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Miami’s Cuban Americans May Get The Last Word

by Peter Dale Scott

The Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion will­ing­ness to defy Miami’s Cuban-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty in the case of Elian Gon­za­les was wide­ly seen as a sign that the com­mu­ni­ty had lost its polit­i­cal mus­cle. But the deci­sion to stop recount­ing votes in Mia­mi-Dade sug­gests that it’s the Cuban Amer­i­cans who are get­ting the last word. PNS cor­re­spon­dent Peter Dale Scott is author of Deep Pol­i­tics and the Death of JFK and co-author of Cocaine Pol­i­tics. Scot­t’s web­site is http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~pdscott.

The Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion’s hard-nosed action in return­ing six-year-old Elian Gon­za­les to his fam­i­ly in Cuba was wide­ly inter­pret­ed as a sign that Miami’s Cuban Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty was los­ing its polit­i­cal clout.

But in fact bit­ter­ness over that action may have cost Al Gore the pres­i­den­cy — even though he broke with the admin­is­tra­tion over the deci­sion to let Elian return home.

The Mia­mi-Dade refusal to recount votes can cer­tain­ly be seen as one more blow in the fight over Elian that sup­pos­ed­ly end­ed last spring.

Mia­mi May­or Alex Penelas led the Cuban Amer­i­can revolt against the Jus­tice Depart­ment last spring. Elec­tions super­vi­sor David Leahy of the Mia­mi-Dade Can­vass­ing Board, who vot­ed to stop the recount, works for Mr. Penelas.

The Can­vass­ing Board­’s two oth­er mem­bers, Lawrence King and Myr­i­am Lehr, who joined in the vote, are both elect­ed coun­ty judges who must be sen­si­tive to the opin­ions of their Cuban Amer­i­can elec­torate.

Both judges relied on Arman­do Gutier­rez, a polit­i­cal con­sul­tant. Gutier­rez, who was hired to run Judge King’s cam­paign, became noto­ri­ous as the pro bono spokesman for the Mia­mi fam­i­ly of Elian Gon­za­les. (As a result, King’s father — fed­er­al judge James L. King — recused him­self from hear­ing the Elian Gon­za­les case.)

Gore cam­paign offi­cials claim Penelas had promised, in a tele­phone call, to issue a state­ment call­ing for the recount to resume. Instead Mr. Penelas’ state­ment said only that he could not affect the board­’s deci­sions.

Key Democ­rats now sug­gest the may­or dou­ble-crossed them. In the wake of rumors and accu­sa­tions about the recount deci­sion, the may­or released his phone records to show that he has recent­ly made fre­quent calls to both key Democ­rats and key Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton.

Before the Elian fias­co, Penelas had been pro­posed as a lead­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger for Flori­da gov­er­nor, even as a pos­si­ble run­ning mate for Gore. Now one of the may­or’s asso­ciates has said that Penelas is think­ing seri­ous­ly of run­ning for Con­gress as a Repub­li­can.

Penelas has denied influ­enc­ing the Can­vass­ing Board as well as pub­lished reports that he is about to become a Repub­li­can. But his actions sug­gest he is unwill­ing to dis­tance him­self from mil­i­tant Cuban orga­niz­ers.

The crowds that men­aced the Can­vass­ing Board and roughed up a Demo­c­ra­t­ic offi­cial had been sum­moned by Radio Mam­bi, one of Miami’s most stri­dent­ly anti-com­mu­nist Cuban radio sta­tions. Radio Mam­bi played a sim­i­lar role mus­ter­ing the crowds who attempt­ed to pre­vent Elian Gon­za­les from being reunit­ed with his father.

Two promi­nent fig­ures in the tumul­tuous crowd call­ing for a stop to the count­ing were Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress, Lin­coln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehti­nen. Both also sup­port­ed last spring’s bois­ter­ous protests over Elian.

Beyond the moves of indi­vid­u­als with respect to Elian and the recount is the cul­ture of intrigue and vio­lence that marks one seg­ment of Miami’s Cuban com­mu­ni­ty. This can be traced back to the days when so many Cuban exile lead­ers in Flori­da (includ­ing Diaz-Balart’s father) were involved in anti-Cas­tro ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties for the CIA.

Until his death in 1997, a main fun­der of such vio­lence was CIA vet­er­an Jorge Mas Canosa, founder and head of the polit­i­cal­ly influ­en­tial Cuban Amer­i­can Nation­al Foun­da­tion, which runs Radio Mam­bi.

Before CANF, Mas Canosa had been involved in a ter­ror­ist plot to blow up a Cuban ship in the Mex­i­can port of Ver­acruz. In 1985 Mas Canosa helped his ally in that plot, Luis Posa­da, escape from a Venezue­lan prison, and relo­cate in El Sal­vador as part of a Con­tra sup­ply oper­a­tion direct­ed by Oliv­er North and then Vice-Pres­i­dent George Bush. (Sev­en years lat­er, at a $1,000-a-plate fund-rais­ing din­ner, Pres­i­dent Bush said, “I salute Jorge Mas.”)

Since then Posa­da has been indict­ed or detained a num­ber of times for a series of bomb­ings and attacks on Cas­tro’s life, which he once said were financed by CANF offi­cials. He was detained again on Novem­ber 19 of this year in Pana­ma, alleged­ly for plot­ting to kill Cas­tro dur­ing a vis­it there.

When Elian Gon­za­les was returned to Cuba, The Los Ange­les Times wrote that those who fought “the cru­sade to keep Elian in Mia­mi have lost big, both polit­i­cal­ly and finan­cial­ly. Now, the road has been swept clear for oth­er, more mod­er­ate groups to speak for Cuban exiles.”

Oth­ers pre­dict­ed, how­ev­er, that the real los­er would be Al Gore. They thought Gore’s break with the Admin­is­tra­tion on the issue would not influ­ence Repub­li­can Cuban vot­ers, but could well dimin­ish his pop­u­lar­i­ty with the main­stream.

Which of these schools of thought will be proven more cor­rect depends, in part, on the out­come of the fight for the White House. But Miami’s Cuban Amer­i­can exiles are far from a spent force.


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