CANF leader offers to talk with Cuba leaders

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Fri Jan 31 10:05:18 MST 2003

(You won't want to miss a SINGLE WORD of this 
intriguing article. The main leader of the CANF 
says he'll talk to Alarcon, Perez Roque or Lage, 
but not Fidel or Raul?? As if there were some
political difference between the Cuban leaders.

(AND these CANF people say "There's no time
to wait" What's the urgency about it now???

(Whether they mean this or not, the fact that 
they say this provides further proof of the 
cracking of the blockade. Maybe Jorge Mas
Santos will apply now to attend the upcoming 
"Nation and Immigration" Conference?

(Fundamentally this is an attempt to garner a
bit of media attention, which has succeeded,
at least getting into the Miami Herald, but it
might spark more discussion about Cuba and in
the U.S., that can only be a good thing.)

The Miami Herald
Posted on Fri, Jan. 31, 2003
Mas Santos makes offer to talk with Cuba leaders

aelliott at

In a bid to participate in Cuba's political future, exile
leader Jorge Mas Santos this week offered to discuss a
democratic transition on the island with any of three
specific Cuban government officials, eliciting mixed but
emotional reactions from Cuban Americans.

Though Mas Santos excluded Fidel and Raul Castro from the
list and has not made an official move to open a dialogue,
it was the first time the Cuban American National Foundation
chairman has publicly named Cuban officials with whom he is
willing to talk -- a very public signal that Cuban exiles
are staking a claim in a future political transition.

''They are clearly trying to position themselves to be a
negotiating force with a future government in Cuba and
sending the message that there are people in exile willing
to sit down and talk with them,'' said Jaime Suchlicki,
director of the University of Miami Institute of Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies.

The comments first appeared Sunday in the Mexican newspaper
Reforma, jolting people across South Florida and parts of
Cuba. Exiles blasted Mas Santos on radio shows while Cuban
opposition leaders from Havana telephoned the foundation
with praise, according to CANF.

Mas Santos -- the son of Jorge Mas Canosa, CANF's founder --
said he was ready to sit down and talk to Cuban Vice
President Carlos Lage, National Assembly President Ricardo
Alarcon or Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque.

''They're the face of the regime now,'' Mas Santos said in a
telephone interview. ``The fact that we have named these
individuals is for them to know that in a change toward a
democratic and free Cuba, they also have a place.''

Under no terms, however, will CANF talk to Fidel or Raul
Castro, he said.

''Everyone else in Cuba in my view is a victim of the Castro
regime, even those people who are part of the regime,'' Mas
Santos said. ``There is a place for all those people in the
reconstruction of Cuba as a democratic system. We cannot
exclude anyone. That is the true exercise of a democracy.''


Other Cuban exile leaders loudly dissented with Mas Santos,
saying his comments show further softening of CANF's
original hard-line attitude.

Already, the moderating of the organization's stance caused
a splinter group of about 20 directors and prominent members
to leave and form their own exile lobby -- the Cuban Liberty
Council -- two years ago.

''There are questions of principles and it is the reason,
precisely, why we separated from the foundation,'' said Luis
Zuñiga, executive director of the Cuban Liberty Council.
``The position of the foundation was no dialogue with the
regime. And those he mentions -- Alarcon, Lage -- are part
of the regime. They are extensions of Fidel Castro.''

Although Mas Canosa was known to vehemently oppose 
dialogue with the regime -- calling any such effort a trap set by
Castro -- he did once reach out to one of the people his son
mentioned, according to published reports at the time.

He reportedly urged Lage in 1993 to cooperate with the
opposition on the island and in exile and reminded him that
Cuban exiles would like to see a peaceful transition on the
island when Fidel Castro leaves office, according to the
original report in The Washington Times.

Since Mas Canosa died in 1997 and Mas Santos took the helm,
he has come under fire from hard-liners and ultra-right
exiles critical of his efforts to lure the Latin Grammys to
Miami and the foundation's focus on aiding dissidents on the

They also took issue with his organizational changes and
expenditures after he hired Dennis Hays, a retired U.S.
diplomat who once served on the State Department Cuba Desk,
to head the Washington, D.C., office and bought a $1.8
million town house to serve as its office in the capital.


Another Cuban exile criticized for opening a dialogue with
Cuban officials, Bernardo Benes said he does not understand
Mas Santos' position. Benes, who has made more than 70 trips
to Cuba since the late 1970s, has met repeatedly with Fidel

''You cannot be a little pregnant. To put conditions on who
you are going to talk to -- I don't know. It doesn't make
sense to me,'' said Benes. ``I am happy I have someone in
the same boat as I was in 1978 but I really don't understand
the fact that he said he's not going to talk to the Castro
brothers when they are the political leaders of the country
for over 44 years.''

Some questioned the timing of Mas Santos' comments.

''Why now? Nobody in the Cuban government has signaled 
that they are willing to negotiate,'' said Suchlicki. ``Fidel is
still there. This is something for the future. I don't think
this is something that can be done now.''


But Joe Garcia, CANF's spokesman, called the comments an
invitation to the Cuban government officials and said there
was no time to wait.

He said that while Alarcon and Lage may not be the ones to
respond, the comments made in Reforma -- which he said is
widely read by the Communist Party hierarchy -- may cause
other Cuban government officials to consider communications.

'What we have to do is make sure we don't block the process.
The one who says `no' is Fidel Castro,'' Garcia said. ``The
one who is fighting a peaceful transition in Cuba is Fidel
Castro, not us.''

Some Cuban Americans strongly oppose talking to Cuban

''Those are agents of the regime,'' said Jose Emilio
Pedroso, 59, as he shook his head. ``They are criminals and
assassins and because of them there have been thousands of
deaths in the Florida Straits.''

Standing in the shade of a Royal Poinciana tree near the
Cuban patriots memorial on West Flagler Street, Jose
Hernandez, 61, agreed. ``No way! So they can stay? The ones
that are next to him? It would be the same thing.''


But some younger Cubans welcomed the change in strategy.

''Nothing else has worked against Fidel for more than 40
years,'' said Yuri Vidal, 23, a biology student at Florida
International University who was 10 when he came to Miami
from Cuba.

``Maybe if they start talking, something will happen.''

José Vasquez, a welder who came in the Mariel boatlift, said
he wasn't moved by any efforts on the part of exile leaders.

''These people should just forget about Cuba already. Let
them worry about things in this country, lowering taxes and
the cost of living,'' said Vasquez, 36.

``Fidel is just laughing at them.''

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