Twice Exiled

Bernardo Benes helped free hundreds of Cuban political prisoners twenty years ago. Hardliners in Miami hate him for it.

Twenty years later long-time dialogue advocate Wayne Smith views the negotiation as a missed opportunity. He faults the United States for not responding to Castro's moves. "It was a gesture that never got [Castro] anywhere." Smith says that in 1980, he and the executive secretary of the State Department, Peter Tarnoff, pledged serious and substantive negotiations with Cuba if Carter won re-election. He lost to Ronald Reagan the following year.

The enmity the exiles hold for Benes has never disappeared. "I can't count the number of times I've put out my hand to shake another and found only air in response," he says. In 1984 Benes sold his share of the bank and parted company with Dascal. "It was a private difference of opinion about business," says Benes, who refuses to elaborate.

"If you would ask me what has hurt the most because of what I did in Cuba, I would answer losing the capacity to do good," he says. He claims that bitter exiles have kept him from leading civic groups. He finds an eerie parallel with his mother, whose charitable days ended when she left the island.

Back at the exile march on SW Eighth Street, tired but still strident members of the Cuban diaspora parade through the heat. "We can't dialogue with [Castro]," insists 64-year-old Gabriel Tubella. "If he releases two [prisoners], he will just jail four more." His friend and fellow retiree, 69-year-old Jose Martinez, agrees. Martinez tries to explain to an outsider the reason for the marchers' passion. "I came [to the United States] for six months and I've been here for 30 years," he bemoans. "Of course we are intransigent. If someone came and took your home, you would be intransigent too."

Tubella and Martinez fall to reminiscing about the paradise they left behind. Back in the old days, one had only to throw a seed on the ground and a tree would grow, they say. Cuba was firmly on the path to development. It was the first Latin American country to have television. The island was so bountiful that it donated food to countries in need. The rosiness of their memories contrasts sharply with the bitterness they have nursed for almost four decades.

The marchers proceed to SW Fourth Avenue, where a stage has been placed across Eighth Street. Perez Roura, with a long sallow face and dressed in a white guayabera, takes to the podium. A few minutes into his speech, a 43-year-old carpenter standing by the barricades at the front of the stage has the temerity to lift a placard into the air advocating peace.

"These are Castro's infiltrators," announces Perez Roura from the stage with a flourish. The crowd moves menacingly toward the front and police quickly spirit the man away. "The Judases that betrayed Jesus today betray the long-suffering [Cuban] people."

Benes realized there was no future for those who disagreed with the regime.
Benes believes his connection with President Jimmy Carter prompted Castro to seek him out.

Benes prodded Castro. "I talked to Fidel as if I were a Jew selling textiles," he says.

Gutierrez Menoyo's remarks were edited, distorted, and amplified.
The rosiness of their memories contrasts with the bitterness they have nursed for almost four decades.

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