Heretics in the House

They came to Miami. They gathered publicly. They showed no fear. And they trashed the Cuba embargo.

Only once did conference participants witness anything even remotely disruptive. A man sporting a tennis visor stood up in the middle of a talk by Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C., attorney and specialist on the Cuban economy, and accused Muse of spreading "socialist propaganda." The instigator, who identified himself as Jesus Chamber Ramirez, was escorted out of the hotel by Coral Gables police officers.

The only ardent supporter of the embargo who engaged in genuine dialogue was lawyer Nick Gutierrez, Jr., whose family's sugar mill was confiscated by the Castro government in 1960. One exchange occurred during a question-and-answer period after a presentation by Lisandro Perez, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, and Max Castro, a research associate at the University of Miami's North-South Center. Gutierrez criticized Castro's use of the word "moderate" to describe a strategy that would lead to the dismantling of the embargo. "What is so ďmoderate' about a policy that promotes relations with a totalitarian government that has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Commission?" Gutierrez asked.

Max Castro cited the denunciation of the embargo by U.S. Catholic bishops and decades of overwhelming votes by the United Nations General Assembly condemning it. "That's what's moderate about it," he huffed.

Rep. Jeff Flake expects the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on lifting the travel ban in late June or July and on allowing loans for agricultural sales sometime after that. The Bush administration is currently conducting a review of United States policy toward Cuba and has hinted it may try to tighten sanctions. But the Cuba Working Group plans to present its own policy review, with vastly different conclusions, over the next few months.

When it was time to adjourn, Antonio Zamora announced that transcripts of presentations made at "The Time Is Now" conference would be sent to Congress and the White House. As for the two policy reviews now under way, Zamora was resolute in his determination to have all points of view represented. "We will have our voices heard," he vowed.

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