By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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When the sun rose on Friday morning, Mas was already up and on the phone. He had been briefed on the pending announcement to change nearly three decades of U.S policy and, according to several sources, he was furious. This was a frontal assault on his credibility, a betrayal as profound as the abandonment at the Bay of Pigs. To detain Cuban refugees indefinitely without taking any action directly against Castro was an affront to everything Mas and the Cuban American National Foundation had struggled for over the years. Mas was scheduled to appear that evening on CNN's Larry King Live, and he was prepared to use that opportunity to savage the president.
Mas wasn't the only one to recognize the danger of "punishing" rafters while doing nothing to damage Castro. Metro-Dade Commission Chairman Art Teele and other community leaders worried that unless Cuban exiles were given something meaningful in exchange for detaining refugees, the county could erupt in violent demonstrations. Chiles, who was in touch with Teele and others, agreed. And certainly none of them wanted to see Mas blasting the president that night on Larry King Live.
According to several sources, both Chiles and Teele spoke to Mas in a series of phone calls Friday morning and throughout the day. "This was high-level telephone diplomacy," recalls a senior aide to the governor. "The reality was that if we were going to make an interdiction policy work, we couldn't do it without Mas. You couldn't have Mas outside the tent pissing in." Clearly Mas was angry, but what did he want the president to do?
If Clinton expected Mas's support for the detention plan -- and if he wanted to avoid a possible explosion in Miami -- Mas wanted him to do four things: 1) Cut off remittances (up to $300 every three months) from exiles to their relatives on the island, 2) curtail flights between the United States and Cuba, 3) increase broadcasts of Radio Marti and TV Marti (Mas reportedly wanted to know why the White House had been willing to use Air Force C130s for airborne radio broadcasts into Haiti but was unwilling to do the same for Cuba), and 4) institute a full naval blockade of the island. These options reportedly had already been under consideration at the White House and State Department, but Mas wanted to let the president know the time for discussing them had ended and the moment for action had arrived.
On Friday morning, Mas's list of demands was passed to the White House by the governor and others, along with the warning that the president had better do something quickly. "Of course Mas was going to send out signals that he was going to shit on the president," says a close ally of Mas. "He had to do that in order to get the White House to cut a deal." Later that morning the governor paid a personal visit to Mas at his company's headquarters west of Miami International Airport. (The friendly relationship between Mas and the governor dates back twenty years, to the days when Chiles was a U.S. senator and a sponsor of both Radio Marti and TV Marti. Tellingly, Mas has not offered any support to Jeb Bush in his effort to oust Chiles from the governor's mansion. "I respect Lawton Chiles a lot and I'm very grateful to him for all the years of service he provided for us in Washington," Mas explains. "I wouldn't do anything against Lawton Chiles.")
The two men met in Mas's eighth-floor office for nearly an hour. Sinking comfortably into an oversize black leather chair, the governor sought Mas's counsel and advice. But he also had a message for his old friend: This was not the time to be shooting from the hip. White House aides were suggesting that Clinton was receptive to Mas's demands, with the exception of the naval blockade. "Mas was going for the whole thing, including a blockade," recalls a source familiar with the meeting. "What the governor had to do was move him away from saying this had to be one of the four points."
The governor succeeded. While Chiles, Mas, and other local leaders would still call for a blockade, they would not make it a breaking point in their support for Clinton's new detention policy A as long as the president followed through with an end to remittances, the cutback on flights, and increased broadcasts to Cuba.
By Friday afternoon, after numerous phone calls back and forth between Miami and the White House, a plan was developing: The president would make room in his schedule that evening for a brief meeting with a delegation from South Florida led by Chiles, who, along with his aides, would decide who should be invited. In addition to Chiles, the group eventually included Art Teele, Miami City Manager Cesar Odio, Hemispheric Summit director Luis Lauredo, and businesswoman Maria Elena Torano.
In addition, of course, there would be Jorge Mas Canosa. "We were attempting to identify various leaders in Miami, some of the key, influential leaders in the Cuban community," says a senior aide to the governor. "And certainly Jorge Mas's name would come to the mind of any thoughtful person. It wasn't a terribly Machiavellian environment. The whole thing blew up on us on Wednesday and Thursday, and it got to the point where the time to methodically plan a meeting just wasn't there." In what had to be one of the sweetest moments for Mas, the group would fly to Washington aboard his private Lear jet, which seats up to nine passengers and is faster than Chiles's state plane.