying once again to give voice to a point
of view that many like her say can lead to ostracism or even threats. She believes
that Elián González should have been reunited with his father months ago, and
has said so on her daily radio show, "Transitions," broadcast on a
Spanish-language station here.
Such talk, though,
has been met by a reverse form of the anger that Ms.
Duarte encountered in Cuba, with callers to the radio station accusing her of being
an agent of Fidel Castro's government, or worse.
"There are always
calls," said Ms. Duarte, 40, who came to the United States
in 1993. "There are always insults. You always see it with any case that inflames
In Miami, Cuban-Americans
who favor more open relations with Havana
say that advocating an end to the American embargo of Cuba or closer
ties to the island has always brought scorn and threats and, in some
But many here
say that the federal raid that took Elián from Miami has
impassioned people as never before, to the consternation of
Cuban-Americans who, despite their own hatred of Mr. Castro, feel their
alternative ideas regarding Cuba are rarely aired in this politically charged
In Miami, it
is unclear how many Cuban exiles have views divergent from
those most often heard on local airwaves and in newspapers, though
experts believe they are not a silent majority, as some claim.
"As much as I'd
like to see it," said Dr. Lisandro Perez, director of the
Cuban Research Center at Florida International University, "I don't think
that there's any evidence to show that."
by Florida International University to gauge exile
reaction to Cuban issues showed that, as recently as 1997, 78 percent of
Cuban-Americans expressed support for the continuation of the
embargo. But at the same time, 51.6 percent said they supported a
"dialogue" with the Cuban government.
On the Elián
matter, however, the exiles have appeared more united
against Cuba's government, with 83 percent of Cuban-Americans in
Miami-Dade County wanting to see the boy remain in Miami, according
to a Miami Herald poll published on April 9.
"I've never seen
it so polarized," said Dr. Max Castro, a senior research
associate at the University of Miami who studies the exile community.
"I've never seen
such a situation where you are accosted if you say the
wrong thing. It's a very heart-rending thing, and we can't stop talking
about it; and once we get talking about it, we get very emotional and it
can become ugly."
Cohen, a legal assistant at a Miami law firm, found out just
how emotional people can get, a few days before Elián was removed
from the home of Miami relatives. After expressing support for efforts to
reunite Elián with his father, Ms. Cossio Cohen said, a co-worker
berated her as a Communist.
"It's very difficult
to voice your opinion in Dade County because you will
be branded," said Ms. Cossio Cohen, who fled Cuba with her mother
and two brothers in 1960.
"I work for a
law firm, but if I owned a business or tried to go into
politics, I would be blackballed forever."
Ms. Cossio Cohen,
who believes that ending the embargo of Cuba
would be the best course for furthering democratic change in Cuba, said
she had been disheartened by what she saw as a widespread disregard
for the free flow of ideas since the Elián case began.
"I think this
thing has set us back 40 years," she said. "It's driven a wedge
in the Cuban community. It's turned friends against friends, family against
family. I pity my Cuban people because I truly think that we have pain in
Many with minority
views steer clear of nasty confrontations by simply
not speaking out, even if it is at the office with well-known co-workers or
in a bar with friends. Some believe sharing their views could hurt them
professionally. Others simply want to avoid the discomfort of angering
someone they know. Some even are even reluctant to voice their
opinions with relatives.
said E. Rodriguez, a 48-year-old educator who asked
that she not be fully identified. "Here, I could be labeled a Communist. I
could lose my job."
who arrived in Miami in the 1960's, said she had long
believed that closer ties with Cuba -- an end to the economic embargo,
and the unfettered movement of tourists and others to the island -- were
more productive than the hard-line stand that has defined 41 years of
American policy. She also believes that Elián was manipulated by
Cuban-American exile leaders looking for a symbol to further their own
cause, not because of concerns over the boy's well-being.
But while she
shares her views with close friends, she said, she has been
told to be careful what she says to others.
"I've never made
it public," she said. "What is the story here is the lack of
freedom. I've been warned not to talk."
Dr. Perez, of
the Cuban Research Center, noted that in the past, violence
and threats have been directed at those who called for easing the
sanctions against Cuba, notably in the 1970's when a series of bombings
and killings shook Miami. But he said that these days those who took a
less hard-line stance against Mr. Castro feared the consequences at their
workplace, a very real possibility in a city where Cuban-Americans have
than a hard-line position is seen as sympathizing with the
Castro government," Dr. Perez said, "and the community has a lot of
institutions through which it can pressure people to conformity."
Many who favor
an open channel to Cuba blame much of the unbending
nature of exile dialogue on Miami's Spanish-language stations, whose
talk-show hosts often label those with softer positions as Communists
and even give out home phone numbers of people like Ms. Duarte.
"It's the way
people are attacked," said Angel Fernandez Varela, a
retired bank chairman who served in the Cuban Congress before the
revolution. "And among the worst is that radio. There are people, many
people, who feel like I do, but they're terribly quiet because they're
groups have for years lobbied the United States Congress
for a softer stand on Cuba in order to improve the lives of ordinary
Cubans who they say are suffering under the embargo. While those
leaders have made a conscious decision to speak out publicly, they say
that it has been hard to gather public support.
up to me all the time and say, 'We feel exactly the way you
do, but we would never say this in public,' " said Elena Freyre, executive
director of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, a group of
Cuban-American professionals that lobbies from Washington and Miami.
Leaders in well-known
anti-Castro groups in Miami scoffed at such
complaints. Felix Rodriguez, vice president of Brigade 2506, an
organization composed of Bay of Pigs veterans, said that in Miami "there
is liberty to say what you want."
But Mr. Rodriguez,
a former Central Intelligence Agency operative who
wrote about his anti-Castro experiences in a book, "Shadow Warrior,"
said some groups advocating relations with Cuba were controlled by
"There are small groups that are being run from Cuba," he said.
like Elisa Greenberg, who believes Elián should be
with his father, cringe at such comments.
"If you want
to call me anything, call me a Cuba lover because I believe
in democracy and I believe, in time, if we work towards it, good things
will happen over there," said Ms. Greenberg, 58, who came to the
United States before Mr. Castro took power.
Still, when she
was invited to Ted Koppel's town hall meeting in Miami
earlier this month, a gathering broadcast on ABC's "Nightline," she was
afraid to speak up.
"There was apprehension
on my part to speak my mind on the matter,"
said Ms. Greenberg, noting that most of the exiles in the audience were
vocally supportive of keeping Elián in Miami. "I was afraid to speak up. I
didn't feel comfortable and over there, I was in the minority."