The Man and the Microphone
Tomas Garcia Fuste is not running for office, and he's no pop star. Still, when he goes to lunch at Victor's Cafe, it takes him about twenty minutes to make the journey from valet parking to his table. So many people, so much homage.
Fuste, ¨c centsmo andas? Oye, Fuste, te escucho todos los dias.
The guy who parks his Lexus knows him, the doorman calls him by name, and once inside this power-lunching hot spot it looks like a who's who of Cuban Miami has turned out just to say hello. On this Wednesday Caserita Enterprises, the food company, is hosting a 25th anniversary party, and when Fuste walks into the banquet room, the center of attention shifts from the croquetas and papas rellenas to him. Old friend Luis Sabines, president of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, is there, and television personality Orlando Naranjo from the old days in Havana, and so many others, all hailing him and putting a hand on his shoulder that, frankly, he can't respond quickly enough or begin to recall their names.
"Ay, que bueno verte," says Fuste as people call out his name. "How good to see you."
By the time he quits the Caserita crowd and heads for the faux-courtyard dining area, the maitre d' and some of the family of restaurant owner Victor del Corral are waiting, and as Fuste is escorted to a far table where he can talk there are more people to stop and see, including Dade County Manager Joaquin Avi*o and his guests, WLTV-TV (Channel 23) general manager Carlos Barba, even a long table of birthday party celebrants, all of whom seem to know him well.
Dignified, smiling benignly in his dark suit, the 63-year-old Fuste stops, talks, abrazos here, besos there, and even when it seems that he has no idea who these people are, exactly, it is also clear that he loves the recognition, the attention, and the confirmation of his place in the city's Cuban-American firmament. He's up there.
Fuste is his mother's surname, but in Spanish, the name Garcia is as common as Smith, and Fuste is not only exotic but it carries a patrician French-Catalan cachet that sounds distinctively honorific. People like to say the name, they like the sound of it, and so after 44 years of sending his distinctive voice into the ether over Cuba, New York, and chiefly Miami, that's how he is known A by his late mother's apellido: Fuste.
"Oye, Fuste," people call out, "you should run for office, maybe for Congress. Or better yet, for president of Cuba as soon as we haul the dictator Fidel to the pared centsn."
"No," he replies in the familiar baritone that is heard for more than four hours each weekday over WCMQ-AM (1210), "I don't have any interest in that. I'm not a politician; I'm a newsman.
"And anyway," he might add, "the next president of Cuba is already in Cuba."
Talk radio is enjoying something of a boom in the U.S. right now, with some 900 regularly scheduled programs on the air each day attracting 42 million listeners. Snide drive-time duos are hot on local rock music stations, and nationally the offerings range from serious public forums such as National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation to so-called shock jocks who have clawed out mean-spirited little careers for themselves by making jokes that play off racism, gay-bashing, women-hating, and nasty sex. It's entertainment for people of low self-esteem and high resentment, and there are those who think such cheap notoriety via the medium of radio can be spun into orange juice sales in Florida and votes for governor in New York.
Spanish-language AM radio is different. Oh, it can be entertaining and mean-spirited, too, even vicious and life-threatening. A 1992 Americas Watch report, Dangerous Dialogue, said Spanish-language radio stations in Miami "unquestionably contribute to a more repressive climate for freedom of expression. Denunciation over the airwaves as a 'traitor,' a 'communist,' or a 'Castro agent' is often followed by a telephoned threat, an act of vandalism, or a physical assault."
Over at WAQI-Radio Mambi, current ratings king Armando Perez Roura is not shy about peppering his daily Mesa Redonda discussions with the names of those he considers traitors to the Cuban cause, nor is he reluctant to urge a few hundred people into the street to demonstrate against the Colombian government's plan to sell oil to Cuba, for example. At the other end of the dial, on Radio Progreso (on Uni centsn Radio [WOCN-AM 1450] ), Francisco Aruca rails at the troglodytes of the Cuban right who cannot see the wisdom of holding a dialogue with the Castro government or ending the trade embargo.
But in between the virulent excesses, most Spanish-language radio in Miami still sounds like a rowdy town-hall meeting too volatile to be confined to one room or one day. The talk in Spanish bubbles on and on like molten lava spilling from the airwaves to the street, driven by politics and polemics. And although Lorena Bobbitt and allegations of corruption in Hialeah get some airtime, Topic A remains Cuba and Fidel Castro.
For several days last month Topic A was hotter than ever. On a Tuesday afternoon Fuste got word that both Dade County and Miami city officials had received an advisory from the U.S. State Department to get ready: Fidel was either dead or growing colder in a hurry.
Rumors about Castro's health circulate continuously through Cuban Miami. After all, the deathwatch has been going on for more than 30 years, and the fact that el tirano looks as healthy at 67 as he did at 35 has done nothing to dampen the hopes of el exilio. Some think deliverance will come as a result of a heart attack, others say a stroke, while more than a few subscribe to the magic-bullet theory: one assassin, one shot to the temple, and suddenly it's 1956.
Over the years Fuste has heard a lot of rumors and followed up on many, but these seemed different. After confirming with local officials that they had indeed received a legitimate "get ready" bulletin from Washington, Fuste began to add up the other signs: Fidel's brother Raul Castro was in Guantanamo, where he was reportedly warning Cubans against using the U.S. Naval Base as a route to leave the island, while assuring the Americans they would be safe in the event of trouble; the fact that Fidel himself had not been seen for several days; reports of extra security at a leading Havana hospital where government officials and important visitors are often treated; and the presence in Cuba of two of Spain's leading doctors. It all seemed too much for coincidence, too strong to dismiss.
So at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 19 A 45 minutes past his normal bedtime and hours ahead of any other reporter in Miami A Fuste went live on WCMQ with a special report: "Unconfirmed information, received from Cuba and coming from impeccable sources, speculate about the possibility that Castro may have been the target of an attempt on his life." Fuste went on to say that as a result of the incident, Castro may have suffered a stroke or a heart attack.
The news swept through Cuban Miami like a wind-driven contagion. At last, so many wondered, had the prayer been answered? Not only was Castro reported to be dead or dying, but the source of the report was Tomas Garcia Fuste, the community's best-known, most-trusted, least hysterical source of Cuban news. After holding its breath for more than three decades, Miami was about to exhale.
Less than 24 hours later Fuste wasn't just giving the news, he was part of it. He led WSCV-TV (Channel 51)'s 6:00 p.m. Wednesday broadcast, shown in his office and at his studio microphone talking about Castro's likely condition. At WLTV-TV (Channel 23), the Castro rumors were not quite the top story, but by 6:05 there was Fuste on videotape, some of it taken at his home after the station called late Tuesday and woke him up. Although they made less of the story, Miami's English-language television stations eventually got onboard also, and A what else? A they sent crews to Fuste's Coral Gables office at WCMQ, too. Ironically Cubans on the island also heard the rumors of Castro's poor health from Fuste, albeit indirectly. Marcos Castell centsn, a reporter with Miami's Radio Progreso, mentioned Fuste's reports and the subsequent frenzy of anticipation in Miami during his live hookup over Havana's Radio Rebelde, one of three such broadcasts he does every week. Soon after he began his comments about the rumors, however, the telephone line suddenly went dead. Castell centsn says the satellite links, made through Canada or Italy, break often and that the timing was coincidence. (Hearing that explanation later, Fuste just laughed.)
By Thursday morning, April 21, Cuban government officials were denying that Castro was dead or in ill health, and Fidel's sister, long-time Miami resident Juanita Castro, had been on the air with Fuste also to say that there was nothing to the story but wishful thinking. Still, Fuste continued to insist that "something happened; he may not be in grave condition, but I think something happened."
Midway through Thursday's Buenos Dias, Miami program, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called from Washington to say that she was tracking the rumors through the State Department. There was a lot of talk going around, she said, but nothing had been confirmed.
Then, with several news crews from Miami's English-language television stations crowded into his studio, Fuste asked Ros-Lehtinen to do something that is almost never done on Spanish-language radio in Miami: He asked her to repeat her comments in English. With that, Fuste was not only throwing a sound bite to his English-language colleagues, but also was confirming the cross-cultural importance of the news. At the same time, he was acknowledging his own stature as news reporter-newsmaker, too, by reminding all segments of the community that to keep abreast of this story, stay tuned to Fuste.
Of course, on this story Fuste turned out to be wrong. On Sunday evening Fidel showed up to bestow blessings on Miami attorney Magda Montiel Davis and others attending the farewell session of the controversial "The Nation and Emigration" conference, and those who met with the Cuban president in the Palace of the Revolution said el caballo indeed looked as strong as a horse.
In the aftermath of the Fidel-is-dead flareup, some reporters might have feared damage to their reputation or credibility. Not Fuste. "Well, maybe, maybe it hurts my credibility a little bit," he admits. "But you see, we are dealing with the news from a communist country, where nobody knows what is happening. Nobody even knows where Castro lives.
"We had all these indications -- with Raul, and Fidel not being seen. And then the reports that he is in the hospital. I called the hospital myself five times, and I couldn't get through. Then I called my reporter in Spain, and he called, and he asked if Castro is there. And you know what they tell him? They don't know because they don't have a patient list!"
On this story, could Fuste's journalistic compass have been scrambled by his own deep desire to see Castro gone? He doesn't think so. He hopes not. No, he says. Then Fuste adds: "Did you see the tape? Castro doesn't look healthy to me. He is only four years older than I, and I look more healthy than that. No, he had some trouble. I got information from the hospital that he was there."
It was a year ago this month that Fuste surprised much of Cuban Miami by suddenly bolting WQBA-La Cubanisima, where he had held forth for the previous twelve years, and moving to WCMQ, a station with half WQBA's 50,000 watts of power and a fraction of the listening audience. Fuste's association with WQBA had profited both. WQBA's claim to be the "most Cuban" of more than a half-dozen Spanish-language AM stations gained credibility when general manager Herb Levin brought the best-known Cuban broadcaster back to Miami from New York in 1981. And after five years at New York's WBNX Fuste seemed to thrive back in Miami as well. "These are my people," he likes to say, meaning all of Miami's Cubans. "I listen, I take on their troubles for a while, identify with them. I see myself offering a service through the radio."
The parting of Fuste from WQBA last May was not amicable. Levin asserts that Fuste left simply because of money, and it is clear that he is bitter. "I respect him for his talent, but I have less respect for his judgment," Levin says. "He ended up making a dumb personal move." He adds: "I would think that loyalty would mean something."
Fuste took his fans with him. The Arbitron numbers last summer showed Fuste "cost us about 35 percent of our listenership," Levin admits. The latest numbers show that WQBA is still being hurt. According to Arbitron, from December 1993 through February 1994 Fuste had an average listening audience of 14,700 each weekday morning, up 35 percent over the previous three-month period. During the same time WQBA pulled an average of 11,900 listeners, a drop of 21 percent. Only WAQI-Radio Mambi did better, with an estimated audience of 42,600. But its gain over the previous ratings period was only three percent.
Levin of WQBA admits that "this station lost him, and it was a loss. I wish I had him back." Still, he adds, "Maybe at this station he felt he was the top star. Well, I have other stars here."
In addition to money, ego was a factor. "This is a business, and what I merchandise is myself," says Fuste, now WCMQ's news director and vice president for programming. Neither Fuste nor Levin will say exactly what WQBA's final offer was, but the numbers here are not hard to figure. Along with a car and a generous expense account, Fuste's salary at WCMQ is about $200,000 a year, which he says is $70,000 more than he was making at WQBA.
For Raul Alarc centsn, president and board chairman of Spanish Broadcasting System, which owns WCMQ as well as stations in New York, Los Angeles, and Key West, signing Fuste was a coup. This is a transitional time for Spanish-language radio, when advertisers are discovering the market potential, and the medium itself is becoming more professional and more diverse in programming. Alarc centsn says he is positioning WCMQ to challenge WQBA and WAQI for market supremacy. The Federal Communications Commission has approved WCMQ's application to double its power to 50,000 watts, and the station already has the rights to carry the Spanish-language broadcasts of Florida Marlins and Panthers games. With Fuste, Alarc centsn says, "We have the strongest, most-respected personality in Miami radio, and a community leader. Besides, over there he had people telling him what to do. Here he has plenty of freedom to operate."
Freedom to operate. That, says Fuste, was the major reason for switching stations. At WQBA Levin did not dictate the topics Fuste would discuss or the guests he would bring to his "micr centsfono abierto" (open microphone) each morning, but he sent him little notes that annoyed. Says Levin: "I would counsel him. Fuste has kind of a one-song repertoire. He's very into dealing with the issue of rafters. It's a good subject. But is it worth 75 percent of his time? There's a little boredom there."
Over time Fuste has gained a reputation as a conservative voice of reason in a medium which is often shrill and overheated to the point of being unlistenable. A member of the first wave of voluntary exiles from the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, Fuste arrived in Miami in 1960 with a modest renown and a vast ambition, and 34 years later he rides the Spanish-language airwaves as the most enduringly popular personality in radio.
Avuncular and opinionated, Fuste represents his generation socially and politically, a generation defined by exile. His Weltanschauung begins with an unswerving opposition to Castro and rarely deviates from the hard-line, "over my dead body" philosophy of his friend Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban-American National Foundation. He is an effective and frequent fundraiser for disaster victims, for foundations, for causes. In 1986 he organized and touted a blood drive for the American Red Cross that collected 1441 pints in twelve hours, a national record. He has been presented the keys to several cities locally and abroad, and in 1988 a college scholarship fund in his name was created at Miami-Dade Community College.
Yet Fuste has also put in the time and traveled far to establish his credentials as a journalist, too, while serving as el exilio's witness to history. In 1967 when Che Guevara was captured and executed in Bolivia, Fuste went to report on the guerrillero's end. In 1972 when Nicaragua was convulsed by an earthquake, he delivered both relief supplies and news. He made reporting trips to Angola, where Cuban troops for years were bogged down in a civil war, and had his picture taken with rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. He went to Grenada in 1983, to the Gulf War, to volcano eruptions and earthquakes all over Latin America, and in 1987 took part in the negotiations that freed hostages from rioting Mariel prisoners in Louisiana's Oakdale Detention Center.
Recently Fuste has expanded his role from reporter, discussion moderator, editorialist, news reader, and comentarista to that of ombudsman or even social worker for Miami's Cuban community. Not content just to report on problems, he wants to solve them. Thus, when balseros are overdue at sea, and anxious relatives in Miami know it, Fuste will see what he can find out. When they arrive, he helps with housing or jobs. He is on the board of the Transit House for Cuban Rafters in Key West, and its director Arturo Cobo is a close friend and frequent airwaves guest.
Fuste also deals with visa problems for Cubans stranded in third countries, such as the Dominican Republic, where he has been critical of the policies of his personal friend, 87-year-old president Joaquin Balaguer. Locally Fuste has fought against the county gas tax, a tow-truck law, and casinos.
At the same time, some people sense that in recent years Fuste has mellowed. "He does deserve credit for taking more moderate positions now," says Castell centsn of liberal Radio Progreso. "Fuste has wide influence in the Cuban community, and this is a good sign of increasing tolerance. Maybe everyone is growing up a little bit."
Levin says Fuste began to moderate his political views only when he left WQBA, and he suspects the change is calculated to win ratings points. "It's surprised me," says Levin. "When he was at this station, I felt he was following a very conservative pattern in his editorials, opinions, and guests. He has moved from a very hard line to a surprisingly softer line. Alarc centsn has allowed it. Maybe he's been influenced by more liberal people at the station, or maybe he feels that controversy would bring him and the station ratings."
In Cuban Miami there remains only one true litmus test of one's place on the political spectrum: dialogue with the Castro government and lifting the 33-year-old economic embargo. On those issues Fuste has moved not one iota. The answer is no.
For years it was considered suicidal to voice opinions that deviated at all from the de facto official line. In 1975 writer Luciano Nieves was gunned down in a hospital parking lot for even thinking out loud about dialogue with the Castro government. The following year veteran broadcaster Emilio Milian lost his legs to a car bomb in the WQBA parking lot. In recent years the climate has cooled somewhat. But it still gets hot in the studios of Spanish-language radio. Just last August Fuste had to jump between studio guest Napole centsn Vilaboa, a controversial and mysterious man who helped broker the Mariel exodus in 1980, and an outraged listener who stopped by and wanted to punch his lights out. Fuste yelled for the police on the air and hundreds of listeners dialed 911.
These days Fuste is more willing to give airtime to those with whom he does not agree, including even those who may speak in support of Castro. He has extended open invitations to both Francisco Aruca and Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo to appear on Buenos Dias, Miami or his afternoon show, Confrontaci centsn.
Gutierrez Menoyo, for 22 years a political prisoner in Cuba and now head of Cambio Cubano, which favors lifting the embargo, repeatedly has turned down Fuste.
Aruca, owner of Marazul Charters and a frequent traveler to Cuba, favors dialogue, a position he talks about often on his own daily program on Radio Progreso. For months Aruca also said no to Fuste, claiming his ideological opposite only wanted to engage him "in a program of shouting, a cheap way to get an audience." Finally last month Aruca did come on. Fuste said he suspected Aruca's radio program is subsidized by the Cuban government, and he asked him about that on the air. Aruca denies any backing from the Cuban government; he pays for airtime with profits from his charter business, he says.
Fuste admits that fifteen years ago he would not have opened his microphone to Aruca. He explains, "I understand better what America is now. This is a station where everybody can come to talk. Castro is a dictator, but people have a right to speak in favor of him. Before, we thought that since Castro pushed us out, and showed no respect for our rights, then we should not show respect for the rights of those who support him.
"Maybe I am learning the way of life here. We learn many things from the Americans. I support the right of the people to discuss. If you want democracy in Cuba, you have to respect democracy here."
On the air Fuste conducts what he likes to think of as a barbershop conversation in which he cannot be out-talked. Cubans generally rank high on the volubility index, of course, but Fuste is not only Cuban, he is a professional. It is very Cuban and not unusual for a guest invited to join Fuste in the studio to show up with a retinue of supporters or family members, and Fuste never balks: he brings more chairs into the glass-walled, walk-in-closet-sized room, and he opens more microphones. The hotter the topic the better; in his domain, Fuste can't be intimidated.
If a discussion among two or more guests is going smoothly, courteously, Fuste can be silent for several minutes at a time. As a moderator he does not feel compelled to dominate. But when the emotion and fervor of an exchange rise, or the collective blood pressure heads for the roof, Fuste goes with it, jumping in with his own opinions while taking command of the melee with a firm, resonant voice that always seems more rational and closer to the microphone than any other. "Ay, chico," he might say to someone he thinks has been overwhelmed by the sound of his own rhetoric, "No seas tan bobo."
More often these days Fuste also shows a light touch, even when dealing with topics -- Fidel Castro, for example -- that he personally finds most explosive. In a discussion last month with Miami attorney Eddie Levy, who had just returned from the exile conference in Havana, Fuste listened patiently to comments about the revolution's progress in health care and education before stepping in. "Momento, chico," said Fuste, sounding bemused. "We have to stop for a commercial here. We are capitalists, you know, and if we didn't sell some things we might be like the government-run stations in Cuba...."
Fuste receives some 80 to 100 telephone calls a day, both from people who want airtime and those who want a personal favor. His longevity and popularity give him immense power A to sway public opinion, to color an issue, to bring people into the street. He says he is wary of that power.
At the same time he also relishes being a player, and does not hesitate to become involved in ways that many journalists believe might compromise their objectivity. In Washington this March for a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus concerning the Cuban embargo, for example, Fuste spotted adversaries Jorge Mas Canosa and Jesse Jackson sitting head-to-head, deep in discussion. A Miami Herald photographer standing nearby did not notice, so Fuste called it to his attention. The picture made page one the next day, in English and Spanish. "I play a little bit," he acknowledges. "We are not supposed to be passive, you know, seeing everything and just giving information. We want to participate, because we have power, real power, and we have to use the power for good.
"With visa problems, for example, if I see that no one is doing anything, I will. People ask me, 'Do you want us to picket? Tell us and we will.' No, I am a newsman; picketing, that's your decision. But I will use my power to talk to the people, gather information. But all the action has to be yours."
All this responsibility, all this shepherding of the flock, makes for a long day. Indeed, Fuste gets out of bed at 3:00 a.m. and is in the office an hour later to prepare for his first newscast at 5:00. At 8:00 a.m., in shirt and tie and with his jacket on, he is in the studio, fresh and eager, as the voiceover intones, "Y ahora, Tomas Garcia Fuste y su famoso micr centsfono abierto" A and he is off, presiding over a three-hour, free-ranging talkfest with studio guests and scores of hopeful callers who have been tying up all seven lines since dawn. Fuste does one more newscast at noon before taking a break for a leisurely lunch, usually with a newsmaker or prospective guest, at one of several favorite Little Havana restaurants. After lunch he's back at his desk to write editorials, deal with listeners' visa problems, return phone calls, or catnap. Much of his schedule is determined by Lina Byron and Carmen Horstmann, his assistants-cum-producers who book the guests, remind Fuste of his appointments, straighten his tie, and brush his suit coat like mothers sending a beloved but slightly absent-minded boy off to school.
From 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Fuste is on the air once more with Confrontaci centsn, in which he tries to referee a fight between antagonists whose dispute may be over family visits to Cuba or the height of a backyard fence.
It is usually after 6:00 p.m. before Fuste leaves his Ponce de Leon office for his home in Westchester, where he lives with his wife of 40 years, Amelia, and the two youngest of their five children. He eats something light, maybe takes a walk around the block, and is in bed by 7:30. A schedule like that does not leave much time for a life outside the radio station. "He has no other life," says Lina Bryon. "His life is here."
Fuste always wanted to be a broadcaster. As a child in prerevolutionary Havana he spent hours each day with his ear to the radio, mimicking the announcers, developing a rhetorical style. When his parents or his two younger siblings teased him about his obsession, or suggested his dreams of radio-wave glory were unrealistic, he set out to prove them wrong. On a wire recorder he created a mock broadcast in which the music was suddenly interrupted by an urgent announcement: A huge, killer hurricane had been spotted just off the Cuban coast and was heading this way. Propping the wire recorder up on the window ledge of his house, which faced a grocery store hangout, Fuste pushed the button one tranquil summer day and watched the neighborhood panic as word of the approaching storm spread down the street. Even then Fuste could be very convincing on the air.
By the time he was a teenager Fuste had obtained Certificado de Aptitude No. 669 from the Cuban broadcasting ministry and had found work announcing grocery store specials and furniture outlet sales over loudspeakers mounted on trucks that would cruise around Havana. In 1952 he moved to Santiago de Cuba, where he found part-time work as a radio announcer while also selling ads for the sides of buses. In Oriente he also met the woman he would marry.
By 1955, when Fuste was 25 years old, he returned to Havana and the capital city's lively, competitive radio and television market, where he got his big break, not as a newsman but as a pitchman, chiefly for Trinidad y Hermanos, the makers of Especiales cigarettes. In the days before videotape Fuste would spend his time going from station to station doing live commercials. His renown grew quickly. With a resonant voice, pencil-thin mustache, and smooth good looks, he became a familiar figure, popping up in the midst of news about the bearded rebels in the mountains to urge viewers to relax and enjoy a smoke.
By the time Fidel Castro arrived in Havana on January 1, 1959, Fuste was a Cuban celebrity. In a country where the average income was less than $100 per month, Fuste was making $1300 monthly and living high. And though he had aided Castro's guerrilla movement by sending medical supplies to the mountains, he soon concluded that for his star, Cuba was no longer heaven.
"Fidel would come to radio station CMQ [in Havana] every day after the revolution, and I would talk to the people with him," recalls Fuste. "I heard from him and others what they planned. It was socialism from the start. I told my wife, 'Get visas for us and the two kids. We have to get out of here.'"
Although Cuba's middle class was leaving for Miami in droves by 1960, Fuste's father (a mechanic), his mother, brother, and sister were shocked to hear that he would joining the exodus. They tried to persuade him to stay. "They told me, 'You are a broadcaster. You don't speak English. You can't make a living over there.' But I said I'm going anyway."
Fuste's intention was to settle ultimately in Mexico or Venezuela, Spanish-speaking countries where he could resume his career. But unions and visa problems scuttled those plans, and he looked for work in English-speaking Miami. He got a job restocking cigarette vending machines in Overtown for $50 a week, and soon added a part-time gig reading the news in Spanish late at night over WMIE, which later became WQBA.
In 1962 Fuste began hosting a call-in show on Miami's WFAB-La Fabulosa and began to build his reputation as a staunch anti-Communist who saw his radio role as a voice of the people. He tried a bit of television in the mid-1970s, and in 1976 went to WBNX in New York, where he spent five years before returning to Miami on WQBA.
In 1989 Jorge Mas Canosa asked if Fuste would be interested in directing Radio Marti, which Fuste had helped create, but he said no. "I don't want to work for the government and have to follow their rules," he says. "I have my own rules."
Still, whether working for Radio Marti or not, being heard in Cuba is always on the minds of Miami broadcasters, including Fuste. During his twelve years at powerful WQBA-La Cubanisima, Fuste's two-hour morning show made him well known in his homeland, and when WCMQ's power is boosted later this year, he'll be heard there again. (Although no ratings services measure listenership in Cuba, broadcasts from Radio Marti, WQBA, and the shortwave La Voz de la Fundaci centsn (operated by the Cuban American National Foundation) reach a vast audience on the island. In a survey of 100 Cubans who arrived in South Florida in early 1992, Florida International University journalism professor Hernando Gonzalez found that 95 percent said they learned about the U.S. by listening to foreign radio stations, and 77 percent said over those stations they learned about how to leave Cuba A either through normal immigration channels or by raft. The station cited as most listened to was Radio Marti.)
Fuste is an American citizen. He knows he will not live in his homeland again, but like almost every Cuban American in Miami he longs to visit Cuba, to see where he once lived, to walk the streets, to taste the country that grows sweeter in memory even as it slips further into the past.
Of course, Fuste will not set foot on Cuban soil until after Fidel Castro. He could never live in a country ruled by a man he calls "that son of a bitch." But in a way, Fuste, like so many of his exile compatriots, lives with Fidel Castro every day. "I have been here in Miami for 34 years, and for those 34 years, every day I do something against the Cuban government, the Castro government," he declares. "Every day. I talk about it; I work against it. The worst thing that can happen to a human being is to live in a communist country. That is the worst thing that can happen, because it is the society taking precedence over you.
"After Fidel dies, the first thing that will happen here in Miami is that people will buy up all the Bacardi and all the Johnny Walker and there will be a big celebration," he continues. "Of course, I won't be here. I'll be in Cuba. I am planning to go to Havana as soon as I can. And then find an open microphone. If I die before Castro, then I feel sorry for myself. But I don't fear that; I am sure I will see the liberation of Cuba. When I left Cuba, I knew that I would be many years waiting. I will see it.
"Fidel is four years older than I am. Maybe he lives another twenty years, if he dies a natural death. But I think he has more people who want to kill him than want to kill me. That is the most likely way. He doesn't give the people a chance. No elections. He wants to handle everything in the country: the economy, the law, the politics. And what's the only way that it can stop? If somebody kills him.
"The first thing to know about Fidel Castro is that he is a liar," Fuste asserts. "He was the hope of the Cuban people. And if someone had told me 35 years ago that he would still be a dictator, I would not have believed it. But he closed all the doors. And his being dead is the only way for Cuba to be free."
Weekends Fuste is not on the air. But on most Saturdays he's in the office, working on individual visa problems, reading, writing editorials, thinking about potential guests for the week ahead. Around him on the walls hang awards, proclamations, letters of appreciation, along with dozens of photographs: Fuste with Ronald Reagan, with Bush, Ted Kennedy, Carter, Bill and Hillary, Somoza, Duarte, Oscar Arias, Chamorro, and dozens more Latin American leaders now long gone. There are no family pictures to be seen, no photos of his wife, his five children, or five grandchildren. This is his place of work, and he doesn't seem to mix business and familysentiment.
Once he left Cuba Fuste never again saw his mother and father. His father, Francisco, died in 1979, and his mother, Josefina, two years later. Over the past 34 years he has spoken to his sister Blanca and his brother Raul only a handful of times by telephone. She was married to a military officer, and has remained loyal to the revolution. And Raul, a laborer, had his own family and had made a quiet life for himself. Whether they or their parents ever heard their famous relative over the airwaves from Miami is not known. Fuste never asked. They were not close.
About two years ago, however, Fuste did hear from his brother, who is younger by ten years. Raul said he was divorced, alone, and in poor health. He was thinking about coming to Miami. For a man who over the last 30 years has helped thousands of Cubans settle in the U.S., and solved hundreds of personal problems by spending generously of his own energy, time, and money, the request might have seemed simple. Fuste has means, both financial and influential, and his brother, retired and ailing, is of no further use to the revolution. He would likely be free to leave the island.
But Fuste has always opposed family visits on the same grounds that he opposes tourism or trade with Cuba: that the infusion of U.S. dollars into the economy only perpetuates Castro's reign. And getting his brother off the island would require that he send several hundred dollars to Cuba for airfare and the documents required.
Fuste agonized over his brother's request. He brooded about it. He considered his loyalties -- to his family here, to the exile community, to the cause of Cuba. He tried to imagine his brother Raul here in Miami. "I don't know what he would do here," Fuste muses. "He doesn't know anybody here; he is not going to be able to work. It seems to me he would be better off to stay in Cuba."
Eventually the brothers talked again. And for the man who is a professional talker, no words ever came harder, or lingered with an irony more sad. Fuste said no.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.