Dialogue: The Final Frontier

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

Back at Trattoria Solé, Joe Garcia was unaware of the mysterious passage in Posada's autobiography. "He said it in his book?" he asked. The subject disgruntled Mas. "I've seen that, I've seen that," he grumbled. "He said in his book that he received money from Jorge Mas Canosa. He doesn't say what he received the money for." The chairman plowed ahead. "We send money today to a lot of dissidents and people who leave Cuba who ask us for help," he continued. "We don't track what they do with that money." It is possible that foundation money had made its way into violent hands, he conceded. "Everything in life is possible. Is the foundation responsible for any type of activities within Cuba or bombings or these things that have been alluded to? The answer is absolutely not." Mas had "serious doubts" about Posada's credibility when it comes to "the activities that Posada purports to undertake." "I think there's a lot of mythology to Posada Carriles and others," Mas concluded.

Mas says he can only speak for the foundation as a whole, and the foundation wants a peaceful transition to democracy. It is not possible for him to control what the 170 directors, associate directors, and trustees do or say individually. "Foundation directors are free to do activities on their own. If a director tomorrow commits a crime, you know, murders someone, that's not a reflection on the organization or ourselves," he submitted. "On the other hand, my father preached that the time for an armed invasion of Cuba or utilizing violent means to [liberate] Cuba passed in the 1960s."

Steve Satterwhite
Chairman Mas (left) and executive director Garcia relax at the trattoria after a long day on the dialogue trail
Steve Satterwhite
Chairman Mas (left) and executive director Garcia relax at the trattoria after a long day on the dialogue trail

Garcia wanted to change the subject. Why not leave the mythology behind and look to the future? he asked.

Why not indeed? Wouldn't talks between the foundation and Cuban officials provide an opportunity to address the "terrorism" matter and put it behind them? The Cuban government thinks not. "Who is this gentleman to think that a government has to respond to him? Who is this gentleman to think he can choose whom he can speak to in a government?" scoffed Juan Hernandez, the press secretary at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. "The reality is that the organization that he directs has been involved in terrorist acts against Cuba. With the world immersed in the struggle against terrorism it would be absurd to listen to terrorists."

"We don't have the means or the ways to compete with Mesa Redonda every evening trashing the foundation," Mas conceded. But getting trashed is a start, he and Garcia reasoned. "The name recognition is there. That's the first hurdle," Mas assured.

So what is the PR strategy for turning this negative image around? "We overcome that message by continuing to increase our contacts on the island," Mas explained. "Human contact is important." Travelers have taken in about 100 copies of a foundation-produced video. They've also smuggled in newsletters with photographs of smiling foundation staff members and many references to "peace," "justice," and "solidarity." "Don't let the Castro regime divide us," Mas wrote in last August's issue. "Don't believe that we want to return to the island to take control of anything. We want to return because it is our right and we are going to do it, but with a mission of offering responsible service to democracy and prosperity for Cuba." An electronic newsletter, El Pitirre, goes out to the small percentage of the island populace with Internet access, including Cuban officials whose e-mail addresses foundation employees have collected. (None has responded, they say.)

Then there is Among Cubans, the hour-long Spanish-language talk radio show the foundation spends about $120,000 per year to beam into Cuba once a week. Ramon Colas started the program shortly after the 41-year-old defected from Cuba a year ago. "We've succeeded in sending a message of hope," he said, referring to his 48-year-old co-host Omar Montenegro. "The analysis is very objective and many Cubans on the island and here participate. We've never done a program without the participation of the internal dissidence," Colas added. The concept contrasts with that of their predecessor Ninoska Perez, who usually devoted her daily two-hour show Voz de la Fundación to rebuking the Castro regime for a variety of crimes against humanity. "People who are specialists in the medium tell me, 'Finally, there's a program in Miami that doesn't confront the Cubans,'" Colas said proudly. "On the contrary, it's a program that unifies Cubans. They call and we converse and we discuss differences in a civilized, reflective environment."

If Mas and Garcia have doubts that these low-level PR tactics will ever counteract the Cuban government's anti-foundation treatises, they don't admit it. "People who are intelligent enough will see through those who are trying to taint us," Mas said.

There's still Payá, though, who along with other dissidents on the island embodies the most radical element of the foundation's new message: The confrontational approaches of the past four decades -- trade sanctions, hostile broadcasts, and calls for violent uprisings -- will not achieve democracy. And a genuine civic movement must be led by opposition figures on the island.

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