Equal Opportunity Dissident

Julian Jorge Reyes, a child of Castro's revolution, turned against his leader. Now he's taking on el exilio.

In a cardboard box in his Little Havana apartment, Reyes keeps a copy of the transcript of Castro's Angola speech published in the Cuban state newspaper Granma. Red marks show where Reyes believes he interrupted Castro's train of thought as he walked through the crowd with the white sheets billowing like sails. One of those citations reads: "All those who promote and commit social indignities are members of the enemy." Even more interesting to Reyes than the dictator's censure was the crowd's reaction. "No one stood in my way," he marvels. "No one tried to pull the sign down."

By the time he reached the edge of the crowd, state security officers detained him, he says. "A whole group of them piled on top of me, hitting and kicking," he laughs. "But it's just like you see in cartoons. The people on top just hit each other; the guy on the bottom comes out okay." The police confined Reyes to the Mazorra Psychiatric Hospital. "People there were really crazy. They would fight over food and smear themselves with excrement," he remembers. "But within three days, I had them cleaning up the patio. I set up a food-distribution system -- and I ate first. I was the king of the crazies." Twenty-five days later, hospital authorities informed him that he had rested enough. "It was not to their advantage to have me there."

After his release Reyes continued to agitate against the regime. In 1991 he lodged a formal complaint with the National Assembly denouncing Castro as a traitor. That same year he distributed flyers for a protest in the Revolution Square. As a result he was sent to prison from 1991 through 1994; Amnesty International even declared him a prisoner of conscience. When he completed his sentence, the United States granted him political asylum. Settled in Nebraska by a Catholic social service organization, Reyes worked as a day laborer until he had earned enough money to repay a resettlement loan. He continued working until he could pay for his two daughters, his ex-wife, and her current husband to leave Cuba.

A Cuban Quixote on a crusade for democracy
Celeste Fraser Delgado
A Cuban Quixote on a crusade for democracy

"No one in Nebraska knows anything about Castro or Cuba," Reyes points out. "Once I had taken care of my family, I headed to Miami. From all the radio I'd heard while I lived in Cuba, I thought there were compatriots here I could join to topple that monster."

Reyes lives alone in an efficiency apartment in Little Havana. "I sent my daughters and their mother to Nebraska," he says. "I don't have any other female companion. I have friends, but I tell them not to come here because I don't want any stray bullets meant for me to hit them."

He makes a living doing occasional construction jobs that he finds through an agency called Labor Ready. "I like it because there's no commitment," he explains. "When I get my mustard up, I can do my own thing. Once my rent is paid, I'm a dangerous man."

In the yard between the main house and the back building, where Reyes lives in one of four apartments, is a pile of discarded appliances, abandoned auto parts, and old shopping carts. On the walls inside his residence are two hardware store calendars and a Cuban flag hanging in an open closet.

On the closet shelf, a box is decorated with a crayon drawing of another Cuban flag. It is full of documents. Neatly bound in three-hole-punch folders, the fourteen pages and ten appendixes of his "Plan for Liberation" outline strategies for defeating the socialist Cuban government and creating a new state based on the philosophy of José Martí.

Wide-rule notebooks contain drafts of these works and of the many signs Reyes has displayed throughout Miami, as well as notes on his frustrated attempts to communicate with exile leaders. Between construction jobs Reyes spent his first year in the exile capital hand-delivering what he calls "elegantly packaged" copies of his plan to opponents of the communist regime in the local media and political organizations.

"I was sure that people here wanted to end the situation in Cuba," he insists. "But what they say on the radio is false. Here there are millions of dollars to be made, all based on this nostalgia for Cuba. All you have to do here is say Benny Moré and people go weak at the knees. But if that nostalgia ends...." He pauses then makes a whooshing sound like water being sucked down a drain.

"Do you know how many exiles have fattened their asses by attacking Castro? The people here criticize Fidel, but...." He stops, then as if addressing his enemy, continues: "You are defending your own interests, sir."

Reyes believes the campaign to keep Elian Gonzalez in the United States is an opportunistic effort to manipulate the Cuban exiles' nostalgia for their homeland. The Miami family's supporters prohibited free speech in Miami and provided cover for Castro to crack down on dissidents on the island.

As the struggle over Elian escalated, Reyes mounted a counter-campaign with his Magic Markers and signs. "Did you know," asked one cardboard bulletin, "that your attitude is annihilating dissidents in Cuba?"

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