By Michael E. Miller
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Tomas Garcia Fuste is not running for office, and he's no pop star. Still, when he goes to lunch at Victor's Cafe, it takes him about twenty minutes to make the journey from valet parking to his table. So many people, so much homage.
Fuste, ¨c centsmo andas? Oye, Fuste, te escucho todos los dias.
The guy who parks his Lexus knows him, the doorman calls him by name, and once inside this power-lunching hot spot it looks like a who's who of Cuban Miami has turned out just to say hello. On this Wednesday Caserita Enterprises, the food company, is hosting a 25th anniversary party, and when Fuste walks into the banquet room, the center of attention shifts from the croquetas and papas rellenas to him. Old friend Luis Sabines, president of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, is there, and television personality Orlando Naranjo from the old days in Havana, and so many others, all hailing him and putting a hand on his shoulder that, frankly, he can't respond quickly enough or begin to recall their names.
"Ay, que bueno verte," says Fuste as people call out his name. "How good to see you."
By the time he quits the Caserita crowd and heads for the faux-courtyard dining area, the maitre d' and some of the family of restaurant owner Victor del Corral are waiting, and as Fuste is escorted to a far table where he can talk there are more people to stop and see, including Dade County Manager Joaquin Avi*o and his guests, WLTV-TV (Channel 23) general manager Carlos Barba, even a long table of birthday party celebrants, all of whom seem to know him well.
Dignified, smiling benignly in his dark suit, the 63-year-old Fuste stops, talks, abrazos here, besos there, and even when it seems that he has no idea who these people are, exactly, it is also clear that he loves the recognition, the attention, and the confirmation of his place in the city's Cuban-American firmament. He's up there.
Fuste is his mother's surname, but in Spanish, the name Garcia is as common as Smith, and Fuste is not only exotic but it carries a patrician French-Catalan cachet that sounds distinctively honorific. People like to say the name, they like the sound of it, and so after 44 years of sending his distinctive voice into the ether over Cuba, New York, and chiefly Miami, that's how he is known A by his late mother's apellido: Fuste.
"Oye, Fuste," people call out, "you should run for office, maybe for Congress. Or better yet, for president of Cuba as soon as we haul the dictator Fidel to the pared centsn."
"No," he replies in the familiar baritone that is heard for more than four hours each weekday over WCMQ-AM (1210), "I don't have any interest in that. I'm not a politician; I'm a newsman.
"And anyway," he might add, "the next president of Cuba is already in Cuba."
Talk radio is enjoying something of a boom in the U.S. right now, with some 900 regularly scheduled programs on the air each day attracting 42 million listeners. Snide drive-time duos are hot on local rock music stations, and nationally the offerings range from serious public forums such as National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation to so-called shock jocks who have clawed out mean-spirited little careers for themselves by making jokes that play off racism, gay-bashing, women-hating, and nasty sex. It's entertainment for people of low self-esteem and high resentment, and there are those who think such cheap notoriety via the medium of radio can be spun into orange juice sales in Florida and votes for governor in New York.
Spanish-language AM radio is different. Oh, it can be entertaining and mean-spirited, too, even vicious and life-threatening. A 1992 Americas Watch report, Dangerous Dialogue, said Spanish-language radio stations in Miami "unquestionably contribute to a more repressive climate for freedom of expression. Denunciation over the airwaves as a 'traitor,' a 'communist,' or a 'Castro agent' is often followed by a telephoned threat, an act of vandalism, or a physical assault."
Over at WAQI-Radio Mambi, current ratings king Armando Perez Roura is not shy about peppering his daily Mesa Redonda discussions with the names of those he considers traitors to the Cuban cause, nor is he reluctant to urge a few hundred people into the street to demonstrate against the Colombian government's plan to sell oil to Cuba, for example. At the other end of the dial, on Radio Progreso (on Uni centsn Radio [WOCN-AM 1450] ), Francisco Aruca rails at the troglodytes of the Cuban right who cannot see the wisdom of holding a dialogue with the Castro government or ending the trade embargo.
But in between the virulent excesses, most Spanish-language radio in Miami still sounds like a rowdy town-hall meeting too volatile to be confined to one room or one day. The talk in Spanish bubbles on and on like molten lava spilling from the airwaves to the street, driven by politics and polemics. And although Lorena Bobbitt and allegations of corruption in Hialeah get some airtime, Topic A remains Cuba and Fidel Castro.