Dialogue: The Final Frontier

When trade sanctions, bluster, and a few bombs don't work, you gotta try something else

But what is the foundation's message to Cuba? And what medium would get it through?

The new message contained an old one, they say, namely the willingness to communicate with Cuban officials. To deflect the skeptics, Garcia made sure the press knew of an appearance Mas's father had made in 1993 on WQBA. An excerpt from it aired recently on Entre Cubanos (Among Cubans), the foundation's weekly radio offering to the island. Papa Mas told of how he had called Lage while the latter was on a trip to Chile. "In this fervor to find for Cuba a solution without blood, we speak and converse frequently with officials of the Cuban government to see how we can get Castro out of power," Mas Canosa revealed.

Ramon Colas, who left Cuba last year, took CANF's radio presence in a kinder, gentler direction
Steve Satterwhite
Ramon Colas, who left Cuba last year, took CANF's radio presence in a kinder, gentler direction
After initial doubts, CANF president Pepe Hernandez is pulling for Payá
Steve Satterwhite
After initial doubts, CANF president Pepe Hernandez is pulling for Payá

"Carlos Lage is a man who is very important, who should hear our message: No one here is going to kill anyone. Revenge is not what is sought. We have to find a solution among Cubans," he explained. "Suspecting that he was going to be in the most luxurious hotel in Santiago, Chile, I called him by phone and the operator put the call through to his room. And I simply began to speak to Carlos Lage [and said] that I was taking advantage of his being out of the country to tell him that we send him greetings. And then Lage interrupted the conversation and he hung up the phone. But the message was sent."

CANF president Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez, a 67-year-old former marine captain and an original foundation member, confirmed that one of the organization's traditional missions is to hold "clandestine conversations" with Cuban military officers, often in third countries. "We were trying to see if those officials could in a certain moment start a rebellion against the regime," he divulged. "And we had certain success, one could say, in holding secret conversations with some high-ranking officials inside the regime."

The conversations continue, Hernandez, Garcia, and Mas say. Mas told New Times that a group of foundation directors "with extensive experience in this" has arranged numerous contacts with Cuban military officials, as recently as this month. "Those conversations all start out as, 'What can we do together to rid Cuba of the totalitarian regime?' They talk about freedom and democracy and how they can have better lives for their families and for themselves," Mas offered. "Those conversations range from 'I'll help you, I'll work with you, I'll give you information, you can count on me when something happens,' to a reaction recently: 'Fuck it, I don't need you. I handle multimillion-dollar accounts overseas because I'm part of the economic apparatus and if this thing goes up I'm out of here with my family and I've got enough to live for two generations outside the country."

But it is Mas's idea of meeting publicly with Cuban officials that has ignited a revolt on some Miami airwaves. He and Garcia would expect the Castro regime to trash the idea, but are dismayed at the large number of Cubans on this side who are doing so. A recent Schroth & Associates poll in Miami-Dade and Broward found that 39 percent of el exilio opposes the foundation's proposal for talks. Fortunately for the foundation, 54 percent support it.

"I am extremely surprised that people would criticize the fact that we're willing to talk to people in the Cuban regime or military about how we bring about the change in Cuba sooner rather than later," Mas remarked. "Because I do not accept the fact of just sitting and waiting for Fidel Castro to die. I refuse to be an observer of the Cuba situation."

One of those critics is U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who believes dialogue advocates are conspiring against him. "You know what the motive of this is? It's to weaken us, the ones who have the strongest political power," he growled on Ninoska Perez's radio show last week, reacting to Mas's proposal. "That political power bothers them so much that what they are doing is attacking us, attacking the strength we have by sowing confusion and intrigue."

Mas is also getting hit from the left. "For the son of Mas Canosa to say that his father had something to do with the possibility of dialogue is to falsify history," alleged Max Lesnik, the 75-year-old editor of Replica magazine and founder of Alianza Martiana, an umbrella group of liberal Cubans who support dialogue and oppose the embargo. Mas Canosa made public pronouncements for diplomatic solutions with Cuba "in the same way that the Bush government is saying it wants solutions with Iraq through diplomatic means," affirmed Lesnik, who maintains cordial relations with Cuban officials.

But it is across the Florida Straits where the most formidable force field of antifoundation propaganda lies. Radio and TV Martí can scarcely penetrate it, even when their signals aren't jammed. For twenty years Cuban media have characterized the foundation as a hive of Cuban-American mafiosos and CIA agents who are bent on destroying the revolution. "We're terrorists, we're delinquents, we're thieves, we're going back to Cuba to take people's properties, we're going back to Cuba to rape and pillage," Mas recited facetiously.

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