By Marcelo Fernandez-Zayas



July 28, 2001


As this source mentioned in an earlier issue, there are signs that some in Cuba are thinking about the future of the country after the passing of Fidel Castro. There are few guidelines for what might happen to an authoritarian Communist society in transition to some form of government that could survive and prosper in today's interconnected world. However, the examples of Russia and former Soviet client states might provide viable guidelines for a path to the future.

A feature of Russia's recent history is the rise to prominence of young leaders and the gradual retirement of politicians, bureaucrats and managers of the old guard. With that in mind, it is perhaps useful to look at the lives and attitudes of Cuban exiles overseas, as well as their organizations, to see if changes might be expected before and during a transition in Cuba itself.

The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) is the largest and most influential anti-Castro organization in the United States. The Foundation's influence and power are much greater than would be suggested by the size of its membership. It brings together, under its anti-Castro umbrella, exiled Cuban millionaires and ordinary Cuban-American individuals, including retirees, in Miami and other cities where there is a significant Cuban emigre community.

Cuban exile Jorge Más Canosa organized the Foundation in the early 1980's during President Ronald Reagan's first term. Más Canosa, a politically savvy Bay of Pigs veteran, mobilized Cuban will, Cuban money and a widespread desire to return some day to a motherland free of Castro. In a few years, the Foundation, as it is known by its admirers and detractors, soon became a symbol of the organizational skills, the political savvy and electoral power of the Cuban exile community.

Más Canosa built an organization of Cuban Americans who knew how to contribute million of dollars and generate massive community turnout at elections - from local to national. The Foundation, although basically conservative, has also spread its money and political influence among members of the liberal establishment, to include nationally prominent figures such as Senators Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), Bob Graham (D-Fl) and Joe Lieberman (D-CN).

Liberal editors, who often seem to relish trashing Cuban exiles, measure every word with care when mentioning the Foundation. The Foundation's attorneys and lobbyists will immediately jump for the jugular of those that dare to utter the wrong words. The New York Times and the Miami Herald can testify to this effect. On the other hand, Foundation members will go to the mat to defend their friends in any election, contributing money, votes and campaign volunteers.Without the votes of the Cubans in Florida, President George W. Bush would not be in the White House today.

Más Canosa died in 1997 at 58, leaving his vast business empire and the Foundation under the watch of his son Jorge (Jorgito, or little George). Jorge Más Santos, the younger, 37, was born in the US. In addition to his formal schooling, he received practical training from businessmen, politicians and American entrepreneurs - friends and associates of his father. He is bilingual, bi-cultural and inherited from his parents an intense love for the island home he has never visited.

Over the years, Fidel Castro blamed the Foundation for everything he disliked. It seemed not to matter what the issue was, from a poor sugar crop to a vote on Capitol Hill. Whether he knew it or not, Castro was one of the most effective lobbyists for the Foundation in Miami and Washington - and not even on the payroll. If the Foundation was an effective power in politics, Castro has made it a super-power. Reading Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, you would get the impression that the White House and the Republican Party started each day with a call to Más Santos to ask: What is the order of the day, sir?

In spite of Castro's continuing propaganda, Más Santos, the younger, is not very well known among Cuban exiles. They cannot pick him out from a group photo, and most refer to him simply as Jorgito. However, on the eve of the annual meeting of the Foundation in Puerto Rico last weekend, the Más Canosa family heir took a step to indicate that he wants to prove himself a leader in his own right and that he may have some ideas of his own for the Foundation.

On July 20, the spokesperson of the Foundation and one of the better-known figures of the Cuban exile community, Ninoska Pérez Castellón, resigned from the Foundation along with her husband Roberto Martín Pérez, another Foundation veteran. Mr. and Mrs. Pérez reportedly resigned due to their unhappiness with the way Más Santos was running the organization. These resignations may be the tip of an institutional iceberg, since it is known that some veteran Foundation directors have not been in agreement with Más Santos on all issues.

Was this fight between Ninoska Pérez and Más Santos an encounter of equals? It is hard to tell. People close to Más Santos dismiss this incident as an insignificant event that will disappear from the mind of the public in a few days. Others claim that the Foundation will be generous with the departed employees. If you listen to some of the friends of Ninoska and Roberto, the couple's departure will signal the beginning of the downfall of the heir to the throne, who they claim has been untested in battle.

It is true that the only claim of Más Santos to the chairmanship of the organization is his family name and fortune. But on the other hand, people who know him, assure me that he is an intelligent leader who knows how to bide his time and when to play his cards. It seems that Jorgito will shed the diminutive of his name if he can pull off a sophisticated move that he has been working on with Washington for some time: The indictment of Fidel and Raúl Castro for the murder of the pilots of Brothers to the Rescue in February 1996.

It has been proven in court that the Cuban Government conspired with its spies in Miami for the premeditated downing of the planes. The Clinton Administration did not want to touch the issue, but the Bush Administration, backed by a conviction and sentencing of the Cuban spies, could properly act in the case. The announcement of an indictment of the Cuban leadership would change the Cuba-US relationship for the worse.

On the international front, President Bush would send a strong signal to Cuba and other rogue states that the life of American citizens is very dear indeed. At the same time, this move would galvanize the Cuban community in Florida behind the reelection efforts of Governor Jeb Bush.

It is too early to know if all this will take place. But if it were to happen, the name of Jorge Más Santos would be familiar to all Cubans in the world. Nevertheless, Más Santos is facing a time of testing to determine if is just an heir to his father or an effective politician with his own ideas and style. Has he come of age? Is he a real leader on his own? In a few weeks, we should have some ideas about the answers, and perhaps an indication of the future direction of the Foundation. What happened to the pilot José Basulto and to the Brothers to the Rescue? They remain as the unsung heroes of this drama.

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Marcelo Fernández-Zayas

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