On the 102nd anniversary of Cuba’s independence from Spain, the key to political change on the island rests with its dissidents, the chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation has said.
It will be Cuba’s dissidents who spark significant political change on the island, not White House policies or South Florida exiles, the chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation told about 700 people at a luncheon Thursday marking Cuba’s Independence Day.
‘‘Today, we have to help Cubans help themselves. . . . That’s where our focus will be,’’ Jorge Mas Santos said in speech showcasing a shift in the influential group’s philosophy.
CANF’s leadership now believes that Fidel Castro’s reign will end through homegrown pressures, not external ones.
Mas added that in November, exiles should vote for the presidential candidate who includes the plight ‘‘of the dissidents and a free Cuba’’ in his platform. His statement illustrated CANF’s growing political independence in an election year when the Cuban exile vote will be heavily courted.
‘‘In the past, CANF has been aligned to a political party. We’re independent and nonpartisan in our ideology,’’ Mas said to loud cheers, on the day that Cubans celebrate their 1902 independence from Spanish rule. “CANF represents only the best interests of the Cuban people.’‘
A Cuba without Castro remains the organization’s goal—45 years after the dictator took power.
But expecting an international power—namely the United States—to rescue the island is a fruitless exercise, he said.
‘‘This falls upon the shoulders of Cubans,’’ Mas told the group of men and women, many sporting traditional unisex guayabera shirts and outfits at the event at the JW Marriott on Brickell Avenue.
THE NEW SANCTIONS
Off the stage, Mas said the new Bush administration restrictions on travel to Cuba, a tightening of the U.S. embargo, is likely to have mixed results. Mas said he supports a component that calls for beefing up the TV MartÝ signal by having a military plane broadcast the signal over international waters near Cuba.
With special equipment, the plane will try to beam U.S.-produced TV MartÝ into Cuban homes and circumvent the Cuban government’s jamming of the frequency. Although it’s not flying regularly yet, Thursday was to be a fly day for the military plane.
‘‘It’s not important that they do it today, on Cuban Independence Day. We went them to get it going and do it consistently,’’ he said.
Another goal is further ‘‘internationalizing the struggle for a free Cuba,’’ Mas said. To that end, the Miami-based consuls general of 11 countries that cast votes in favor of a United Nations resolution denouncing Cuba’s human rights abuses were honored at the luncheon.
‘‘Our message to the world is that our country is not free, and we won’t rest until it is,’’ Mas said.
As is tradition with Cuban exiles on a day like Vente de Mayo (May 20), there was a promise of a Cuba Libre one day soon. Mas said he sees changes on the horizon.
‘‘I’m totally convinced that the next few months will bring many changes to Cuba,’’ Mas said to a standing ovation.