Exile on Main Street

A thorn in the side of both el exilio and the regime, Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo waits for U.S.-Cuba relations to thaw even as his assets are frozen

So far, Menoyo says, his contacts with the government have been limited; he speaks with the MINREX official regularly, usually on the phone. Once Menoyo chanced upon the official in a restaurant and they simply exchanged pleasantries. "We're studying each other," Menoyo says of his relationship with the regime.

For now his strategy is to take very small steps. His next goal: to obtain an identification card and a food ration book, just like every Cuban citizen. Like many of his island compatriots, he now subsists on money sent from friends and relatives in the United States.

Since his arrival Menoyo has stayed at the homes of friends in various Havana neighborhoods. His leisurely schedule is punctuated by appointments with old friends and acquaintances, including men who fought alongside him in the Escambray. He has also met with "five or six" ambassadors from European and Asian embassies (which he declines to identify). At one reception at the Spanish Embassy he mingled with other opposition figures, including Oswaldo Payá, whose now-defunct Varela Project called for a plebiscite on electoral reforms. But he will avoid launching formal political activities of his own until Cambio Cubano is legal.

Seven months in Havana limbo has given Menoyo plenty of time to analyze Cuba's bleak economic situation and hone his message. "The nation requires that you liberate the creativity of the people," he declares. He would start by allowing free enterprise and "good salaries, not the hunger salaries like those of today." What else would be on a Cambio Cubano platform? "Peace, freedom, social justice," he replies.

With the help of friends, Menoyo has also done some opinion polling in Havana, Pinar del Rio, Las Villas, and Matamoros. According to these "limited surveys," he says, a little more than 80 percent are aware of his arrival. He can also tell when he's entered a Havana neighborhood that has a lot of satellite dishes because more people come up to greet him.

"I still haven't encountered anyone who has given me a look of disgust or rejection," he marvels.

Unfortunately, that is not the case with executives at Ocean Bank, who looked askance at Menoyo's move and froze Cambio Cubano's $10,000 bank account last October. Miami-based Ocean Bank acted on instructions from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, according to a statement signed by a bank vice president. "It's a dirty trick," Menoyo says. "What animals."

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