Cuban Painters and Fugitives

Luis Posada Carriles and José Dionisio Suarez Esquivel show their stuff and tell their stories

Suarez enjoys working with oils and acrylics. His pieces include portraits, old buildings, and ruins, like the stone fort wall reaching into the crystalline sky and puffy clouds that appear in Torreron ($300). Tranquil green waters flow under a stone bridge in Pueblito de pescadores ($300). The painting that nabbed Ilia Rosa's attention was José Martí si hubiera llegado a viejo ($600), an imagined portrait of the graying poet who died a martyr in battle for Cuban independence at age 42. "I think it was a great concept," she says.

For Suarez, politics stands apart from painting. "It's two different things," he says.

Two hours into the show, Posada is a no-show, making some attendees cranky. Though waiters treat early guests to generous copas of Copperidge Merlot and Chardonnay, the pepper jack and cheddar cheese cubes are turning gummy. An older woman grumbles to a man with a white handlebar mustache and blue jeans: "Luis Posada no ha venido." They shuffle to the door. But the appearance of a willowy elderly man — sporting slicked-back white hair and wearing a long-sleeve black guayabera and pressed tan slacks — thwarts their departure. "Here's the guy," Enrique whispers.

Many paintings by Luis Posada Carriles — a militant anti-Castro exile and accused terrorist — feature landscapes, but this one depicts General Antonio Maceo, who fought for Cuban independence
Courtesy OF Enrique Encinosa
Many paintings by Luis Posada Carriles — a militant anti-Castro exile and accused terrorist — feature landscapes, but this one depicts General Antonio Maceo, who fought for Cuban independence

The crowd's attention shifts from the paintings to Posada, who stands in the center of the hubbub in the entry. He is encircled by Bay of Pigs comrades. Ilia Rosa gently ushers him by the elbow to the center of the lobby. As he stands below the chandelier, a woman gushes, "Eres un tremendo pintor." He hugs her and kisses her on the cheek.

The man with the handlebar mustache shakes Posada's hand firmly and asks about commissioning a work depicting Cuban General Antonio Maceo. "Luis Posada means a lot to us," says the mustachioed man. "I'd love just to have one of his paintings in my house." He declines to give his name but says he is a 60-year-old Vietnam vet who came from Cuba at age 12. His shirt is thrust open to show a gold cross coddled by gray chest hair. "He expresses the feelings of all of us to someday see our country free. He is not a terrorist, but a great patriot," he continues. "There's a slim line."

Two women sigh and ponder Posada's Vendiendo billetes ($600). "Me encanta," says one of them, who looks to be in her forties and is wearing blue jeans. The painting, encased in a gaudy gold frame, depicts a barefoot, flaxen-hair boy with brilliant white teeth, and an old man with a wizened face in a cowboy hat selling lottery tickets. Enrique warns the women it might already be sold and points out the older man's features: "Look at the guy. He's beaten by life."

Near the wine and cheese pit stop hangs Posada's emotive portrait La vendedora de mangos ($600), in which a woman with caramel skin and a white kerchief poses with a basket of green mangoes before a purple background.

Then there's Marte desde mi celda, selling for $3000. One of the largest paintings, it shows an alien planet flecked with pink neon and charred black craters. "He must have painted this one in a particularly turbulent time," says Enrique. "See the black, very arid landscape and jagged edges."

Posada works the crowd — firm handshakes and back slaps for the men, kisses and smiles for the women. He poses with those who came camera-ready, standing in the middle of one group and opening his long arms like wings around them.

A Spanish-speaking journalist with a ponytail puts a microphone to Posada's lips and asks him about his art. But before he can answer, his lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, in a white short-sleeve guayabera and feathered salt-and-pepper hair, snaps to intervene: "No interviews.... He's not going to speak about anything. Not about art. Not about anything."

Posada shakes his head and gently touches the shoulder of the journalist and the arm of a New Times reporter. He smiles and then moves his hand to dab away spittle, a condition that traces to the time in 1990 when he was shot in the face in Guatemala. Then he glides over to the next clutch of adoring fans.

Enrique says Posada should be respected. "Listen, people who think he's a murderer and horrible terrorist are not going to like anything that he does," he says. "People who know him know he fights for freedom. He's a talented man with a sensitivity in his heart."

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