May 17, 2002

Cuba News / Yahoo!

The Miami Herald, May 17, 2002.

27 Cubans reach Key Largo in possible smuggling venture

KEY LARGO, Fla. - (AP) -- Twenty-seven Cubans arrived here by fishing boat Thursday in an apparent smuggling operation.

The group included 17 men, five women and five girls under the age of 16, the U.S. Border Patrol reported.

The Cubans were picked up by the Coast Guard. Although one child was covered in mosquito bites from the journey, all were reported to be in good condition.

Coast Guard spokesman Gene Smith said the group had abandoned the vessel and were making their way toward the beach. "They were found in waist-high water, standing by the mangroves.''

Border Patrol supervisor Carlos Roches said the Cubans arrived in a white twin-engine, open-bow fishing boat. They reportedly departed from Santa Clara, Cuba, on Tuesday.

The refugees told the Coast Guard they paid 20,000 Cuban pesos, approximately $1,000, for the journey. Roches said an investigation into their claim was under way.

''We believe it was a smuggling venture,'' he said, but could not provide more specific detail.

Roches said some of the children were accompanied by at least one parent. He could not confirm whether any of the refugees had relatives in Florida.

The Cubans were being processed late Thursday at Krome Detention Center, an Immigration and Naturalization Service facility near Miami.

The federal government's ''wet-foot, dry-foot'' policy generally lets Cubans who reach U.S. soil stay but repatriates those picked up at sea.

Carter boosts dissidents, but change not expected

By Nancy San Martin. Nsanmartin@Herald.Com

Opponents of Cuban President Fidel Castro's government described a private meeting with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter Thursday as an encouraging exchange of ideas and said he had promised to remain involved in their effort to promote democratic reform in Cuba.

But as the most prominent American in more than four decades to have direct access to the Cuban population and issue the boldest public criticism of Castro's government prepares to return to Atlanta today, many expressed doubts that change will be forthcoming immediately.

''Carter's presence here, at least for a little while, provided us with a political opening, an opportunity to build a foundation of solidarity and reach out to the population,'' Héctor Palacios, one of 23 dissidents who met with Carter on Thursday, said in a phone interview.

''But what happens from now on really doesn't give us a lot of optimism,'' he added. "The government doesn't have a history of fulfilling the will of the people.''

Still, most remained hopeful that Carter would somehow remain involved.

Carter promised dissidents he would submit a report on his five-day visit to the Bush administration and Congress, said Elizardo Sánchez, president the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

The report will reportedly focus on the need for the longtime feuding governments to find a way to work together and ''once and for all bring an end to their private cold war,'' Sánchez said.

During two separate sessions that lasted more than three hours, Carter emphasized the need for Cuba to establish closer relations with the United States and other neighboring democratic nations, participants said.

He also cited the citizens' initiative known as the Varela Project as a good example of how to bring about democratic reform. The project seeks a national referendum on rights including free speech, free assembly and the ability to open a private business.

The first to arrive for the meetings, held in the house of a U.N. official, was Vladimiro Roca, 59, who was freed from prison May 5 after serving nearly five years on charges of sedition.

Roca said Carter asked participants for their input about how to propel the human rights movement in Cuba.

''We told him that the best help he could give us was to stay on top of what is going on in Cuba, not to abandon us,'' said Roca, who was contacted by telephone. "He said he would stay in touch and try to broaden the relationship with Cuba. . . . He said he will try to return.''

A ''who's who'' of other current Cuban dissidents rolled up in vans, passing a scattering of U.S. Secret Service agents and plainclothes Cuban security men, as well as scores of reporters who waited outside during the private meetings.

Some who had traveled from faraway provinces complained about being left out of the meetings, but those present said there was not enough room in the house to accommodate everyone.

''To have a reunion with all of the opposition, you have to get a big stadium because we are too many,'' said Palacios, of the Democratic Solidarity Party. "It's not just two or three of us anymore.''

Government opponents include free-market advocates, unhappy socialists, human rights and religious activists, independent journalists, former prisoners of conscience and heads of political parties unrecognized by Cuba's one-party government.

During his trip, Carter has given Cuban dissidents unprecedented domestic publicity.

He used a nationally broadcast speech Tuesday night to promote the Varela Project, suggesting that the world ''would look on with admiration'' if Cuban leaders had the courage to hold a debate and vote on the initiative in their Communist Party state.

Also on Thursday, the government-controlled newspaper Granma published the full text of Carter's speech, which also was critical of U.S. policy toward Cuba and called for a lifting of the 41-year-old economic embargo.

But despite the unprecedented breakthroughs, it appears unlikely dissidents will make little, if any, headway with a government that considers them to be ''counter-revolutionaries'' propped up by the United States.

Justice Minister Roberto Díaz Sotolongo told reporters in Havana on Thursday that the United States has invested $10 million to finance dissidents in Cuba since 1996, "and this year, 2002, they have planned $5 million.''

Díaz, who did not explain how he came up with the figures, also said that backers of the Varela petition "represent only 0.01 percent of the population.''

Nonetheless, he offered the petition drive as "proof of how democratic our system is.''

In Madrid, Cuba's Vice President Carlos Lage said in a radio interview that the Varela Project "has no legal validity.''

Herald intern Larissa Ruiz Campo contributed to this report, supplemented with Herald wire services.

'Love of country': Cuba's centennial

By Tere Figueras,

South Florida's Cuban community will celebrate Cuba's centennial in the heart of el exilio.

''This is for love of country, not politics,'' said Rafael Peñalver, one of the organizers of a centennial celebration that will begin at the San Carlos Institute in Key West and end at the shrine to Cuba's patron saint in Miami -- one of several events in the coming days that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Cuban Republic on May 20.

Florida International University will host a Cuban music concert featuring pianist Sergio A. González and violinist Andrés Trujillo. The University of Miami, which has already presented classes, concerts, art exhibits and a film festival honoring the centennial, will dedicate the Casa Bacardi cultural center with an invitation-only cocktail reception.

And the annual CubaNostalgia, which begins today in Coconut Grove, will recognize the centennial with its blend of mojitos, merchandise and memorabilia.

''We're in exile, but can't forget that a dream for a free Cuba began more than a century ago,'' said Peñalver. "When Fidel Castro is just an asterisk in the story of Cuban history, there will always be a Cuban people.''

Saturday's daylong series of seminars, films and discussions at the San Carlos Institute will culminate with the lighting of the Centennial Torch on the balcony of the history building -- the same place patriot and poet Jose Martí rallied exiled Cubans against Spain more than 100 years ago.

On Monday, the flame will arrive at the Torch of Friendship on Biscayne Boulevard at 10 a.m. Carried on horseback, it will wind its way through the city before arriving at La Ermita De Caridad -- Our Lady of Charity -- on Biscayne Bay at 8 p.m.

The gathering at the church will include a concert featuring Cuban performers and Afro-Cuban music, a speech by Bishop Agustín Román, and a candlelighting ceremony that will span both sides of the Florida Straits. Dissidents on the island will listen and talk to the crowd during an amplified conference call.

''They'll be lighting candles in their homes, too,'' said Peñalver.

The weekend will be bittersweet, said Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh, a professor at Miami-Dade Community College.

She is the great-grandaughter of Calixto Garcia Iñiguez, a Cuban lawyer and general who led the insurrection against the Spanish forces in the war for independence.

''The history of Cuba is also the history of families,'' said Whitmarsh, whose family joined Martí as part of Key West's expatriate community. "It's something you can't let die.''

During the day, the torch will pass the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard -- the Ellis Island for many arriving Cubans in the early days of the Castro regime -- through downtown Miami and the government center.

The procession will take the torch to the Woodlawn Cemetery on Southwest Eight Street -- where three Cuban presidents are buried -- and to a dedication ceremony of the Freedom Plaza in Coral Gables.

The plaza is a small grassy plot of land at the intersections of Galiano Street, Santillane Avenue and East Ponce de Leon Boulevard. On Monday, it will be the home of another symbol of Cuban independence: a monument to Martí.

''The arrival of the torch is going to link us to that dream that began in Key West with Martí,'' said sculptor Marc Andries Smit, who created the image of Martí that will be unveiled Monday.

The bronze bust will sit atop a nine-foot marble and granite pyramid that contains soil from Cuba.

Sculpting the face of Cuba's poet hero called for some soul-searching, Smit said.

''I tried to think of what he would say looking around him now,'' said Smit, who came to the U.S. from Cuba as a child. "He has a gentle intensity. But you also see this underlying sense of sadness.''


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