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Radio personalities Armando Perez Roura and Tomas Garcia Fuste would seem to have much in common. Both were rising young celebrities in their native Cuba during the 1950s, friendly rivals in the lively, competitive news business that thrived in Havana during the days when the casinos were open all night, Miami was an occasional vacation spot, and a young lawyer named Fidel Castro was merely a hothead.
Now, some 40 years later, 66-year-old Perez Roura, of Radio Mambi (WAQI-AM 710), and 63-year-old Fuste, of WCMQ, are clearly the deans of Cuban radio in Miami A authoritative, popular pundits whose voices are as familiar to Spanish-language audiences as Ann Bishop's face is to those who watch the six o'clock news in English.
And they are still rivals.
But in recent weeks the rivalry has turned nasty. The day after Perez Roura reportedly made a veiled, critical, on-air reference to Fuste, the host of Buenos Dias, Miami answered with an April 15 editorial in which he blasted Perez Roura by name, calling him "an oracle of hate." Fuste went on to charge Perez Roura with promoting a climate of recrimination against recent arrivals from Cuba, and manipulating the exile organization Unidad Cubana for his own ends. Privately, Fuste says he suspects Perez Roura of trying to build a Miami power base to use as a stepping stone to high office in a post-Castro Cuba.
When asked about Fuste's blistering attack on him, Perez Roura smiles and then says, "It is no secret that I am at the top of the ratings. They need an audience, and I am not willing to give it to them. So they want to create controversy. But I am not playing their game. Fuste has the right to say whatever he wants. His words are not important. [His attack] is stupidity. I hate Castro and Castroism, not Fuste."
Ironically the comentaristas' falling out was precipitated in part by their coming together in Unidad Cubana (Cuban Unity), an umbrella organization composed of some 80 anti-Castro groups. The hope of many members, including Jorge Mas Canosa of the Cuban-American National Foundation, was that a show of solidarity among Miami Cubans would translate into increased political influence in Washington.
But now both Mas, Fuste, and even the militant Brigade 2506 have pulled out of Cuban Unity, while the organization has come under scrutiny for the way it has been spending thousands of dollars, some of it on ocean-going equipment that could be used in military actions against Cuba. Perez Roura remains as Cuban Unity's de facto leader and chief fundraiser.
Perez Roura and Fuste have long had differences of style and local politics. Perez Roura is a more strident radio personality than Fuste, more aggressively antipathetic toward those he considers Castro sympathizers, more receptive to the idea of military invasion of Cuba. In last year's Miami mayoral election he backed Miriam Alonso.
He regularly attacks Francisco Aruca, of Radio Progreso, and Andres G centsmez, editor of Areito magazine and national coordinator of the Antonio Maceo Brigade, as Castro agents. (Both Aruca and G centsmez, in affidavits filed earlier this year with the Federal Communications Commission in objection to the proposed merger of WAQI-Radio Mambi and La Cubanisima (WQBA-AM 1140), charge that Perez Roura often makes on-air remarks that serve to incite violence and endanger their lives.)
Fuste comes across as more tolerant of differing opinions. He thinks urging people into the street to demonstrate is a misuse of his influence. He is a personal friend of Steve Clark, the victor in the Miami mayor's race.
In Havana in the 1950s, Perez Roura delivered the news for Radio Reloj when Fulgencio Batista was in the presidential palace, while Fuste, three years younger, became known as the spokesman for Especiales cigarettes and as an announcer on Havana station CMQ.
Not long after after Castro drove Batista into exile, in January 1959, Fuste, who had been a Castro supporter, began to have doubts about the direction of the revolution, and decided to leave Cuba. He, his wife, and two children arrived in Miami in mid-1960.
Perez Roura had been a Batista backer, but after Castro's triumph, enthusiastically switched his allegiance, according to people who worked with him in Cuba. But eventually, he, too, became disaffected. He arrived in Miami in 1969.
In his 25 years here, Perez Roura has remained monolithically hardline in his anti-Castroism, and inhospitable to other voices. Last year, in a reference to Aruca's Radio Progreso, he reportedly told listeners: "Black Americans do not allow a KKK radio station where they live; nor would the Jewish people allow a Nazi radio station where they live. And here we are, with a radio station serving the Castro regime...."
In October Perez Roura roused more than 100,000 people to parade through the streets of Little Havana in opposition to the Cuban regime, and in March he urged protesters to march on the Colombian consulate to protest a plan to sell oil to Cuba. About 1000 listeners responded.
In March 1993 when the pro-Cuba Antonio Maceo Brigade announced a demonstration in front of Radio Mambi's Coral Way offices to protest the station's support of the U.S. embargo of Cuba, Perez Roura urged his listeners to confront what he called the Castro agents. A mini-riot ensued; sixteen people were arrested.