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).

Hector is a close friend of mine, and has been since years before the incident. Good people like him are hard to find nowadays. I talked to him the same day everything went down, and he was looking forward to spending his first Christmas with his baby and wife Patsy. I hope this story will help him out by exposing the mistake that could possibly cost him ten years of his life.

Hector's case is just one of many that reveal the amount of corruption in the system. The cops' infamous "blue wall of silence" is hopefully going to crumble like the Berlin wall, and when it does I will be outside the jail with open arms waiting for Hector to come out.

Javier Garcia

Miami

He Ain't Guilty, He's My Brother

And please remember -- those werepaintball guns: I am Hector Torres's sister. My brother and I would like to thank New Times for publishing his story. I know he is innocent. I know how he acted, what he did, and when. I used to sit on that couch at Travis's and play with the puppies while the guys did their thing.

They were loud, they smoked too much, they even spent too much time cleaning and perfecting their paintball equipment, which as I understand it is sold at Kmart!

I love my brother and I will be there when they let him out and he comes home. Cops are supposed to help people, not destroy families and lives.

Nicole Torres

Miami

Nightclub Chic, Combat Chic

In the land of decadent consumption, everything is product: It's frightening to consider the disconcerting yet striking resemblance between the ultra-cool SoBe club scene and the Iraqi landscape ablaze with bombs and war, as both Celeste Fraser Delgado and David Holthouse shrewdly unveiled in "Beach Head" (March 27).

Once again we Americans have successfully married hedonism and controversy for profit. From donning gas masks in discos to selling fashion that is "combat chic," we now deem war to be in vogue.

Not to say we shouldn't continue to live our lives during this time of war (meaning the Winter Music Conference definitely should have proceeded as it did), but when we begin to commodify the war instead of examining the real issues at hand, it doesn't exactly shock me that the Muslim world would look upon our materialistic decadence in utter disgust.

Party on, pray for humanity, and be at peace with yourself. But let's cut that vile stench of greed clinging in the air!

Michelle Meier

Coconut Grove

Insurgents in the House

We're here, we're active, and we're still gunning for Teele: Regarding Rebecca Wakefield's article about our effort to recall Miami Commissioner Art Teele ("When You Strike at a King, You Must Kill Him," March 27): Overall the story was good, even though a few minor things did not show us in the best light. But that's life.

The one consistent comment I've had from acquaintances concerns the brazenness of Teele's threat against those of us who organized the petition drive, which they found shocking and ill-mannered. But we know that's how he operates. We saw individuals who were literally terrified to have their names appear on any record as contributing to our effort. While they wanted to see the recall happen, they would not give money. If we could have taken cheers and best wishes to the bank, we would have raised thousands and thousands of dollars.

In the end, despite the challenges and the peeling-off of Leroy Jones and his group, we feel confident we moved the agenda forward. Many of the changes now in play never would have happened were it not for the courage and conviction of the people who took this action. Best of all, there is a reservoir of activism that is alive, and coalitions and alliances that are beginning to take form. Things will never be the same in District 5. The people have been awakened, and even politicians serving other constituencies are taking note.

Del Bryan

Miami

The Last Days of the Lido

It was simply marvelous: I want to comment on Celeste Fraser Delgado's article on the Lido Spa ("How Sweet It Was," March 20). I did not read the article in full until after I spent three days there, and then I found her article very true to life. She described the Lido Spa to a T.

I am not Jewish, but I retired after working for Jewish firms for many years. I had gone on a cruise on the Carnival Spirit because I wanted to get away from the winter in New Jersey. I also wanted to spend a few extra days in Miami after the cruise, and I remembered an article I had seen in the Newark Star-Ledgerabout the Lido Spa, so I booked three days there.

Everything was exactly as Ms. Delgado described it. I had a marvelous time. Social director Terry Ross presented a young lady singer, Jody Ebling, who was better than anything they had on the Carnival ship.

Irene Williams

Hillsborough, New Jersey

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