Cuban exiles express anger to Cardinal

Click to follow
The Independent Online

in Miami

A year in one of Fidel Castro's forced labour camps in the Sixties did not shake the faith of a priest called Jaime Ortega, now Archbishop of Havana and Cuba's only Cardinal. But it perhaps taught him that discretion is the better part of valour.

"No politics, no personal attack questions, please," he urged reporters here during the first visit to the US by a Cuban church leader since Mr Castro's 1959 revolution. He meant, of course, no personal attacks on the Cuban leader.

It was a tall order, particularly for virulently anti-Castro Cuban-American journalists who wanted to know why the Catholic Church was not more outspoken against the Communist leader. But the jovial 58-year-old Cardinal fielded questions well. "The church is not the opposition party," he said.

Cardinal Ortega's visit, in which he preached reconciliation between Cubans at home and in exile, was a huge event for the one million exiled Cubans who live in the Miami area. They gave him the warmest of welcomes but were divided over what to make of the visit.

After he called, at a Mass, for "turning the other cheek, Cuba is in need of a brotherly hug," an anti-Castro activist, Gladys Perez, said: "We can't turn the other cheek to a dictator and assassin like Castro." Others shouted "Viva Cuba Libre" (Long live a free Cuba) as the Cardinal left the Mass.

As always, there was suspicion over the Cuban President's motive in allowing the Cardinal to visit the US. Was Mr Castro simply seeing the way the wind was blowing - as Communism falters, church attendance is rising fast in Cuba - or was he trying to manipulate Catholics for the sake of his own survival?

The visit came at a time of disillusionment, anger and protest here over President Bill Clinton's policy switch ordering all Cuban balseros (boat people) picked up by the Coast Guard to be returned to the island.

Many Cuban-Americans complain that they were kept in the dark over what they call a "secret" Clinton-Castro deal. There have been massive anti- Clinton protests in Miami, which have angered non-Cubans. Anti-Cuban- American slogans have been painted, and countless letters to newspapers have expressed the sentiment: "If you want rid of Castro, what are you doing here?''

When two Cuban exiles went on a hunger strike outside the Miami Herald newspaper building, half a dozen non-Hispanic men quickly staged a counter- protest, gobbling down spare ribs within aroma-wafting distance of the fasters. Some Cubans who fled during or just after the revolution said the latest anti-Cuban sentiment reminded them of their early days here.

Most of the protests were organised by Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of an exile group called the Cuban National Commission, who says he is trying to encourage civic unrest on the island to undermine the Communist leader. He believes the best bet is a Polish-style Solidarity movement.

Mr Sanchez's policies run counter to those of the best-known exile leader, Jorge Mas Canosa of the Cuban American National Foundation, who favours the violent overthrow of Mr Castro, with US help.

At stake is the island's post-Castro course. While Mr Mas Canosa publicly denies seeing himself as future Cuban President, he clearly assumes he and his group would play a major role. Mr Sanchez believes the Cubans who stayed, and suffered, should be left to decide their future. That goes down well on the island, where many fear Mr Castro's fall might be followed by an equally repugnant dictatorship - wealthy exiles from Miami.