The situation here in Miami and neighboring Cuba is as fluid and dynamic as ever. Back in late December, I had the opportunity to meet with Yndamiro Restano , an independent reporter inside of Cuba or in other words a dissident and ex-political prisoner. We met in the Graham Center Student Union and spoke for about an hour and a half with a sceptical audience.
He is a representative of a coalition of over 100 internal opposition groups called "Concilio Cubano" - the Cuban Council. They have declared their purpose to collaborate in bringing democracy and human rights to Cuba. The Cuban exile, always suspicious of infiltrators and double agents has cautiously supported this new coalition, and have formed a support group in Miami.
We met with Mr. Restano to ascertain the nature of this new movement, and its likely impact on the course of events in Cuba. Mr. Restano was a poet at the start of his career, and became later a journalist for a state run radio station in 1980. Eight years later he founded the Association of Independent Journalists of Cuba. In 1992 he was detained and charged with rebellion and condemned to 10 years in prison. He was released in 1995 after Danielle Mitterand [widow of the Former French President Francois Mitterand]., lobbied the Cuban government for the release of a half dozen political prisoners. In our meeting with Restano we touched on a number of issues: the US embargo, dialogue with Castro, the possible avenues to support internal groups,and the prospects for Concilio Cubano to succeed in its avowed goals.
His responses were the following. On the issue of the embargo he supported it, and believed that it could be used in a calibrated manner to back Fidel Castro into opening the political and economic system. He declared that dialoguing with Castro was fruitless, because Castro was into monologues not dialogue. At the beginning Restano sought to engage the regime in dialogue for reform only to be rebuffed, ignored, and imprisoned. On the issue of supporting groups inside the island, he deferred to one of his associates who described the need for faxes, computers, pens, paper, and their immediate need to keep the bureau running. The Cuban council, according to Restano, was a clear and present alternative to the Castro dictatorship formed around a set of democratic principles, and based in the resurrection of Cuba's civil society he declared it imperative for the Exile to support this coalition, and to publicize wherever possible news of its existence. On February 6, 1996 Yndamiro Restano was awarded the golden pen by the International Federation of Daily Editors which represent more than 15,000 dailies in 100 countries. This group declared Mr Restano, " a pioneer in the struggle to restore a free and independent press in Cuba. He has demonstrated his courage in face of adversity and has paid with his own person for defending his convictions."
Meanwhile, the Cardinal of Havana, Jaime Ortega who has visited various communities of the Cuban diaspora declared on a visit to Tampa that the reason Pope John Paul II has not been officially invited to Cuba is the fault of the Cuban government. According to Cardinal Ortega, "Castro said that the relations with the upper echelons of the Church in Cuba were not of an appropriate tone to allow the Pope to visit Cuba."
In mid January two Democratic congressmen visited Cuba and met with Fidel
Castro. Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) of Miami had this to say on
the House Floor on January 23:
Last week two members of this House [Joe Moakely, D-Mass., and Bill Richardson D-N.M.] went to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro. [Moakely] told the press that he was looking for "flexibility" on Castro's part to help him oppose the sanctions bill that Congress is currently pursuing against the Cuban dictatorship. [Richardson] said that he was seeking the release of fugitives from American justice now in Cuba. I will now outline some of the ways in which Castro reacted:
Jan. 14: Raul Rivero, Cuban poet and president of the independent Cuba
Press news agency, was arrested.
Juan Antonio Sanchez Rodriguez, another independent reporter, was
arrested in Pinar del Rio. Jorge Adrian Ayala Corzo, president of the
Democratic Renovation Party, was arrested. Rafael Solano and Julio
Martinez of the independent Havana were arrested.
Jan 15: Gladys Linares, Miguel Andres Palenque, and Orlando Morejon were arrested. Bernardo Fuentes, an independent journalist in Camaguey province was arrested. Yndamiro Restano's parents were detained and interrogated for more than 14 hours. Restano, president of the Bureau of Independent Cuban Journalists, is out of the country on a visitor's permit as a result of a petition of Danielle Mitterand [widow of the Former French President Francois Mitterand]. Restano's parents were told that if the bureau does not disband, they will face long-term detention and their son will be banned from returning.
Jan. 16: [Moakely] arrived in Cuba.
The same day, a meeting by the opposition umbrella group Concilio Cubano was disrupted in Havana by State Security agents. Participants including Elizardo Sanchez and Maria Beatriz Roque were threatened with arrest. Alberto Perea Martinez, vice president of the Jose Marti DEmocratic Bloc, was arrested. Lazaro Gonzalez, president of the Pro-Human Rights Party, was detained and threatened.
Jan. 17: [Richardson] arrived in Cuba
Jose Miranda Acosta, a political prisoner in a dungeon known as Kilo 51/2 in Pinar del Rio, was tortured; drops of water fell on him in his cell throughout the day and night. He is serving 15 years without family visits, for spreading "enemy propaganda." As a result of his imprisonment, he is practically blind and suffering from extreme malnutrition. Miranda's food has been poisoned in the past punishment for a 72-day hunger strike in 1994, which he waged to draw attention to his case.
Jan. 18: Olance Nogueras, vice president of the Bureau of Independent
Cuban Reporters, was detained after asking a question at a Havana press
conference held by [Moakely].
Eugenio Rodriguez Chaple, president of the Jose Marti Democratic bloc, on his way to meet with French Embassy officials, was run off the road by State Security and injured. Leonel Morejon Almargo, a Concilio Cubano member, was detained and told that his family would suffer serious consequences if he continued to participate in Concilio and that Interior Minister Gen. Abelardo Colome Ibarra was giving him his "last chance." Jan. 19: Both congressman returned from Cuba. That day, Roxana Valdivia, an independent journalist, was questioned at State Security headquarters in Ciego de Avila and threatened with exile or prison for disseminating "enemy propaganda."
During the days of the congressional visits, the thousands of Cuban prisoners of conscience continued suffering the same savage brutality that they suffer to this moment. Electroshock torture continues to be administered to Col. Enrique Labrada at the Mazorra institution for the mentally ill. Labrada was sent to the institution after staging a pro-democracy protest last year. The Rev. Orson Villa remains in prison for preaching the word of Christ. A 30-year-old writer, Carmen Arias, is in a dungeon for sending a letter to Castro asking for free elections. Sergio Aguiar Cruz, Francisco Chaviano, Omar del Pozo, and thousands of others also remain in prison.
Upon his return [Moakley] declared that Castro is "very flexible." [Richardson] said that he had gotten Castro to reduce the dollars that Castro charges some Cubans who leave and described that as a "humanitarian gesture" by Castro
. Back in Miami, Cuban exiles met with the Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs for the Czech government, Pavel Bratinka, who called on these activists to continue forward regardless the repressions during a conference at FIU on Feb. 9. 1996. "My advice is be persistent, and more persistent and yet more persistent in facing the repression and all the adversities. Bratinka , who is 50, years old, was one of the founders of the Czech dissident movement. Bratinka said that the rise of the Czech dissident movement had three consequences:
1. Destroyed the communist thesis that the men formed under the regime were happy and brought to public light the existence of an opposition that questioned Marxism-Leninism.
2. Dispersed the repression of the regime against individuals, they had to concentrate on the emerging organizations and the heat raised by the dissident movement.
3. The engagement of the Czech exile in supporting these movements with economic help. In addition the exiles helped to maintain the links between the internal opposition and the free world.
The week of February 12 the central sugar processing center "July 26" had to suspend activities for 48 hours as a consequence of an act of sabotage committed by persons unknown. Members of the Independent Democratic Front of Villa Clara spoke with the Miami Herald, and under condition of anonymity , stated that some persons had thrown a large metal object into the spot were the sugarcane is received in central processing.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and his brother Michael, spoke to reporters in Miami after touring Cuba for three days with a group of US conservationists. Both are sons of Robert F. Kennedy. Central to the trip was a visit to the Juragua power plant in the southern province of Cienfuegos. U.S. enviromentalists have warned that the nuclear power plant is being so shoddily built that it could unleash another Chernobyl like disaster, with the nuclear plume spreading to Florida and other states along the Gulf of Mexico. The Kennedy Brothers brought a list of a dozen political prisoners whose release they were seeking. Cuba has the highest per-capita number of political prisoners in the world.
At the same time that the Kennedy brothers were meeting with Castro dozens of dissidents arrested, and according to reports from the Miami Herald new arrests occurred on Wednesday, February 21: Osmel Lugo Gutierrez of the Nov. 30 Party; Jose Chente Herrera and Juan Perez Maso of the Maximo Gomez Front for Human Rights; and Eugenio Rodriguez Chaple and Orlando Morejon Viton of the Jose Marti Democratic Bloc.
The Cuban government has officially denied Concilio Cubano permission to hold its national conference in Havana on Saturday and Concilio has postponed the meeting, a dissident leader said. Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, secretary general of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, said Monday from Havana that Lt. Col. Aristides Gomez of the Interior Ministry appeared at his home Sunday afternoon to deliver the message personally. The conference organizers "have agreed to accept the Council of State's decision to avoid incidents and a violent confrontation," Arcos said.
"The fact is that many of Concilio's national leaders have been imprisoned and dozens of members have been arrested, both in Havana and the rest of the country," said Arcos. Reinaldo Cosano is the only member of Concilio's five-person board who has not been arrested. However, he has been missing since Thursday. A statement from the Support Group, delivered Monday to foreign reporters in Havana, said the group's inability to hold the conference at this time should not be considered a total failure. Over the past two weeks arrests, harassment, and assaults against the Concilio, and opposition figures throughout the island have intensified greatly. Members of the support group in exile of the Concilio will be meeting with the Ambassador of Italy to Cuba; looking to the European community to put pressure on the Cuban government to release the members of the Concilio arrested in these last few days. "We have over 100 documented cases of activists who have been subject to repressive actions by the Cuban government. Amnesty International called on Cuban authorities to immediately liberate the opposition figures arrested in the island and expressed its preoccupation with the methods adopted by the Cuban government against the members of Concilio Cubano.
On Saturday February 24, 1996 the support group for Concilio Cubano in exile set up a press center at the Hyatt in Coral Gables. Setting up links with opposition groups in the island. Via these links we learned of the ongoing crackdown inside of Cuba against its peaceful democratic opposition. Later that afternoon, I went to Versailles a Cuban restaurant on 8th street. This is when we learned about the attack on two planes that belonged to Brothers to the Rescue. We returned to the Hyatt and learned that at about 3:20 pm the planes had been attacked, but that Jose Basulto, leader of Brothers to the Rescue, had escaped along with Sylvia Oriondo of Mothers Against Repression, and her husband. Tragically, I learned that Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Armando Alejandre, and Mario de Pena were not so lucky. I knew Armando Alejandre , the oldest of the four -45 years old-, and I'd met Mario de la Pena at meetings of the Cuban Revolutionary Student Directorate (DRDC). Armando was a veteran who served two tours in Vietnam and deeply loved both Cuba and the United States. He was a man with a great heart who fought his whole life for freedom, and against the tyranny of communism. Mario de Pena, the youngest of the 3 was a college student and pilot. Armando was a veteran who served two tours in Vietnam and deeply loved both Cuba and the United States. He was a man with a great heart who fought his whole life for freedom, and against the tyranny of communism. Mario de Pena, the youngest of the 3 was a college student and pilot he was 24 years old. Orlando Gutierrez, leader of the DRDC, remembered him as,"[someone] who worked and studied hard to make a future for himself. He dedicated all his spare time to do something for a homeland that he never knew. He produced the shortwave radio programs for youth in Cuba, flew over the Florida straits looking for rafters, and toured Latin America seeking solidarity for Cuban's freedom." Gutierrez recalled Mario telling him once, "I don't fight because of hate. I don't fight against anyone in particular. The enemy is injustice." Furthermore, Gutierrez recalled an occasion when someone tried to convince Mario that he shouldn't be involved because he hadn't been born in Cuba. Mario's response: "Yeah, I'm Cuban American, and the half that's in trouble is the Cuban. I have to do something about it."
Over the next few days the Cuban community was struck by a combined sense of outrage, sorrow, and hope. Outrage at the criminal actions of the Castro regime. Sorrow at the loss of these four patriots. Hope at the emergence of a nationalized internal opposition, international outrage, and finally the emergence of another generation of Cubans fighting for the cause of a free Cuba.
On February 29, at 8pm on the south campus of Florida International University we held a memorial service for those who died on Saturday. The FREE CUBA Foundation along with the Student Government Council, and the College Republicans participated in a candle light vigil to honor and mourn for the memory of the four who died in the straits and the 27 who died due to a terrorist bombing in Israel. A rabbi and priest spoke on behalf of the Cuban and Israeli victims of terrorism. FIU students and members of the FIU community prayed for liberty and for peace. On Saturday, the exile community will take a flotilla of boats and planes to the site where the planes were shot down. The purpose of this flotilla is to have a religious observance for our dead.
The next 12 months will be decisive ones for the emergence of a peaceful trajectory to democracy and human rights in Cuba. If the Velvet Revolution-Cuban style fails then it will lead to bloody repression and civil war. The consequences for the U.S. less than 90 miles away from this conflict would ,as we can see by recent developments, a major headache.