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Mas may consider himself a winner, but that judgment, too, is not without its risks. He has committed himself to a policy (and to a president) that has no shortage of critics on both the left and the right. "Let's look forward three months," suggests Lisandro Perez, a professor at Florida International University and director of the Cuban Research Institute. "Who is going to lose then? If Fidel is still in power three months from now, then those who bought into the plan are going to have some explaining to do, and they are going to have a problem."
Notes Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush, a long-time friend of Mas: "Jorge may have trouble on this. He is someone who is completely dedicated to the liberation of Cuba; that's his agenda and he does everything viewed through that lens. But now Jorge is stuck with Bill Clinton. I think he's been too supportive of the president."
There are also those who question the value of Mas's recent policy victories. "He got access to the White House," says a former federal official well versed in Cuban affairs. "But what else did he get? He didn't get the blockade. The policy on remittances will probably eventually be reversed. The ban on travel hasn't totally taken effect. He got increased radio broadcasts, but how important is that?" To obtain these few achievements, Mas had to support a policy that ended special treatment for Cuban refugees and has left thousands of them in detention camps indefinitely. "The question is, how high a price is that to pay when this is all he received in return?" the former official asks.
Politically speaking, FIU's Lisandro Perez believes that Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have staked out much smarter positions: lashing out at the president for not ordering a blockade, attacking him for holding refugees in camps and telling them they must first return to Cuba in order to apply for asylum. Both have been unrelenting in admonishing the president, though neither has publicly criticized Mas. "It's complete demagoguery, of course," Perez says of the attempts by Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen to whip up exile emotions. "This whole thing is so surreal."
Mas agrees that some people in Cuban Miami have been using the refugee drama to their rhetorical advantage, though he won't single out Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen. "I oppose demagoguery in our community," he says flatly. "That's what many people are realizing now, that Mas Canosa is not the radical, violent, ultrarightist. Because when it came to the crisis and time to show the true colors, the one who stood up in this community before Cuban Americans and said we must support the United States, Clinton's decision is right, nobody goes to Mariel to try and pick up family members, it's time to stick together all of us in Florida -- it was Mas Canosa."
But the more volatile question remains: What ultimately will happen to those refugees held in camps both here and abroad? "This is a battle we will have to fight when the time comes, not now," Mas says. "They cannot be there indefinitely. I think that what the administration is saying now, rightfully so, is a political speech to keep people from leaving the island, and I agree with that. But at a certain point we will all have to face a reality. When the crisis is over and the political speeches have ended, then we will have to deal with the realities."
Mas outlines two options for the Cubans being held at Guantanamo and in Panama: Those with family members in the United State could be brought here and reunited. Or, Mas says, "The decision could also be made to have them remain in Guantanamo. Let them organize the first free Cuba city there. Let them elect their own government there, have their own newspaper there. Move Radio and TV Marti over there. Move factories to Guantanamo. I'm certain that a lot of factories owned by Cuban Americans could be moved to Guantanamo. Make those Cuban Americans there self-sufficient." And which option does Mas favor? "We will have to analyze that at another point," he hedges.
One of the most stinging criticisms directed at Mas asserts that he doesn't really care about the fate of these refugees, or for that matter Cubans still living in Cuba. They are all merely pawns in Mas's personal chess match against Castro. "The Cuban people are ready to suffer whatever they have to suffer in order to free Cuba," Mas says in response. "We have all paid a price. We should not lose sight of that. All Cubans have paid a price to free Cuba. We all are victims of Fidel Castro. My generation paid a price A the executions, the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, and hundreds of thousands forced into exile. Now this generation is paying a price, which is going to Guantanamo. For how long, we don't know. But we are all victims of Fidel Castro and that is how we have to look at it."
Many people believe that whenever Castro opens his borders, he buys himself more time by releasing pressure, ridding the island of dissident voices. Many people also believe those dissident voices have a responsibility to remain in Cuba, to seek change, even to foment another revolution. "For me it's very difficult to comment on that because I am here," says Mas, who fled to Miami in 1960. "Yes, they could be more useful to Cuba if they remained there. If I were in Cuba now, I would stay. But also they are playing an important role because these images of them leaving the island have done irreparable damage to Castro and his perception."