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"I signed the Cambio Cubano document for strategic reasons," Gutierrez Menoyo insists. "If 100 or 200 others had signed it, Mas Canosa and his followers would have gone after them. They would have said, 'Oh, this person has this history and that person said such-and-such in 1978,' and so on. 'Gutierrez Menoyo is a good person but he is being surrounded and misled by Castro's collaborators.' No, I assume the responsibility for what I say and if they want to attack me, they can go ahead."
Mas Canosa and other big names in the exile community have not only avoided attacking him directly, he adds, but they've avoided mentioning him, period, and above all, they have avoided giving him any chance to engage them in debate. This past month he invited three prominent Cuban American hard-liners -- Mas Canosa, Armando Perez Roura, the news director and general manager of Radio Mambi (WAQI-AM 710), and Andres Nazario Sargen, leader of Alpha 66 A to a roundtable discussion on Cuba, to be broadcast on Spanish-language television's WLTV-TV (Channel 23). Because only Nazario Sargen accepted, Channel 23 canceled the debate. Both Mas Canosa and Perez Roura claimed they were too busy, but Gutierrez Menoyo says he heard they simply didn't want to raise his status by appearing with him on television. "With my history, I could say the same thing to them," he grumbled recently to a group of 40 followers at a Sunday breakfast meeting of Cambio Cubano's financial committee.
Held at Casa Alberto, a restaurant on the corner of SW 87th Avenue and Sunset Drive, the meeting dealt mainly with the precarious state of Cambio Cubano's finances. At least 100 people have committed to donate $100 a month in order to provide $10,000 in operating expenses. But several members are having a hard time making payments. One proposed solution, a drive for new members, depends on Gutierrez Menoyo's ability to remain in the public spotlight.
So far Gutierrez Menoyo has proven himself a publicity maven, giving strongly worded interviews in recent weeks to a number of publications. The New York Times, for example, published a sympathetic piece about Cambio Cubano on June 27, under the headline, "Moderate Cuban Voices Rise in U.S.," and followed it July 4 with a glowing story about the organization's leader. But Gutierrez Menoyo staged perhaps his biggest public relations coup weeks earlier, when Cambio Cubano held a reception for Haiti's president-in-exile, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The event, attended by more than 1000 Haitians and Cubans, received wide coverage in the local media, much of it highlighting Gutierrez Menoyo's "challenge" to members of the far right, who view Aristide as a friend of Castro.
Gutierrez Menoyo says that the ample press coverage, while failing to end the public silence of traditional Cuban American leaders, has brought retaliation. "Traditional organizations that seek a monopoly in el exilio have allowed the radio stations they control to be used, not to discuss [Cambio Cubano's] positions, but to defame me," he says angrily. "It's been a systematic campaign. For a while it was so bad that you couldn't turn on a radio without hearing something negative about Gutierrez Menoyo. But since my history is very well-defined, I think they've made a tactical mistake by choosing to attack me rather than discussing Cambio Cubano's manifesto."
Other members of Cambio Cubano stress that no one -- not even Gutierrez Menoyo -- can expect to oppose the exile powers-that-be and avoid slander. "The more well-known figures of the right are not attacking Gutierrez Menoyo," says one Cambio Cubano official, who asked not to be named. "But there is a dirty campaign by elements that lend themselves to this kind of work. They use open-microphone radio programs to call him a swine and a traitor."
The real work of Cambio Cubano, the same Cambio Cubano official contends, lies in breaking through barricades of fear in both Miami and Havana. "There is something worse than fear, and that is insurmountable fear. It's evident in the conduct of people who in private are in agreement with our position. But when they go to demonstrate it in public, they feel this insurmountable fear and they adopt the contrary position. This is something symptomatic of a totalitarian society. It's there in Cuba, but it's also here. I'm confident we will eventually defeat it in both places."
Those less optimistic include Lisandro Perez, associate professor of sociology and director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. In a recent opinion piece published in the Miami Herald, Perez points to statements by Gutierrez Menoyo as evidence of "a growing space within the exile community for such departures from the hard line." But he also notes that the militant fringe of the exile community, frustrated by Castro's continued hold on power in a post-Cold War world, has also heightened its activity, including "virulent campaigns" of slander and defamation.
"The darkest side of this trend -- a rise in terrorism -- has yet to rear its head fully," Perez warns. "But it is probably not long in coming. Historical patterns show that bombings and other life-threatening violence in America's Cuban communities increase when the cause of Castro's overthrow appears lost, when moderates attempt to claim political space, when frustration levels are highest, and when the militant media crank up the denunciatory machine and heat up the climate in the community."