Move breaks policy of U.S. foundation

By Madeline Baro Diaz
Miami Bureau

The Sun Sentinel
March 12, 2005

MIAMI * The Cuban American National Foundation has announced its members are free to travel to Cuba for a historic gathering of dissidents on the island.

The announcement breaks a longstanding foundation policy that required members to resign if they traveled to Cuba and responds to an invitation sent last month by Cuban dissidents.

Prominent Cuban dissidents, including Martha Beatriz Roque, are organizing the first general meeting of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society scheduled for May 20, Cuban Independence Day.

By Friday, foundation executive director Alfredo Mesa said he did not know who from the foundation might go, but said the group’s announcement could force the Cuban government to recognize the dissidents’ reunion.

“The Cuban government doesn’t recognize them as opposition leaders,” Mesa said. “The Cuban government has to react to our decision. By reacting to our decision they have to acknowledge that there is an event on the 20th of May.”

The gathering has received the support of many in the Cuban-American community, including South Florida’s three Cuban-American U.S. representatives. In Cuba, however, many in the dissident community have doubts about whether the Cuban government will permit the assembly to meet.

Some Cuban-Americans who have long taken a tough stance on Castro think the trip is ill advised.

Ninoska Perez Castellon, a member of the Cuban Liberty Council in Miami and a former Cuban American National Foundation director, said that during her years at the foundation anyone who visited Cuba had to resign from the organization on principle. The Cuban government, she said, has accused the foundation of terrorist activity and used the label “mafia” for them.

Since the assembly has not asked the Cuban government for permission, Perez said, it is absurd for Cuban-Americans to ask for permission from the Cuban government to attend. She also said anyone who attends risks being jailed by the Cuban government.

“It is irresponsible for an exile organization to send its members or directors to Cuba,” she said. “Why should we have to ask permission from the Cuban government to go to Cuba?”

The Cuban Liberty Council and other exile organizations supporting the dissidents have complied with requests to send position papers, Perez said.

Mesa said foundation members who want to go to Cuba will pursue the trip through legal channels, such as obtaining family licenses from the U.S. Treasury Department. It is not clear whether the Cuban government will allow them to enter the country, however.

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Madeline Baro Diaz can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 305-810-5007.