Once marginalized from the Cuba policy debate, moderate and liberal Cuban Americans are taking their case to Washington at a time when the struggle to define U.S. relations with the island is at its most contentious point since the end of the Cold War. In the White House, the State Department and the Congress, they are weighing in with persuasive arguments for a fundamental redirection of U.S. policy, challenging the long-standing stereotype of the hardline Cuban-American exile and, for the first time, placing the views of Cuban Americans who favor dialogue with the Cuban government into the national debate.
Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, the Cuban-American population, like any diverse diaspora, holds within it broad, overlapping and conflicting political opinions. The purported right-wing hegemony of exile politics--the great Myth of the Miami Monolith--does not hold up under scrutiny. In terms of general ideological leanings, about 45% of Cuban Americans classify themselves as moderate or liberal.1 On the Cuba issue, even exile conservatives often disagree on the best means of advancing democracy on the island. While a significant minority in the exile community have advocated negotiations with Cuba for decades, only recently have exile moderates established advocacy groups that make their dissenting voices heard on a wider basis.2
The two most prominent of these groups, Cambio Cubano (Cuban Change) and the Cuban Committee for Democracy, were formed in 1993. Cambio Cubano functions as the activist vehicle of Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, a veteran anti-Castro crusader who founded the group at age 58 after undergoing a remarkable personal odyssey. During the late 1950s insurgency against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, Gutierrez Menoyo commanded the Second Escambray Front, an independent guerrilla group. Soon after the triumph of the revolution, however, he turned against Castro and fled to Florida, where he helped found the exile paramilitary group Alpha 66. Arrested on a mission inside Cuba in 1965, he ultimately spent 22 years in Cuban prisons.
Released and exiled in 1987, Gutierrez Menoyo abandoned militant anti-Castro strategies and now sees a different path to Cuban change. "We advocate a future without revenge and without hatred that achieves the freedom of Cuba by peaceful means," he wrote in Cambio Cubano's charter statement. He advocates immediate negotiations with the Cuban government, arguing that continued U.S. sanctions are fruitless and harmful. "I am the first to recognize the need to open Cuba's politics," he says. "But the last thing I want to do is open the arteries of the people who live there by maintaining a cruel and foolish embargo."3
Gutierrez Menoyo advocates a wide-ranging dialogue between Cuba and the Cuban-American community, and has done more than any other exile figure to commence such discussions. In September, 1994, he met with Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina in Madrid. This June he returned to Cuba for the first time since his release from prison. During his week- long visit, he held lengthy discussions with President Fidel Castro and other high-ranking officials, and met with dissidents on the island. Upon returning to the United States, he reported in an op-ed in the Washington Post that he found "a greater openness to new ideas on the part of Cuban officials." "If the Cuban government is now prepared to show tolerance and respect for the views of those like myself," he wrote, "then indeed a new beginning can be made and we can face the future with renewed hope."4
The Cuban Committee for Democracy (CCD) is more active in Washington than is Cambio Cubano, and appears poised to challenge the Cuban American National Foundation's monopoly on exile political influence. The CCD leadership is stacked with noted business and academic figures from the exile community. Vice president Marcelino Miyares is a prominent broadcasting and communications professional in New York, where he heads Times Square Studios. CCD board members include Alejandro Portes, chair of the Sociology Department at Johns Hopkins University, and Maria Cristina Herrera, founder and director of the Institute for Cuban Studies at Miami-Dade University.
CCD's current president is Alfredo Duran, a lawyer in Miami who chaired the Florida Democratic Party from 1976 to 1980 and remains active in Democratic politics. Duran, like Gutierrez Menoyo, spent time in literal combat against the Castro government. He participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion and was a prisoner in Cuba for over a year. At this stage in the Cuban struggle, however, he favors dialogue, reconciliation and respect for Cuba's (present and future) sovereignty. Cuba's transition to democracy, Duran insists, "has to be peaceful, and has to involve all segments of Cuban society."5
The CCD emphatically advocates freedom to travel by U.S. citizens, and is making inroads among exiles who yearn for more contact with relatives in Cuba. The group has been most active lately in its opposition to the Helms-Burton bill. The CCD has sponsored a range of Washington outreach activities focusing on problems with the legislation. In addition to briefings and visits on Capitol Hill, CCD members have met several times with senior Clinton Administration officials, including National Security Council aides Morton Halperin and Richard Feinberg, and White House Cuba policy coordinator Richard Nuccio. The Helms-Burton bill, Duran told the Senate's Western Hemispheric Affairs Subcommittee on June 15, "is a dagger in the heart of national reconciliation. And for that reason alone, it is contrary to the U.S. national interest." Without dialogue and national reconciliation, Duran warned, "there will be no democracy in Cuba."
Will the Washington foreign-policy establishment respond to the concerns of moderate Cuban-Americans? Efforts by groups like the CCD and Cambio Cubano may be starting to pay off. "There are people in both the Administration and the Congress," says Duran, "that are thrilled to see groups like the CCD that represent other points of view." Recent news reports have indicated that the Clinton Administration is slowly recognizing the level of support among exiles for openings to Cuba.6 Polling data suggests that if President Clinton does approve increased contacts with Cuba, he might be the recipient of an unexpectedly large wave of exile support.
Florida International University's 1995 survey of Cuban-American views on policy options found that while enthusiasm for coercive economic and military measures against Cuba remains high in the community (84% favor increasing sanctions on Cuba; 57% favor a U.S. invasion of the island), 68% see dialogue as an acceptable tactic to advance Cuban reform and 46% would favor "the establishment of a national dialogue between Cuban exiles, Cuban dissidents, and representatives of the Cuban government."7 The survey's designers say that the data, while appearing somewhat contradictory, suggest that many exiles have grown so impatient and frustrated with current policy that they are willing to consider a number of different alternatives--including a strategy of fostering a negotiated transition in Cuba.8
Reprinted from the Sept/Oct 1995 issue of NACLA Report on the Americas. For subscription information, E-Mail to email@example.com