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Posted January 26, 2006 by Cubana in Castro's Cuba

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Some newly arrived Cuban dissidents express disillusionment about life in the United States, where the established Cuban exile community views them with distrust.


Miami Herald Mon, Jan. 23, 2006

The Little Havana apartment of Manuel Vasquez and his wife, Yolanda Huelga, reveals almost nothing of their life in Cuba, where they lived as dissidents until they moved here last year.
But there is a small painting hanging on the apartment’s wall of Vasquez sitting in a prison cell, his poems fluttering out the window like doves.

Similar to those escaping verses, Vasquez, a poet and journalist, and Huelga, a librarian, recently left Cuba behind—part of a wave of departing dissidents who have arrived in the United States to an uncertain future that’s often laced with distrust from more established Cuban exiles.

They now live away from the front lines of a fight that defined them.

‘‘The bullfight is in the ring. Outside we are spectators,’’ said Vasquez, 55, explaining the sadness he felt in leaving Cuba. ``Change can’t be imposed from outside.’‘

Now, many of the newly arrived dissidents, virtually all of them children when Fidel Castro rose to power, are wondering how best to promote freedom in their homeland from abroad.

From Cuba, these dissidents had Miami exiles’ attention. Now, many are virtually invisible, working as carpenters, security guards and in other jobs that afford them little time to focus on Cuba.
‘‘I’ve seen lots of division among exiles,’’ said Raul Arteaga, 35, who said he arrived in Miami last year after being pressured to leave Cuba for collecting signatures for the Varela Project.
The project, spearheaded by Oswaldo Pay, has been controversial among older, more conservative exiles because it seeks to work within Cuba’s socialist constitution to gain basic civil rights and democratic elections. Hardliners maintain there is no solution within Cuba’s current constitution.

Arteaga notes that despite divisions, ``the problem isn’t in exile, it’s in Cuba. If we can unite the opposition from here, using the people in different positions, unity would be created inside the country. The opposition is very needy over there.’‘

Coming to Miami has not been easy for many dissidents.
Bernardo Herrera, 50, who also worked on the Varela Project, arrived in Miami last year and is now a security guard at a construction site. He lives in a small apartment in Wynwood.

The most important role newly arrived dissidents can play is helping older exiles go through a process of ‘‘reconciliation’’ in a post-Castro Cuba, he said.

‘‘There’s a lot of hate in the hearts of Cubans,’’ Herrera said. ``The ones in Cuba that made people suffer should be punished. But there has to be reconciliation without vengeance. . . . The problem with the dissidents in Cuba is similar to the problem with exiles. Both sides lack a leader to unite them.’‘

Some top Cuban exile leaders say they have taken steps to get closer to the dissidents in exile.

Even one of the most virulent anti-Castro voices in Washington, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Daz-Balart, said he often meets with newly arrived dissidents to exchange ideas. Those meetings, he said, persuaded him to push for more federal government support of dissidents in Cuba.

‘‘Dissidents are heroes,’’ he said. ``Dissidents are the people that, when the change comes, are going to have the moral authority.’‘

Others, particularly on conservative Spanish-language radio, have taken a harder stance against dissident groups, accusing some—particularly Pay and Elizardo Sanchez—of coddling the Castro government.

But over the years, older exiles have warmed to the dissidents, said Ricardo Bofil, founder of the Comite Pro Derechos Humanos on the island.

‘‘There was a lot of backlash when we first got here [in 1989] from people who said we were communists,’’ said Bofil, who still helps the human rights group he established in Cuba. ``But that has subsided a lot. The dissidents inside have demonstrated that a valid opposition has cost the government a tremendous amount of international isolation.’‘

Vasquez and his wife, Huelga, 46, also work to help groups on the island.

He works for CubaNet, a U.S.-subsidized web site that publishes reports from independent journalists in Cuba. And she works for Bibliotecas Independientes (Independent Libraries), a group founded in Cuba by Ramon Colas that helps libraries run from people’s homes on the island.

Vasquez, who worked for the Varela Project, was among 75 dissidents rounded up by Cuban security agents in 2003. He was released for medical reasons last year and is now the only one of the 75 living in Miami.

His wife, Huelga, founded the Ladies in White, a group that received the European Union’s 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The group leads almost weekly silent protest marches in Havana.

She said that although she left the island with her family, ``the dissident movement is a relay race, where many leave, but many are right behind them to take their place.’‘

Adela Soto, 55, said she came to Miami last summer because she could no longer tolerate the repression. She also works for Independent Libraries. ‘‘We left because we had no choice,’’ she said.

Others tell similar tales of facing random arrests, intense interrogations and threats at the hands of state security and not-so-subtle advice to leave the country—or else.

‘‘You see yourself confronted by a situation where the government is taking serious measures against you, where they put you behind bars,’’ said Rene Oate Sixto, 44, an art professor.

Oate, who arrived in Miami last spring, now works as a carpenter. He feels that older exiles, while often helpful, tend to be closed-minded and unwilling to listen to other views.

‘‘I think exiles first need to visualize what is the reality of their country today,’’ Oate said. ``They should think over all the things that have been done and not given results. Things that are sacrosanct. For example, what has resulted from the embargo?’‘
Oate said that his group in Cuba often received help from Miami-based exile groups, a trend that Florida International University Professor Damian Fernandez says is growing.

‘‘What’s most telling about this is the Cuban American National Foundation, and others that traditionally lobbied Washington and saw in Washington the main way to get change in Cuba, are increasingly looking to the dissident community inside the island and the forces there as agents of change,’’ Fernandez said.
Miami’s charged political climate can be intimidating to some dissidents. Israel Morales Arrastia, 45, who arrived in Jacksonville from Cuba last month, said he feared coming to Miami.
‘‘The reputation. . .has terrorized me,’’ Arrastia said. ``In Cuba, they speak very ugly of Miami.’‘

Arrastia also warned that there are many false members of the opposition who join only to win political asylum visas.
Carlos Saladrigas, head of the Cuba Study Group, which provides support for Cuba’s dissidents, said the exile community sometimes hurts more than helps the opposition.

‘‘some groups in Miami have been incredibly selective in their support of dissidents,’’ Saladrigas said. ``These are people that have an incredibly narrow agenda and only the dissidents that support that agenda get their favor, and those that don’t get viciously attacked, which is negative, offensive and, in the end, serves the interest of the regime.’’

  1. Follow up post #1 added on January 27, 2006 by redwood with 18 total posts

    It’ interesting that, although the title of this story tells us that it is about seeking a new identity, nothing in the story tells us about what it means to the ex-patriots to be American.  It’ all about the identity they’ve abandoned.

    Then there’ the ever scary Lincoln Diaz-Balart, whose daddy used to read his sister’ love letters, telling us about moral authority:

    “Even one of the most virulent anti-Castro voices in Washington, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Daz-Balart, said he often meets with newly arrived dissidents to exchange ideas. Those meetings, he said, persuaded him to push for more federal government support of dissidents in Cuba.

    ‘‘Dissidents are heroes,’’ he said. ``Dissidents are the people that, when the change comes, are going to have the moral authority.’’”

    I just returned from Cuba, where I spoke to a guy who legitimated his voice with me as a dissident by calling the beard every name in the book. The guy told me that there are no dissidents in Cuba. 

    Indeed, he all but ordered me to tell Americans as much.  As far as he is concerned, the dissidents refered to in this story are “beggars,” beggars because they’re receiving USDollar exchange for dissent. 

    I’m not sure that his is the best translation, but you can bet that he will not be defering to any of these people should the Americans subvert succession.

    So it surprises me to read Diaz-Balart say that “dissidents” will enjoy a moral authority.

    Right, and the Iraqis will welcome the US with open arms.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on January 27, 2006 by yumaguy with 176 total posts

    That’ a fascinating insight redwood. Thanks for the inside scoop. wink

    I wonder if someone like Pay, who has seemingly stayed away from the U.S. Interests Section as well as the more strident members of the exile community, will have the most clout in a post-Castro pre-democratic Cuba. . . ??

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