Letters from the Issue of April 17-23, 2003

"Once again we Americans have successfully married hedonism and controversy for profit."

Talking with the Enemy

I listen to the Cubans and they listen to me: It was with great interest that I read Kirk Nielsen's feature "Dialogueros" (April 10). I want to expand on his comment: "Wilhelm could not be reached for comment after the dissident crackdown."

He was not able to reach me because I was in Havana leading one of the many people-to-people delegations of which I am immensely proud. I personally expressed my greatest disappointment and sadness about these arrests at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cuba on Thursday, April 3. Upon my return to the United States, I sent a letter to the chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington that mirrored the sentiments I expressed at the foreign ministry.

In my many years of respectful (and in many instances heated) exchanges with the Cuban government, I have found the space to articulate my position. I have found space at all levels to listen to their arguments, and similar space for me and many others like me to be heard. As to the effectiveness of such dialogue, history will be the final judge.

Silvia Wilhelm

Miami

Schmoozing with the Enemy

If dialogue means never offending the Cubans, it's worse than worthless: Kirk Nielsen's article "Dialogueros" did a masterful job exposing the spectrum of Cuban-exile opinion and the underlying motivations of some of the exile's most vocal advocates of dialogue. As an added bonus, it exposed a bushel of characters that range from the naive to the well intentioned to the hypocritical and Machiavellian. Beyond that, Nielsen strung out a trail of questions that refuse to go unanswered.

Like most Americans of Cuban birth who live or work in Miami-Dade County, I respect the right of those who wish to engage in dialogue with the Castro regime in the hope of fostering change. I do so, though, aware that such efforts are futile, given Castro's totalitarian system and his oft-quoted refrain "socialism or death."

A new twist has emerged on the dialogue scene, however. I was surprised to infer from Nielsen's article that most of these pro-dialogue exiles would have gone to this love fest with Castro but for the bearded wonder having canceled it at the last minute. That's right -- they would still have gone to speak with the fickle führer while all around the island others with greater entitlement to have their voices heard were being rounded up, beaten, and sentenced to decades in prison.

Kirk Nielsen is a tease. He left so many questions to the imagination. But since I can't be jailed in this, my beloved America, let me ask the obvious, as well as consider possible answers.

How can you travel to Cuba for dialogue when voices with a superior right, who reside there, are being silenced behind bars?

How can an exile living in America presume he will be taken seriously by a demagogue who imprisons dissidents and journalists for expressing their opinions?

How can you spew the party line, justifying Castro's repression by blaming a "talkative" U.S. diplomat in Havana and, by implication, the victims with whom he met?

Is Castro justified in punishing dissidents for simple speech or are you just Judases pining for silver?

Finally, how can you ignore repression, unleashed with a timing that manifests disdain for the very dialogue you seek?

Possible answers:

We exiles are superior to our brethren on the island. This is why Castro will take us seriously.

Those of us who place blame for the recent crackdown on the conduct of the U.S. diplomat in Havana (and by implication on the dissidents themselves) recognize Castro's symphonic timing, which has two purposes: It shows his disdain for most exiles while reaffirming his determination to repress internal dissent. But we're a more pragmatic and sophisticated group of exiles, so Castro will deal with us ... someday.

Those of us who parrot Havana's official party line against American meddling in Cuba's internal affairs from the comfort of our air-conditioned offices don't have it so easy. Sure, contrary to the situation in Cuba, we are not jailed for our comments, even if they are stupid or treacherous. But we know freedom of speech is not the real issue. Our comments now are a litmus test Castro will use to identify the select participants for future dialogue.

Nielsen's article has shown me that the future of Cuba lies where it should -- in the hands of the dissidents who today sit in Castro's jails. Conversely, those exiles who practice self-censorship when it comes to condemning this recent repression, or who lick Castro's fascist boot in hopes of future access, are in fact undermining the very cause they advocate. As such, these exiles are wise to exercise caution in lining up at the tyrant's trough. Fidel's "Ides of March" is fast approaching. And like an impromptu lunch in Little Italy with a mobster friend, it may leave the guests around the table covered with blood, as well as crumbs.

Antonio Gonzalez

Pembroke Pines

The Big Boo-Boo

Shooting him was bad enough, but now he's facing ten years: I would like to thank Humberto Guida for publicizing the boo-boo the cops made just before Christmas of 2000, when Hector Torres was wrongfully put in jail and taken away from his newborn daughter and family ("The Bad Shoot," April 3).

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