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After Gutierrez Menoyo went into exile in 1986, he took a path less traveled. He announced the creation of Cambio Cubano and proclaimed that the only intelligent and realistic strategy for ending the dictatorship was a peaceful one, via dialogue and negotiation. The words "dialogue" and "peaceful solution" didn't sit well with the prevailing opinion leaders of el exilio, who were well into their third decade of acrimonious calls for armed struggle against the Castro regime and the assassination of the tyrant himself.
"When we came out with the proposal for a peaceful solution with Cuba, in the first year we received 300 letters with threats and insults, which we saved and have in storage," Gutierrez Menoyo notes. "When my wife went to the gas station in many places they said, 'No, you're not using gasoline here.' What kind of democracy is that?" His children, he adds, were shunned by classmates whose parents had told them to stay away from the Gutierrez Menoyo kids.
But he weathered the mudslinging and now the mud has all but washed away. "Many people on the street greet us, they hug us, and they say, 'I support what you are proposing.' Today we don't receive any threatening or insulting letters. Which means people have realized that to promote extremist intolerance represents nothing more than to follow a policy from the caveman days."
Gutierrez Menoyo thinks it could be a year before this weekend's canceled meeting is rescheduled. But when it is he will still be holding the wild card. "When I go, I go to reclaim the freedoms of the Cuban people," he proclaims. "Whenever I go it creates annoyances for the government. But there is a reality. If they only invite people who sympathize with them the meeting won't have any value. So they have to swallow my presence."
You will not find him conspiring with any head of the U.S. Interests Section or even with a dissident group that receives funding from the United States. "We speak a language of peaceful change and not one of conspiracy," he emphasizes. "Open. We can talk about it in a hotel as well as in front of the police."
"That legal space is more important than any project," Gutierrez Menoyo submits, with a tacit reference to the Varela Project. He thinks that the Varela Project has already served its de facto propaganda purpose: to generate international support for a democratic civic movement. "We wouldn't open an office. We would open offices in all the municipalities," he assures. "Because it's gotten very tedious that the Communist Party of Cuba is the only one that has the right to have offices in all the municipalities."
Amid all the mess, lawyers from the United States and Cuba have been quietly normalizing relations in legal circles. Antonio Zamora's U.S./Cuba Legal Forum has been closely involved for the past several years. With tens of thousands of people traveling between the United States and Cuba, legal matters are bound to arise. Zamora says he got the idea for the group while listening to a Miami radio talk show about three years ago. "Somebody was calling hysterically about his cousin who had killed somebody in a traffic accident [in Cuba] and had been arrested and was in prison," Zamora remembers. "And I realized that the advice the person on this radio talk show was giving this person was all wrong."
So Zamora called a lawyer he knew in Havana, who provided a more factual account of the incident. The caller's cousin was a Cuban American who had traveled to Cuba to visit relatives and rented a car. He had hit two people one night while they rode a scooter without any lights. "There was nobody killed," Zamora learned. "There was a couple of people with broken legs and that kind of thing." Because the driver of the scooter didn't have a driver license or lights, Zamora adds, "it was relatively easy for the lawyer down there to post bond and get this guy off the hook."
Zamora offers another example: "Somebody arrives [in Miami] from Cuba, gets run over by a car, the person dies, and there's a lawsuit filed by a relative here against a rent-a-car or insurance company." This actually happened, he says, and a New York court awarded the wife and children of the victim two million dollars. Because they live in Cuba, however, they cannot receive the money, owing to the U.S. embargo.
The U.S. government's legalization of agricultural sales to Cuba will only bring more hunger for legal normalcy. "It's perfectly normal for an American attorney to try to find out how the Cubans view contracts and the whole process of the transportation of products to Cuba," Zamora says. "What happens if the products are bad? What if we send a whole bunch of corn, or some cereal or chicken down there and it's spoiled? What happens?" The U.S./Cuba Legal Forum, he says, could better help answer such questions if the Cuban government allowed it to set up shop on the island. If MINREX came through, however, Zamora would still need to obtain permission from the U.S. government. The U.S. embargo prohibits such activities.