Capitalist or Commie?

How a Miami businessman got rich doing business with Cuba - and lived to shout about it

He says: "I'd say maybe 40 percent of Cubans in Miami share my position on Cuba -- they are willing to negotiate with the government that exists. Maybe 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent, I don't know. I don't care. Because Miami and Havana have to be places where one can express different opinions.

"You know Fidel's famous dictum: Within the revolution, everything; outside the revolution, nothing. It is like that in Miami. Once your anti-Castro bona fides are established, you may continue to live. But without that, you could be dead.

"Some people have told me, 'You must be a very brave man.' I'm not a brave man. But I am in the Cuba-related business. Well, what does that mean? If I have clients who want to travel to Cuba, they know that if their plans are known in the neighborhood, they are going to be criticized. That's why we are very careful with our clients. We never allow journalists to take any pictures inside our offices, for example.

"If any Cuban-American businessman who owns a restaurant, a beauty parlor, whatever, and serves this community at large, and they become a sponsor on my radio program, they would be boycotted.

"I remember in 1991, when we went on the air with Radio Progreso, buying seven hours a day, we had no advertisers. Then this guy who had a roofing company bought some time. Two weeks later he called and I asked him how business was. 'Tremendous,' he said. 'But I'm also getting calls from people who say they're going to kill me, blow me up.'

"The ads usually lasted three days. There was another guy, a cafeteria owner. He bought some time, and I remember thinking: 'This guy doesn't know what he's in for.' He had a rock through his window the next day.

"I am an economist, but I was naive in terms of my belief in the market mechanism. If we showed success, I thought, they would come. That was the essence of Radio Progreso. I thought it would eventually become self-sufficient, but it didn't because people could not advertise. I didn't figure on the tremendous power of fear. Do you know that after the April [1994 Nation and Emigration] conference, not only Magda Montiel Davis [videotaped kissing Castro] had problems, but others did, too. Lots of others lost their jobs, their little businesses. The reason I don't go out of business is I'm doing business with Cuba, and in a sense it is isolated from the pressure. I do get pressure from the people who are against the business. But you have to remember: You can make me disappear. You make me disappear, I disappear. But somebody else is going to do what I do. Because the clients are going to keep coming. In fact, even now, when it is illegal to travel to Cuba, they are going through third countries, and in bigger numbers than when it was legal.

"If you are a businessman in almost any line of business, and start expressing opinions in favor of dialogue, negotiations with Cuba, and so forth, you go bankrupt. And that's why you don't hear that many voices. Isn't it an irony, therefore, that one of the few voices that proclaim freedom of expression makes a profit with a communist government? I think that's an irony.

"I see my role as a strong defender of the most typical American values. When you deal with the Cuban situation, you get a fanatic like Perez Roura, who says 'Castro agent,' and says that any opinion I express can be considered communist, can be considered narrow-minded. But I am the opposite of narrow-minded, the opposite of a very ideological person. I am, broadly speaking, a socialist Christian, or a Christian socialist. I have always been.

"I am totally in favor of freedom of expression. I am a First Amendment man through and through. About the only important political-social institution I belong to is the American Civil Liberties Union. I belong to it, I have helped it, contributed to it.

"I see myself as a practitioner, preacher, implementer of bringing the most beautiful and traditional American values to Miami. And those values are tolerance. I learned tolerance in the United States. I did not grow up in a tolerant society. And the school I went to was not a very tolerant school. Many of the Jesuit teachers I had in Cuba were beautiful human beings, but they were Spaniards from the Franco period. Some of their concepts were very narrow-minded.

"I believe in social justice. That's my leftist side. But why, all of a sudden, should that be considered weird in Miami? Because of the Cuban connection. When I am in Cuba, I say the same things I say here. I have never said in Cuba that I am in favor of centralized public opinion through media. One Cuban official once asked me: 'To what do you attribute your success on Radio Progreso?' Because they knew we had many listeners. I said, 'If you allow any intelligent Cuban to have an hour a day on Radio Rebelde and say what he damn pleases, would he become the most-heard radio personality in Cuba?' 'Sure,' he said. I said, 'That's it.' Miami doesn't have freedom of expression on the Cuban issue. We came, we brought information, we gave a different perspective, and we succeeded.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets