The Miami Herald
May 5, 1988, 1-B

22 Officials of Cuban Museum Quit

2 Who Defended Auction Stay On


Seventeen directors of the Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture and five top officers resigned in protest Wednesday night after failing to oust two museum vice presidents who defended an auction that included art by Castro sympathizers.

The tumultuous meeting came one night after a pipe bomb exploded inside the museum and as turmoil over freedom of expression at the museum continued to rock Miami's Cuban exile community.

The mass resignation cast in doubt the future of an exhibition of works by renowned Cuban painter Amelia Pelaez, which only Tuesday received final funding and was scheduled to open May 27. Exhibit curator Giulio Blanc said he was certain the show was doomed.

"They've given her over to the Cuban government," said Blanc, who said the museum had caved in to erroneous claims that Pelaez was a communist sympathizer. "Pseudo-patriotic hysterics are responsible for all this. They've made total fools of themselves and all of Miami."

Wednesday night's five-hour meeting, which erupted in several shouting matches, was held in the main gallery of the museum at 1300 SW 12th St.

The three-year-old museum, a converted fire station, was slightly damaged by the pipe bomb. A small pile of plaster rubble and a boarded-over door were the only signs of damage Wednesday.

The psychological fall-out of the attack, for which no one has claimed responsibility, was more profound. About 35 of 54 directors were present, crouching on folding chairs and pacing beneath track lights late Wednesday, while two Miami policemen stood guard outside.

President Nunzio Mainieri opened the meeting of the museum board with a surprise offer to step down, then called on the other six members of the executive board to resign.

Museum vice presidents Ramon Cernuda and Teresa Saldise rebuffed him, telling him they wanted a month to consider the request, Mainieri said. The directors then voted, 19 to 16, to ask for their resignation. When Cernuda and Saldise balked, 17 of the directors stalked out of the museum.

"I'm not up to taking the pressure anymore," Mainieri said, explaining his own resignation. The president said he had hoped a purge of the executive committee would help bridge a deep split in the museum's leadership. He called the mass resignation "a terrible blow."

Many directors who stepped down said the move was a referendum on the controversial April 22 auction, which had been narrowly approved by directors.

The auction provoked an uproar in the exile community
because some of the artists represented still live in Cuba and have been accused by some exiles of being propagandists for the government of Fidel Castro.

"Since the museum is so absolutely divided in half, we're trying to find an executive committee that is neutral," said Alina Mendez-Novaro. "The people who are resigning now voted against the auction."

Eloisa Lezama left early to escape the heat of debate.

"Those are fanatical attitudes," she said. "I feel physically ill."

Cernuda, a book publisher, said both he and the museum were the targets for intimidation by people who would suppress freedom of expression. The difference, Cernuda said, is that while he has defended the sanctity of art amid telephone threats and slashed tires, the museum's directors have buckled under

"I sense there is incredible fear," Cernuda said earlier Wednesday. "The board is truly intimidated."

In light of the bombing, Cernuda said, a change of policy -- canceling the scheduled Pelaez exhibit -- would show the museum was vulnerable to extremists' arm-twisting.

"The issues are no longer censorship and intolerance," he said. "The issues are intimidation and terrorism."

But Raul Alvarez, a museum founder, said the museum had lost touch with its constituents -- Cuban exiles who fled communism and are not likely to appreciate the works of perceived Castro propagandists. "This is a museum of exiles," said Alvarez, an architect. "This is not a museum in New York or Little Rock."

As they investigated the pipe bomb attack, police declined to speculate on whether the assault was intended to send a message or to hurt the museum or its directors.

Museum executive director Carlos Luis said he would defend the museum against future attacks with whatever it takes, even if it means calling in "the marines, and the CIA."

"Morally, we just can't bow to pressure of this kind," Luis said. "We can't just say 'now you won, because you put a bomb over here." '.

NOTE: police reports indicate that bomb did not explode inside building as originally reported, but under a car parked outside. Damage to building was from debris blown through front door.