Florida university apologizes for visit by Cuban revolutionary

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Nov 24 19:30:18 MST 2002


FIU apologizes for visit
By Rene Diaz Iturrey
Special CORRESPONDENT
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

November 24, 2002

Florida International University officials last week
apologized to Cuban-Americans offended over a
recent campus appearance by a controversial
former member of Cuba's military.

The recent visit by Victor Dreke Cruz, a retired Cuban
revolutionary commander and now vice president of the
Cuba-Africa Friendship Association, during a conference
angered Cubans who protested the event saying Dreke
commanded firing squads during Castro's 1959 Cuban
revolution. Some students and others were upset that what
was billed as a conference on Cuba-Africa connections
degenerated into an anti-embargo forum.

Sebastian Arcos, the university president's chief of staff,
went on Spanish-language radio this week and apologized.
"It was embarrassing for the university" there was a
"lack of control of the event," he said.

Some administrators who attended the event were also
concerned that the exchange deteriorated, and that a
pro-Castro group provided security for Dreke at the event.

A university should be a "high neutral ground for the
discussion of ideas," said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, Provost and
Executive Vice-President at FIU, who attended the Nov. 13
session. He added, "It is absolutely unacceptable" that a
pro-Castro group "took control over the event" and acted as
security.

Titled "Cuba and Africa -- 1959 to Today," the conference
was sponsored by the university's Africa-New World Studies
program. But as word trickled out about Dreke's visit on
Spanish radio, members of exile groups attended to protest
the event.

Some 300 people were inside the conference, held at FIU's
Biscayne Bay campus, and another 200 or so were outside. The
pro-Castro Antonio Maceo Brigade prevented some protestors
and students from entering, according to several people who
attended the event.

The conference speakers, including Haitian activists,
complained about the U.S.'s immigration policy toward Haiti
and Dreke's comments focused on his opposition to the U.S.
embargo of Cuba. Some attending chanted "murderer" as
Dreke spoke.

"It's a shame that Victor Dreke, who represents so much shed
blood, be allowed to come here," said Reynaldo Aquit, 62, a
political prisoner in Cuba for 12 years.

The university has received more than a hundred
mostly-negative phone calls and e-mails, said Maydel
Santana-Bravo, associate director of press relations, and
there was much criticism of FIU on Cuban radio programs.

One e-mail was from Evelyn Alvarez, a concerned parent from
Miramar, who wrote, "how dare you invite this man to FIU? Do
you not know that he is an assassin?"

South Florida congressional representatives Lincoln
Diaz-Balart and Iliana Ros-Lehtinen wrote a letter to the
State Department questioning the issue of an academic visa
to Dreke.

Dreke was a commander in the operation that defeated the
contra revolutionaries in the Escambray Mountains in eastern
Cuba. Later, he served as second in command to Che Guevara
in Cuba's failed military ventures in the Congo in 1965.

Associate sociology professor Jean Rahier and International
Relations professor Peter Craumer sent letters of invitation
for Victor Dreke and Morales in May. The Socialists Workers'
Party contacted the university about a year ago to set up
the event, one administrator said.

Rahier could not be reached for comment. Dr. Craumer said he
wished that the "meeting would have gotten to the speakers
sooner," adding, "I would have welcomed the time for more
critical questions."

University President Modesto Maidique is on his honeymoon
and could not be reached for comment.

He issued a statement before the conference saying he stood
by his faculty and called on the community "to understand
and respect the liberties that this country offers to us."

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


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