What happened on Calle Ocho yesterday?

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Mar 30 12:01:27 MST 2003

It's no surprise that the largest pro-war mobilization
ON THE PLANET took place in Miami Florida where
counter-revolutionary Cuban exiles play a significant
disproportionate role in local and national politics.

They helped Bush & Co. capture the US presidency
and they are also doing everything in their power
to keep US politics tilted as far to the right as they
can. But even now, the ground is slipping out from
under them...Can we see the forest for the trees?

We can now see a few different things, EVEN in
the Miami Herald. It seems to me that if we take a
closer look at these this reporting, we can now see
that the glass may not be very empty, but is actually
somewhat full.

First, the split among the exiles between the far
right and, what shall we call them, the ultra-ultra-
right (the verkrampte right?) is more evident than
ever. Look at the CANF website and you'll see no
mention of yesterday's rightist march. Yes, their
strategic goals are the same, but we're seeing a
falling out among the thieves, and that's good!

The MH doesn't usually quote opponents of the
blockade against Cuba, like Max Lesnik. Neither
do they normally report on the Cuban Five at
all, beyond happily noticing the sale of hijacked
airplanes for righist exile fundraising. Also they
REALLY don't normally report such imaginative
political actions as were taken yesterday by the
Cuba solidarity activists in Florida buried down
in the body of the article:
("As Lincoln Díaz-Balart spoke on a stage set
up at Southwest Fourth Avenue, a small plane
flew overhead with an advertisement banner
calling for the freedom of five Cubans convicted
by a Miami jury of trying to infiltrate U.S.military
bases and Cuban exile groups in South Florida.

("The banner also stated in Spanish:
``The terrorists are on Calle 8 today.'')

You'll also notice that this demonstration, if it
did have tens of thousands as reported and it
seems that it did, was a lot smaller than those
supporting the kidnappers of Elian Gonzalez.

That struggle, where the exiled reactionaries
lost the biggest fight of their life, was a decisive
turning point in exile politics. For the first time in
43 years, a sharp wedge was drawn between the
Cuban exiles and the great majority of the people
of the United States. That was a watershed event.

The Soviet Union was no more. The exiles could
no longer call Cuba a puppet. The exiles showed
a fanatical hatred for Cuba. It was so loony they
would keep an innocent child whose mother was
dead from a father whose politics they opposed.

And they created a wild circus of civil disruption,
manipulation of the child on world television and
so on, all to further their maniacal ends. People
in the US finally began to get an idea of what
these exiles were really up to.

What is really going on here? It's the continuing
stability of the Cuban Revolution which accounts
for these changes. Fidel is still here after 43 years,
but he will die. There are others who will pick up
responsibility when he goes, and the stability of
the Cuban Revolution, battered and bruised as
it is, remains solid in the face of everything.

Some of these exiles can see the handwriting
on the wall finally. They're not changing their
objectives, but they see their old strategy has
failed. Even though their allies continue to be
honeycombed within the Bush administration,
the blockade hasn't worked. That is what is
really accounting for these important changes.

THAT, in my opinion, is what actually happened
yesterday on Calle Ocho in Miami.

Miami Herald
Posted on Sun, Mar. 30, 2003
Thousands rally on Calle Ocho
Continuing call to change Cuba's regime
nsanmartin at herald.com

photo caption:
'LONG LIVE A FREE CUBA!' Cuban Americans surge down
Southwest Eighth Street on Saturday to support the fight
against terrorism and to renew support for democratic reform
on the island. A group of (moderate) exiles plans to visit
Havana next month. DAVID ADAME/AP

A 12-block-long surge of demonstrators, most of them Cuban
Americans, flowed across the heart of Little Havana on
Saturday to pump up support for a litany of struggles that
stretched from the future of Cuba to the war in Iraq.

With chants of ''Long Live America!'' and ''Long Live A Free
Cuba!'' they applauded the Bush administration's tough
stance against terrorism and likened Cuba's Fidel Castro to
Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

But the sea of red, white and blue flags along Southwest
Eighth Street, known more commonly as Calle Ocho, also
conveyed one distinct message: that the exile community in
Miami has not shifted to a more moderate position in
bringing about democratic reform in Cuba, despite recent
polls indicating that today's exiles favor a more pragmatic

''All those people going around with their little surveys
should take a look at Calle Ocho,'' an animated U.S. Rep.
Lincoln Díaz-Balart, R-Miami, said to resounding applause.
``The exile community does not get confused. It does not
make mistakes. The ones who are mistaken are those who are
trying to discourage us.''

Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of a prominent Cuban-American
organization that has commissioned several polls on the
exile community, said the rally did not contradict the
results of surveys by his group and The Herald.

''To pretend that a march or a demonstration is an indicator
of the will of the majority is inaccurate and even
demagogy,'' said Saladrigas, chairman of the Cuba Study
Group. ``Polls are a statistical analysis with a high degree
of accuracy. The polls indicate an overwhelming rejection of
Fidel Castro and his regime and an overwhelming support of
dissidents on the island. The more subtle change in Cuban
Miami reflects different tactics for achieving democratic
reform in Cuba.''

Some analysts said the show of support on Calle Ocho also
was a display of political power.

''What we're reminded is that what matters in politics is
the voters, and these are the voters,'' said Dario Moreno, a
political science professor and director of Metropolitan
Center, a Florida International University institute that
studies the politics, demographics and the economy of South

Miami police estimated the crowd at 40,000, with marchers
lined along Southwest Eighth Street between Fourth and 16th
avenues. Organizers were tallying their own crowd estimate
Sunday evening but said they believed the figure to be
considerably higher.

Díaz-Balart was joined at the demonstration by his brother
U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Miami, a freshman in
Congress, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.

Saturday's gathering comes as more than 600 exiles prepare
to travel to Havana next month to meet with Cuban officials
at the ''Nation and Emigration'' conference scheduled to
take place April 11-13.

Also fueling the debate is the arrest of nearly 80
dissidents on the island.

''This rally is a political game,'' said Max Lesnik, a
longtime activist who plans to attend the Havana conference.
Rally organizers ``are trying to put the brakes on the
moderate voices.''

''If this turns into the symbolic voice of Miami, Miami
loses,'' Lesnik said. ``It will depict the community, once
again, as sectarian, intransigent and out of sync with
changing times.''

Said Moreno of FIU: ``This rally shows, first of all, how
difficult it is for some of the people who had sponsored the
surveys to reflect change in the community, because a survey
is sort of the first step in any political campaign. The
question is, how do you use the information?

''On big-ticket items, such as the embargo, the three
Congress members are right: The exile community hasn't
changed,'' Moreno said. ``On issues from travel to
humanitarian aid, food sales and support for dissidents,
there is a much more varied position than what was reflected
at the rally.

''Those who want to change policy, who want to see the
community change, have to transfer the opinion polls to the
campaign themselves,'' he said. ``The three Congress members
who were present at the rally are able to prove their power
in the voting booth.''

As Lincoln Díaz-Balart spoke on a stage set up at Southwest
Fourth Avenue, a small plane flew overhead with an
advertisement banner calling for the freedom of five Cubans
convicted by a Miami jury of trying to infiltrate U.S.
military bases and Cuban exile groups in South Florida.

The banner also stated in Spanish: ``The terrorists are on
Calle 8 today.''

Longtime activist Ninoska Pérez Castellón, one of the rally
organizers, used the opportunity to take a jab at the Cuban
government and illustrate what she called the essence of

''That plane is paid for by the Cuban government,'' Pérez
said as the crowd looked up. ``They are asking for the
liberty of five assassins. See, that's the definition of a
true democracy. Here, a plane can fly overhead without being
shot down.''

One of the five was convicted of murder conspiracy charges
in a Cuban MiG attack that killed four Miami pilots in
international airspace between Florida and Cuba in 1996.

Even as exiles at the rally maintained that the community
remains unchanged in its views, Pérez's prominence on a
stage shared by South Florida's three Cuban-American
lawmakers was indicative of a transformation in the exile

Pérez is among those who lead a splinter group known as the
Cuban Liberty Council, comprising mostly former board
members of the Cuban American National Foundation.

Joe Garcia, executive director of CANF, said there was no
disagreement among exiles about maintaining current U.S.
policy; the dispute centers on whether democratic reform
should be fostered from within the island or from Miami.


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