The New York Times
April 28, 2000

Talking About Cuba too Risky, Some Say

          By JUAN FORERO

          MIAMI, April 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
          the people."

          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
          cases, violence.

          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."

          Polls conducted 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."

          Hilda Cossio 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
          our hearts."

          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.

          "It's incredible," 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."

          Ms. Rodriguez, 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
          broad influence.

          "Anything less 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

          Still, several 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.

          "People come 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.

          Cuban-Americans 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."