Our Man in Miami
by A.L. Bardach
When Jorge Mas Canosa sauntered out of the White House Cabinet Room on August 19th following a 90 minute meeting with the President of the United States, he was irrepressibly gleeful. Although the combative tycoon has long dominated Miami and, to some degree, Florida politics from the bully pulpit of his coffer-rich Cuban American National Foundation, Mas had just pulled off the coup of his career - dictating America's new Cuba policy.
At the White House meeting, Mas had left nothing to chance. The President, dressed in jeans, cowboy boots and a Western shirt had actually left his own birthday party to meet with Mas. Aware of Clinton's vacillatory nature of adopting the policies of whoever last whispered in his ear, Mas made sure he was heard and remembered. According to those present - which included Florida's Governor Lawton Chiles and three other Miami Cubans-all of whom embrace a confrontational policy toward Cuba, Mas thumped and slapped the table as he spoke, demanding that the President punish Fidel Castro for the current refugee crisis. "You must kick out the last leg of the stool," he insisted. According to Mas, who later regaled Miami's Spanish-language television viewers with a recitation of his conquest, he bellowed at Clinton, "no tengas piedad!" - have no pity! - and twice found the President "to be looking into my eyes."
With the exception of a naval blockade to encircle the beleaguered island, which the President said he would reserve as a possible future option, Bill Clinton bought Mas' long dreamt wish list: severing all flight service between Miami and Cuba for family members, eliminating the cash remittances sent to relatives in Cuba, the detention of all rafters at Guantanamo and Krome and expanded TV and Radio (both controlled by Mas Canosa). The philosophy of policy - to strangle the Cubans until they revolt - was soundly thumped by scores of politicians and virtually every editorial page in the hemisphere.
Even Mas, long inured to the perks of being the caudillo of Miami, seemed somewhat dazed at the degree of his success. "Bill Clinton deserves our gratitude and recognition," said a giddy Mas. Although a lifelong devoted Republican, Mas Canosa had prevailed with Clinton where he had failed with even his ideological soulmates: Ronald Reagan and George Bush. And when Fidel Castro two days later fulminated that U.S. policy was in the stranglehold of "the fascist Mafia of Miami," Mas Canosa was unperturbed. "I have very good company," he purred on national television. "I stand with the President of the United States.
Quite how a liberal Democrat from Arkansas with no discernible interest for foreign policy got tangled up with the toughest crowd this side of the Mujahadeen, is an interesting question.There is the fact that the president's brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, making his political debut with a run for senator of Florida. Rodham is married to Maria Victoria Arias, a hardliner who has been deputized as White House adviser on Cuba. Others said it was Bob Torricelli, the New Jersey Congressman, regarded as Mas' most coveted disciple. "Anything the Foundation wants," said one Torricelli aide, "it gets."
But for Bill Clinton, the die was cast in the spring of 1992 when he realized he was going to lose Florida, the third most populous state, to George Bush. By mid-April, Clinton had con-vinced himself that a foray into Cuban exile politics, a rock solid Republican relationship since JFK, would boost him just enough to put him over the goal post. And so on the afternoon of April 23, 1992, Bill Clinton stood before 300 of Miami's wealthiest Cuban exiles at Victor's Cafe. For weeks, Calle Ocho had been buzzing with word that Clinton's staff had been negotiating with Mas. "I think this administration has missed a big opportunity to put the hammer down on Fidel Castro and Cuba," Clinton told the rapt crowd, pausing to let the applause wash over him before delivering the coup de grace. "I have read the Torricelli-Graham Bill and I like it." (The Torricelli Bill-the Cuba Democracy Act-forbids U.S. foreign subsidiaries from doing business with Cuba as well as prohibiting ships who dock on the island from touching U.S. shores for six months. Its passage meant that U.S. businesses would lose $750 million annually in trade to foreign competitors. Hopelessly waterlogged in the Congress for more than a year, Clinton's support of the Bill forced George Bush's hand and he was cornered into backing it.)
Clinton's pandering paid off. When he left Victor's Cafe, he had nearly $300,000 worth of Cuban exile money in his pocket. Within a month, he received another $100,000 from other business pals of Mas. Soon the figure from Florida would climb to well over $1 million making it the largest state contributor to the Clinton campaign. The great irony, of course, was that Clinton went on to lose Florida with the Cuban exile community of Dade County giving 82 percent of its vote to George Bush.
"Mas was born and bred by the CIA," says Gaeton Fonzi, the Miami based writer who has covered Cuban exile politics for two decades. "He's a master of psychological warfare. Bill Clinton didn't have a prayer." A Bay of Pigs veteran, Mas has never denied his close Agency ties and friendships with everyone from former covert operations chief Theodore Shackley, Bill Casey, to Felix Rodriguez, whom he proudly introduces to friends as "the guy who killed Che Guevara. "Indeed, Mas learned his propaganda skills from the best spooks in the business. "There are two Cubas because of Mas," continues Fonzi. "There's the real Cuba and there's the Cuba that Mas has created in the minds of the exiles. He's convinced many that there is a volatile, dissident community in Cuba that is about to overthrow the government. It's a myth he has sustained for years."
According to several moderate exile leaders, the sole beneficiary of the new Clinton policy is Mas Canosa. "The only chance for someone like Mas to come to power in Cuba," explains Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, "is a complete collapse of the country, a civil war, leading to a U.S. intervention to install Mas. It's the old 1950's school of CIA thinking about how to get rid of their guy and install our guy."Throughout the 1980s, Mas was a staunch supporter of Casey's covert actions in Latin America. Among his heroes is Orlando Bosch, described by Mas as "a good friend of mine" but identified by the New York Times as "one of the hemisphere's most notorious terrorists," who served 11 years in a Venezuelan prison for blowing up a civilian Cuban airplane killing all 73 passeng-ers on board. Then there are the famous Novo brothers-Guillermo and Ignacio - who were initially convicted (later overturned on technicalities) of the 1976 murder of Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier on Embassy Row. Mas successfully lobbied Bush to grant residency for Bosch and paid much of the legal tab for the Novos and then hired them at CANF. During Iran-Contra, Mas' name and five phone numbers (including his private home line) were found in Ollie North's notebook near a notation for $80,000.
Mas was born in Santiago de Cuba fifty five years ago, the son of an Army officer and veterinarian. He was among the first wave of Cubans - generally wealthy, white (often Batistianos) -who fled to Miami in 1960. Recently, he has amended his bio to suggest that he spoke out against the Batista dictatorship. Like many Cubans, Mas is remarkably enterprising and industrious. He began washing dishes and today is worth in excess of $100 million, although his business dealings have been as controversial and litigious as his politics. When he isn't globetrotting the world drumming up anti-Castro support or lobby-ing for contracts for his construction company, Mastec, he lives with his wife Irma behind electric gates in a massive shapeless home in Pinehurst, a suburb of Miami, replete with a teardrop swimming pool and huge satellite disk perched on its roof. Mas is powerful in the way Anastasia Somoza, the Nicaraguan strongman, was. People may nott like Mas but they fear him, which suits him fine. These days, he barely bristles when called a demagogue, a bully, a mobster, as he routinely is by Fidel Castro. Nevertheless, he is careful and buzzes around Miami in a bullet-and-bomb proof Mercedes 560 SEL with his trusty .357 magnum nearby and de-bugs his home twice a week.
In 1981, Mas was among three Cuban millionaires approached by the National Security Council to start an organization which would help popularize the Reagan Administration's covert actions in Latin America, according to one of the men, Raul Masvidal. And so was born the Cuban American National Foundation. Today CANF, from its glass offices overlooking the Potomac, is the most powerful lobby on the Hill. Claiming non-profit, tax-exempt status, CANF or "the Foundation" as it is called, has pulled off the stunning feat of securing millions of dollars from government grants, funneling the funds through its various umbrellas and PACs, like the Free Cuba Committee and then paying out much of to favored politicians and causes. Since 1981, more than $200 million of taxpayers' money, according to Fonzi, has ended up financing "Mas' unceasingly personal war against Fidel Castro."
Additionally, CANF receives as much as $5,000 to $50,000 in annual dues from Mas' tycoon friends who sit on CANF's Board of Directors and Trustees. Virtually every Florida politician has been enriched by hefty Mas-controlled contributions, most notably Ileana Rosa-Lehntinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Senator Connie Mack, Lawton Chiles, New Jersey's Robert Menendez, Senator Hollings of North Carolina, and of course, Robert Torricelli, all of whom are reliable pitbulls for CANF. Relationships with Mas can be costly. For Torricelli, it has made him persona non grata in much of Latin America, a drawback when one is chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. On his recent trip to Mexico,President Carlos Salinas and all the presidential candidates - as well as Subcomandante Marcos - snubbed invitations to meet Torricelli.
Among Mas' legislative coups is pushing both Radio and Television MartÍ through Congress, despite evidence that Voice of America was getting the job done on the radio without any help and that no one in Cuba is able to see Television MartÍ (the government successfully jams it). However, last week, Mas talked Clinton into increasing the $67 million of taxpayers' money spent on Television Marti. "The first reports to be aired will be the fall of the Berlin Wall," Mas reported after his meeting with Clinton, "We will show the Cuban people...how they can overthrow a government."
Additionally, Mas decides who gets to represent Cuba policy at the State Department. Last year, he nixed the nomination of the highly respected Mario Baeza for Assistant Secretary of Inter American Affairs, charging that Baeza was insufficiently anti-Castro. According to a source close to Baeza, Mas initially supported Baeza, in fact phoned him immediately and offered to send his jet to fly him to Miami to meet with Mas. When Baeza declined his invitation, saying he could only meet with constituents after he was confirmed, Mas launched a campaign against him. Although non-ideologue Alexander Watson got the job, Mas insisted that Richard Nuccio, Torricelli's capable aide, who steered his eponymousbill through Congress, was installed as Watson's senior adviser.
We will never forget our friends," warns Mas. "And we will always remember our enemies." Opponents of Mas' projects know they will pay come election time. Miami City Commissioner Joe Corollo was literally challenged to a gun duel by Mas after he vetoed one of Mas' real estate deals, a $130 million development in which he was partnered with then U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick according to papers filed with the city. Corollo lost his seat when Mas backed his opponent in the following election. Colorado's David Skaggs found out just how rough Miami hardball gets when he vetoed Radio Marti's funding during a tight budget year. CANF retaliated by targeting Skaggs and his hometown pet projects.
"One of our great successes," CANF spokesman Jose Cardenas tells me, "was getting rid of Lowell Weicker and getting Joe Lieberman instead. Joe's been great for us." He doesn't need to mention that Lieberman was Clinton's roommate at Yale and still has his friend's ear. Mas and CANF also decide who meets who in the Administration.The White House meeting included only exiles who endorse the CANF's hardline despite the fact that a poll conducted by The Economist in July found that four out of five Cuban Americans favor "negotiations with the Cuban government to facilitate peaceful change." A second meeting of Administration officials in Miami, overseen by Nuccio who now serves as the Miami liasion, invited seventy Cuban-Americans but again the guest list included only CANF approved invitees.
Excluded were some of the most prominent names in the diverse exile community such as Alfredo Duran of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, Lisandro Perez of the Cuban Research Institute, Eloy Guitterez Menoyo of Cambio Cuban, Maria Christina Herrera, Francisco Aruca, Ernesto Betancourt, Ramon Cernuda who represents Cuba's most famous and popular dissident Elizardo Sanchez, and on and on. Mas scoffs at the criticism, dismissing those excluded as "an insignificant minority who reflect the opinion of the Cuban government." Mas has also boasted that he frequently rewrites White House briefings on Cuba. "We got a call today to look over another one of their speeches," hetold a dissident in late August. "We made some changes and sent it back to them."
While CANF hammers away for free speech, dissent, freedom of the press and open elections in Cuba, its critics, including the human rights group, Americas Watch, charge that it has been in the front ranks of ensuring that such rights never come to pass in Miami. The three major Spanish-language radio stations are all dominated by CANF related associates and/or the politics of the extreme rights.. Collectively, they are the Big Brother of Miami, vigilantly monitoring and repudiating anyone who advocates any deviation from the one and only accept-able position-hostile confrontation with Cuba. "Denunciation over the airwaves as a 'traitor', a 'communist' or 'a Castro agent','' according to Americas Watch's report on human rights violations in Miami, "is often followed by a telephone threat, an act of vandalism or a physical assault." CANF spokesman Cardenas says he prefers to think of Miami radio more as "sort of a catharsis for Cubans."
In 1990, Francisco Aruca, who runs Marazul Charters which has been flying exiles back and forth to the Cuba since 1979 started Radio Progresso as an alternative to the the hardline anti-Castro stations that dominate South Florida radio. "We are the only station here in Miami that reads the news as it come over the teletype without any spin or editorializing," says Aruca, who also hosts a call-in talk show that encourages diversity and debate over solutions for the Cuban crisis. For such treason, Aruca has been blasted on the big three stations as "a spy of Castro's" and as a "Communist." Soon after, three Cubans broke into the station, vandalized it and beat up an employee. Twice Aruca's Marazul offices were bombed. "Initially we had many companies that signed up as spon-sors for our station," says Aruca, "but within three or four days they would call us and say they had received bomb threats, death threats against employees, and threatened product boycotts." Although his station has proven to be a success with listeners, Aruca has been forced to bankroll the station himself and to cut back from seven to three hours a day. "The Batistiano element here is very small in their numbers," Arucas opined, "but they control the media and the political machinery and now just about all business contracts handed out in Dade County."
Although the Miami Herald bravely claims that it calls its own shots, it has been through too many bruisers with Mas Canosa to ever be fully independent. In 1992, the Herald had the temerity to run an editorial opposing the Torricelli Bill. Although virtually every newspaper in the country had run a similar editorial, its airing in Mas' own backyard was unacceptable. Very quickly, the Herald experienced payback. Mas jumped on his soapbox via Miami radio and blasted the Herald and its Spanish language twin, El Nuevo Herald as "tools of the Fidel Castro regime" guilty of "conducting a continuous and systematic cam-paign against Cuban Americans," and urged that their top leader-ship resign their jobs. David Lawrence, the Herald's publisher ran a lengthy column defending their stance under the imploring headline, Please Mr. Mas, Be Fair. But to a pugilist like Mas, civility is the equivalent of weakness. CANF went in for the kill, blasting the Herald's advertisers with a letter writing campaign apprising them of the newspaper's "bias and half truths." The obligatory bomb and death threats poured in while Herald vending machines were smeared with excrement. In Little Havana, buses carried large display ads proclaiming, "YO NO CREO EL HERALD" while Anglo routes bore the English equivalent "I DON'T BELIEVE THE HERALD." At one point, according to the Herald, Mas threatened their top brass saying that "he had hired private detectives to investigate them and their children." Mas' behavior so violated accepted norms, that even hardliners like Elliot Abrams publicly chastised him and the Inter-American Press Association sent a delegation to investigate the harassment. Cynically, Mas attributed the more vile responses to "Castro agents" in Miami seeking to discredit the exiles. The campaign raged on for months until a truce was finally called at a Miami luncheon in which Mas humiliated Lawrence one last time-cruelly mocking the publisher's fluent but strained Spanish.
Last month, the Herald had another brush with Mas when it reprinted an interview with him from Spain's El PaÍs. Asked whether he thought Americans would take over Cuba after Castro's departure, Mas responded. "That's bullshit! They haven't even been able to take over Miami. If we have kicked them out of here, how could they possibly take over our own country?" When the predictable outcry blew through Florida, Mas frantically denied making the comments, despite the fact that both El PaÍs and the Herald had sent copies to him prior to publication to which he offered no changes. No matter. Mas charged on the offensive, taking out a full page ad in the Herald, headlined "Why so much hate, Mr. Lawrence, accusing it of "racism and bigotry," "McCarthyism," and conducting "a witchhunt." Among the avalanche of letters to the Herald, one written by Emily Cardenas, was remarkable for the fact that she signed her real name: "As a former news producer at Channel 51, I can tell you that Mr. Mas and others have created an undercurrent of fear and intimidation...that few admit or care to discuss. Journalists who cover exile politics know the 'witch hunts' well and are careful to cover their backs...Why? Fear of being blacklisted by the CANF, fear of having their journalistic integrity debated on Spanish language radio talk shows, fear of being branded a Communist and fear of losing their jobs or having their careers ruined entirely."
"I am Captain Dreyfus," Bernardo Benes is fond of telling people. "I was the number one activist of this community before it happened. I was the good Jorge Mas Canosa," the hyperactive Benes informs me over a noisy lunch at La Malaga on Calle Ocho. "It" refers to Benes' near fatal brush with his fellow exiles. Benes, who had fled Cuba in 1960 had become the most prominent Cuban banker in Miami. But in 1975, during a family vacation to Panama, Benes was approached by two high ranking Cuban officials. (Curiously, one of them was the late Tony de La Guardia, who would be executed by Castro twelve years later for alleged drug smuggling.) The idea was to start a "dialogo," to discuss the release of Cuban political prisoners and the possibility of visitation rights for relatives. In late 1978, 75 exiles trav-eled to Havana for two conferences. In the end, 3600 political prisoners were released from Cuban jails and to date South Florida exiles have made 600,000 visits to their relatives and homeland.
But Benes paid a huge price for his statesmanship. Miami's three radio stations trashed him around the clock, denouncing him as a "traitor," and a "communist." His bank was bombed, then picketed for three straight weeks. For a year he wore a bulletproof vest. Friends and even relatives were frightened of being seen with him, and his children were shunned by others for fear of reprisals. Within the year, two conference participant were murdered - one assassinated in Puerto Rico in 1979, another blown away in New Jersey. There were other failed attempts, in addition to the bombing of El Diario-La Prensa for running an editorial endorsing exile visits. I asked Benes if Jorge Mas Canosa had been involved. Benes smiles. "I ran into him once and he growled at me," says Benes, "but all his friends were involved. That's for sure. You see, no one is interested in free speech in Dade County- only in Havana."In his pitched desperate lunge for power, Mas, through the clout of CANF and Miami's radio terrorism, has marginalized dozens of exiles, many with impeccable anti-Castro credentials. However, his most insistent attacks have been reserved for Elizardo Sanchez, Cuba's pre-eminent dissident and president of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Never mind that the highly respected Sanchez has spent eight of the past 12 years in Cuban prisons, much of it in solitary confinement, and has been cited by Amnesty International as one of the primary targets of political repression. Sanchez is routinely dismissed by Mas as a "Castro's puppet," for the simple reason that Mas sees him as his premier rival in a post-Castro Cuba. For this reason, Sanchez is targeted not only on Miami's Big Three but also on Radio Marti and La Voz de la Fundacion, CANF's private station, which promotes Mas ceaselessly, often as "el numero uno," while vilifying Sanchez. "We are very wor-ried about these attacks because we have no way to respond," Sanchez said recently.
Ramón Cernuda, who represents Sanchez's group in Miami, has been equally harassed.
In 1989, Cernuda, a successful publisher and art dealer, saw his home invaded by armed Customs agents who seized his collection of Cuban art. Unable to restrain himself, Mas boasted on Miami radio that it was he who had urged his friend U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen (husband of Ileana who was then being backed by Mas in her run for Congress) to make the bust. The case was tossed out of court by a judge who chastised the prosecution as "arbitrary and capricious." Subsequently, Cernuda has been targeted for exhaustive and expensive investi-gations by Immigration. Also, the Florida Labor Department and the IRS - none of which resulted in any charges. Likewise The Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture, of which Cernuda was vice president, was threatened with eviction by the Miami City Commission because it showed the work of some artists who have not denounced Fidel Castro sufficiently. Although the Commission was harshly criti-cized by a judge who blocked the eviction, the museum lost $150,000 of state funding and was bombed and picketed.
Most ominously, a police officer investigating one of the museum bombings told Cernuda he wanted to speak with Lino Sanchez, Elizardo's brother. When Lino arrived to meet with the officer, he was seized by D.E.A. agents and arrested on drug and murder charges. Before the police admitted that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Cernuda is hardly the only rival dissident to incur Mas's vengeance. Menoyo spent twenty-two years in prison after leading an insurrection against Castro. In response to international; pressure, he was released in 1986. Soon after his arrival in Miami, however, Menoyo renounced the covert operations of his brainchild, the anti-Castro terrorist group Alpha 66, and founded Cambio Cubano. "If it were up to Mas Canosa, I would still be in jail," the 59-year-old Menoyo tells me in the living room of his modest Miami home. Unlike most Cubans of his generation, Mas never supported the Cuban Revolution. Menoyo, on the other hand, comes from a family of revolu8tionaries. One brother was killed by general Francisco's forces in Spain and another was killed while trying to storm Batista's presidential palace in Havana. Menoyo himself played a key role in the military success of the Cuban Revolution as the leader of the 2nd Front in Escambray. For a time, he moved in the heady pantheon of Cuban gods along with Fidel, Che, Camillo. But he was the first to break away, he says, "when Fidel betrayed the revolution." "Menoyo was a war hero," goes the saying among the Cuba watchers. Though Mas signed up for the Bay of Pigs invasion, he was on a boat that never came ashore.
The rail-thin, silver haired Menoyo has yet to learn English and speaks the softest of Spanish with the madrileno accent of his childhood. He is possibly the only participant in the hi-octane machista world of exile politics who resists name-calling and personal attacks, despite regular radio assaults on him calling him and his supporters "communists," "traitors" and "homosexuals."
Last week, Menoyo, along with Alfredo Duran and Ramon Cernuda, met with Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina at talks in Madrid, precipating more death threats from right wing fanatics. "I guess I've had twenty maybe thirty death threats," Menoyo says casually. I ask him if he's afraid. "No," he says, between puffs of an ever present cigarette. "I was afraid when I was a child in Spain, afraid of being hungry. And I was afraid when I was in prison in Cuba. Afraid that I would die there.
With the local media under the ever watchful eye of the Miami thought police, Cambio Cubano and other exile groupsare rarely given access. One talk show host said that her interviews with Eloy Menoyo and moderates cost her job. "I was told that several CANF directors called the station and demanded that I be fired," she says. "They said that I was a homosexual and a communist. I told my boss, 'I thought this was a free country.'"
In fact, Mas has been quite clear about his vision for Cuba in an interview with the Herald, "speculating that the most likely post-Castro government (would be ) a military junta." Some moderates claim that Mas already runs Miami in a similar fashion. Earlier this year, Radio Mambi, the most popular of the Spanish language stations in Miami, conducted a show on "what to do with the left-over communists" once the new government is installed in Cuba. "Burn them alive," said one caller while another suggested that they "open the incinerators and throw them all in - men, women and children." Radio Mambi's host and director, Armando Perez-Roura, thanked the callers for their comments.
Lee Tucker, coordinator of Americas Watch's most recent report on Miami, finds the silence and refusal to prosecute harassment alarming, "No one at the local, state or federal level has spoken out against the violence or threats against [ the exile community's] moderates," she says. "There is no public defense of the right to free speech or the right to dissent." In May, Bill Clinton singled Mas out for praise, citing his "commitment to the cause of a free and democratic Cuba.
Little annoys Mas more than when his critics point to similarities between himself and his nemesis, Fidel Castro, citing ruthlessness and intolerance as shared characteristics. Although he scoffs at such comparisons, the archives of the Dade County courthouse, a repository of the detritus of Mas' life, prove otherwise. There one finds lawsuits filed against Mas covering many segments of his life. Even his own brother, in a riveting Cain and Abel drama, has sued him twice. In 1985, Ricardo Mas, once an employee of his older brother, filed suit against Mas charging that he had beat him up and then stolen his 1983 Oldsmobile. The case was resolved when Mas agreed to pay his sibling $245,000 in an out-of-court settlement. In October, 1990, Mas was back in court accused of libeling and depriving Ricardo of contracting work with Southern Bell by writing two letters accusing him of extortion and fraud. Ricardo also alleged that Mas had bribed and cheated his way to the top, in his takeover of Church and Towers, the primary contracting company for Southern Bell in Florida. In fact, Metro Dade has done $100 million of business with Mas' company. (During the trial, Ricardo's lawyer charged that rocks had been thrown at his office windows.) Mas was found guilty and ordered to pay $1.2 million to his brother.
Mas' dealings in his political and business life have been no less litigious. In order to give Radio Marti the legitimacy he had promised his congressional supporters, Mas recruited a well respected Cuban named Ernesto Betancourt to supervise the operation. But when it became clear that Betancourt was serious about presenting non-partisan news and information instead of promoting Mas as the next political messiah, Mas was enraged. And when Betancourt argued against starting up Television MartÍ, Mas gave him little recourse but to resign. Conservative columnist Georgie Anne Geyer described Betancourt's firing as "a raw battle for power," and accused Mas of using Radio and Television Marti "to advance Mas' ambitions to be president of a post-Castro Cuba." She warned that "we taxpayers are...paying for the illusions of glory of deluded men. We may also be paying for something far more dangerous things, such as an all out confrontation with Fidel Castro...The U.S. has basically formulated no policy of its own toward Cuba because of fear of Foundation tactics."
In 1985, CANF's co-founder, Raul Masvidal, a prominent Miami banker, was also tossed overboard by Mas. "When I protested that we were getting involved too much in issues that were not related to Cuba," says Masvidal, "Jorge immediately called me a traitor and every name in the book." Another casualty was Frank Calzón, CANF's first executive director, who was credited for the organization's early successes. Calzón didn't want to be spending his time in White House intelligence briefings on Latin America as Mas insisted that he do. He resigned, he was confronted by an innuendo campaign about his private life. Jose Luis Rodriguez, a former CANF vice president who also resigned in 1987, says he was asked to disseminate rumors about Calzón. "They wanted to spread rumors that the guy was gay, that the guy was no good, and this and that. I wouldn't go for that," Rodriguez said in a deposition filed when he sued the top leadership of the Foundation, charging that they cheated him out of several business deals in retribution for his resignation. Rodriguez also charged that Mas used CANF for his personal aggrandizement, linking his contracting business to his lobbying efforts.
In April, Mas re-emerged to excoriate Cuban exile participants in the first exile conference held in Havana since the Benes' Dialogo. More than 150 exiles representing more than a dozen exile groups showed up for the four day conference despite a virtual 24 hour radio blitz condemning then as "traitors" and "communists." Almost as soon as their plane left, La Voz de la Foundación, CANF's radio station, announced unconfirmed reports that Fidel Castro had died. The ballistically- powered rumor swept through Miami, brilliantly sideswiping attention away from the Havana Conference. Just as the rumor peaked, Mas took to the airwaves. In what initially sounded like a Spanish language parody of Alexander Haig, Mas appealed for calm and assured the Cuban people that CANF had everything under control - and that he was in touch with senior leaders in Cuba. The next day Fidel Castro let it be known that he was alive.
Although Mas has responded like Teflon, he appears to have incurred serious damage when word leaked that Mas' company, Church & Tower, was about to set up shop in China. According to his 30 year old son Jorge Mas Jr., the company had already initialed letters of intent to take sixty percent control of a major Chinese conglomerate in addition to investing $100 million in another company. After decades of attacking any company who did business with Communist Cuba, Mas saw no apparent contradiction. In fact, Mas Jr. told reporters that the two countries were "totally different," suggesting it is okay to be a successful communist country but treasonous to be an unsuccessful one. As word spread, Mas took to the airwaves seeking damage control. He denied the report, calling it "distorted," insisting that "we do not negotiate with communists." He had no explanation for the initialed contracts nor what his son was doing in Beijing with Chinese businessmen. A third party involved in the negotiations, called the Herald story "100 percent accurate."
However, Mas has found an indulgent patron in Bill Clinton, the new policy being only his latest hat trick "I think the policy is disastrous," moans Liz Balmaseda, a Pulitzer prize winning writer for the Miami Herald. "The visits between family members from here to Cuba have been the only successful dialogue we have had. It was crucial and was the only way we had to prepare for a post-Castro Cuba. People are very unhappy about it. What's most disturbing is Mas' boast that he speaks for the majority when he doesn't." Lisandro Perez of The Cuban Research Institute adds that the majority of the exiles support both the visits and being able to send remittances to their relatives. Not a few noted that only the wealthy CANF crowd would be unaffected by the new restrictions, as they long ago brought over their relatives.I ask Benes about a local poll which indicates that the majority of Miami exiles support the embargo. "You can't trust polls here," he says. "People are very fearful and they say only what they think the caller wants to hear. Miami is like Guatemala," he said somewhat hyperbolically. "We are talking about uncontrollable fear. Everyone knows it's dangerous to speak out." Aruca agrees. "When you do telephone polls in a place like Miami, all people are thinking about is how did you get my name and number."
On September 4th, the Little Havana office of Replica, a Spanish language entertainment magazine, published since 1967, was bombed. Replica's editor is Max Lesnik, a well known Cuban exile, who has advocated dialogue with Cuba and fighting the Embargo. It is the sixth time Lesnik has been bombed. Metro-Dade Commissioner Pedro Reboredo, a CANF supporter, tried to deflect responsibility from the obvious culprits saying, "it could be anybody on any side trying to promote chaos," and asked that the incident "not be blown out of proportion." The Herald, seemed to oblige and ran the item on page fourteen.
Not surprisingly, the three major Spanish language radio stations fell into goose step and embraced the Mas-Clinton plan. "These are the same people who have been calling Clinton a `drug addict,' a 'whoremonger,' and a 'draft dodger communist,'" says Katie De La Milera, a Cambio Cubano supporter. "They even used to say that Hillary had gone to Cuba illegally with one of those Anglo sugar cane cutting brigades." However, for the exiles who support the policy, it is merely the first step. Miami Congress-woman Ileana Ros-Lehntinen, whose campaign was backed by CANF, went on TV and said it was time to consider invading Cuba. Her colleague, another Mas-supported congressman, Lincoln Diaz-Belart, whose father had been president of the Cuban Senate under Batista and whose aunt had been married to Fidel Castro before the Revolution, demanded a naval blockade, at the very least. Mas assured the faithful that Clinton had promised him that "the naval blockade is still on the table."
What confuses some in Miami about Clinton's pact with Mas is that the numbers don't seem to add up. Should every Cuban exile in the state of Florida vote for Bill Clinton in 1996, they still make up less than five percent of the vote. At the same time, Clinton has alienated the traditional mainstays of the Democratic Party- mainstream, moderate Cubans, blacks who have denounced his Cuba policy as racist and insulting to Haitians, and middle-class Florida Anglos who areangry over what they see as another Cuban privilege. "I was one of the 18 percent of the Cuban vote that went to Clinton," says Herrera. "It was only moderate Cubans like me who supported him. Now I will never vote for him again. And the hardline right will always vote Republican. So who will vote for him?" But it is one thing to flip-flop on China and on Bosnia, and quite another to start backpedaling with Mas Canosa. Exile politics aren't called "the third rail" for nothing "We know that Clinton is a political animal," CANF spokesman, Cardenas, says, choosing his words carefully. "But we don't see any upside for him if he reverses this course." In other words, Clinton has made his deal and now he - and the country - will have to live with it.
Ann Louise Bardach is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair.
10/14/96 Editor's Note
Correction: On October 3, 1994, THE NEW REPUBLIC published a two-part cover story dealing with Cuba. The second of those articles appeared under the cover page title of "Clinton's Miami Mobster" and was about Cuban exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa. The use of the word "mobster" was the sole responsibility of The New Republic and not the author. The New Republic did not intend to imply that Mr. Mas was been involved in, criminal activity of any kind, nor was its use of the word based on any evidence of criminal activity on Mr. Mas' part. Nothing in the article by Ann Louise Bardach stated or should be interpreted as stating or suggesting that Mr. Mas was involved in criminal activity. THE NEW REPUBLIC regrets any injury or embarrassment that may have been caused to Mr. Mas or his family.
Although we regret our wording of the title, which was chosen without the participation of the author, Ann Louise Bardach, THE NEW REPUBLIC stands fully behind the article itself. Nothing in the thought-provoking article, which addresses the America's Cuba policy and the political influence of elements of the Cuban exile community in Miami, requires clarification, correction or apology as nothing in it has been proven false or libelous. Ms. Bardach, who is a Contributing Editor of Vanity Fair and winner of the 1995 PEN Award for Journalism, will be dismissed from the lawsuit independent of THE NEW REPUBLIC'S settlement.