No Peace for Paula

In Cuba she was a symbol, the Madonna of the Counterrevolution. But in Miami, it's a different kind of fight for Paula Valiente.

Valiente, meanwhile, continues her attacks on the enemy she sees hidden amid Miami's feuding exiles. "The things that are happening make me feel so depressed, so pessimistic," she asserted during an April 9 broadcast on Radio Mambi. "Some groups in exile attack groups inside Cuba because they don't like their leanings, and this lack of democratic orientation coming from the exiles to the groups in Cuba has caused much division and ultimately completely distorts the principal objective of all Cubans. The power plays, the arrogance, the personal interests A the only thing that sustains me here are the people who follow me, people of good faith who help me regain strength to continue in my mission."

Several of those adherents, along with a contingent of reporters and photographers, have gathered for a late-April press conference at Little Havana's Centro Vasco restaurant. Clad in a form-fitting ivory suit and cradling her Virgin, Valiente seems uncharacteristically withdrawn, despite the fact that she is here to announce an elaborate peregrinaje from Key West on Mother's Day, May 8. Looking melancholy and tired, Valiente speaks little, leaving Father Santana to describe in avid detail their plans to take a caravan to Cayo Hueso, board a boat or boats, and hold a candlelight vigil in international waters twelve miles from the port of Havana. In honor of Mother's Day, Santana says, the group will pray especially for the departure of children left in Cuba when their mothers fled to exile. While those prayers are rising, dissidents on the island plan to gather on Havana's shoreline and join their supplications with the exiles'. A large map on display at the restaurant contains two red pins -- one stuck at the tip of Florida, the other due south at Havana harbor.

Television and still cameras record an affectionate embrace and kiss between Santana and Valiente, whose smile is strained and whose eyes are veiled by some dark thought. It's impossible to tell whether she is thinking of Cheila, or of the Malec centsn, or of a thousand other reasons for feeling mournful about motherless children. She might be wondering about something so ordinary as who will give her a ride home, or wondering if maybe, after all, she should allow those two men in Havana to attempt a foolhardy rescue. But in the end, when she must say something, Valiente returns to the constant in her life, the miracle that sustains her. "I guarantee," she begins in a low voice that rises rhythmically, "I am sure, that the Virgin will be present on the Cuban coast on that night, and that the Cuban people will see her.

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