Love and Cuba

Jorge Mas Canosa says a Miami woman tried to smear his reputation and extort millions from him. She says he is the father of her child. Both have sworn they are telling the truth.

Despite Beatrice's assurances, David was never completely convinced that he was the father of her children, suspecting that he had been cuckolded not once, but twice. During a court hearing, Beatrice's brother-in-law testified that David had shared his suspicions with him that Mas was the true father of both young boys.

In July 1989, the Puigs finally divorced. At that time, Beatrice testified, she was tempted to stop lying about Mas being the father of her son Peter. "But I was under the complete influence of Mr. Mas . . . and I was trying to protect him," she explained at her deposition. "See, I love him. I didn't want to hurt him. And I was trying to work this in a way so that our relationship would not suffer. And that we could accomplish both things, and not destroy his image publicly or personally. That was not my intention."

Instead, Beatrice said, she tried to nurture an emotional bond between Peter and Mas. She showed [Mas] pictures of the boy. One day she took Peter to Mas's office. "I [had] to go one step at a time," she recounted, "because [Mas], when he gets threatened, he withdraws."

Her efforts backfired. In early 1990 she visited Mas at work. "He told me he needed to call it off because he didn't have time to warm up a relationship," she recalled during her deposition. But Beatrice wasn't about to let him off the hook so easily. She retained Miami Beach attorney Charles Neustein to file a paternity suit.

In a March 12, 1990 letter to Mas that is included in the court file, Neustein wrote, "As you know, you are the father of Peter Puig, age 3. My client requests that you at this time acknowledge that Peter Puig is your son and that you assume your parental responsibilities including support of Peter Puig."

According to Beatrice's sworn statement, she got an irate phone call from Mas immediately after he received the letter. He demanded that she write another letter, which he dictated, requesting that Neustein abandon the case. A copy of the letter she scribbled down in her pocket diary is now included in the court file.

In a court hearing, Neustein testified that Mas then called him directly. Neustein said they had a brief conversation in which Mas sought assurances that the allegations would remain confidential. (Mas has testified that he does not recall receiving any letter from Neustein.)

Beatrice alleged in her testimony that Mas agreed to pay $150 per month in child support in exchange for her dropping the paternity suit. (The amount was equivalent to the child support David was ordered to pay for Peter at the time.) Beatrice said she and Mas met in a Southern Bell parking lot near the Mall of the Americas on March 20 to hammer out their agreement. (The date is listed in her 1990 appointment book.) "I said, 'I want a DNA test taken,'" Beatrice recalled in her deposition. "And he says, 'Please, give me some time, I will do it.'"

For the next three years, Beatrice alleged, Mas made irregular cash payments, providing three months or six months in advance. However, she has no bank records that confirm she received the money. Mas, she claimed, continued to dangle the promise of a DNA test, but it never happened.

With the White House occupied by George Bush, another Republican foe of Castro, Jorge Mas Canosa found himself busier than ever: congressional testimony, overseas trips, international consultations. In February 1990 Florida Gov. Bob Martinez appointed Mas to a twelve-member advisory commission charged with studying how change in Cuba would affect the Sunshine State. In December 1990 he visited Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel in Prague, a meeting that allegedly paved the way for the Czech Embassy in Washington to kick out the Cuban Interests Section that had long been housed there. Six months later he and other foundation officials were in Central America, meeting with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

His peregrinations attracted attention. Major newspapers began running lengthy Mas profiles, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. A May 1992 cover story published by the Los Angeles Times Magazine reflected the media's slant on Mas, describing him as "the most influential Cuban in America."

As his celebrity spread, so did Mas's reputation for ruthlessness. In 1989 Mas reportedly bragged to Spanish-language radio listeners that he was responsible for a federal raid targeting Ramon Cernuda, a Miami publisher whom Mas accused of purchasing Cuban art in violation of the embargo. His statements were subsequently reported by the New York Times. The following year, Mas was ordered by a Dade jury to pay his brother Ricardo $1,200,000 for unfairly libeling him in letters to a prospective employer. Four years earlier, Mas had agreed to pay his brother $245,000 after a falling out between the two men degenerated into a slugfest.

After the Miami Herald published an editorial sharply critical of the embargo-tightening Torricelli Bill, which was Mas's personal legislative project, the newspaper's executives received death threats, and newspaper vending boxes were smeared with excrement. While Mas distanced himself from the anonymous campaign, he openly attempted to organize an advertising boycott and attacked the paper's credibility by plastering the slogan "I don't believe the Herald" on the backs of city buses. Mas also castigated the newspaper in the Spanish-language media.

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