Politics & Policy


Straight Talk From Miami

As recipients of the print magazine know, I have a piece in the current issue on the Diaz-Balart brothers of Miami. I’m speaking of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. They are Cuban-Americans — “100 percent Cuban and 100 percent American,” as their father describes them. Lincoln was elected in 1992; Mario was elected only last November. I recommend that you read the piece in NR, not because I’m so great, mind you, but because the Diaz-Balart brothers are so interesting.

But I have some additional material I’d like to share with you here in Impromptus.

The Diaz-Balarts, like all Cuban-Americans, are dismayed at the persistent pro-Castroism among American elites, particularly in academia, the media, and Hollywood. It would be one thing if these elites merely ignored Cuba; but they weigh in actively for the regime, providing it endless cover. Castro plays the American press like a violin, the brothers note, giving the “eight-hour treatment” to Barbara Walters, Andrea Mitchell, and the like. “He doesn’t give this treatment to just anyone,” says Lincoln. “He has to suspect that you’ll fall for it.”

And yet, the brothers insist, Americans in general still recognize Castro for what he is. “They know he’s a tyrant,” says Lincoln, “even though they’ve heard nothing but positive things about him for 40 years.”

Of particular sadness is Castro’s success at playing the race card. He’s got much of this country believing that he has been good for black Cubans. (I once did a piece on this subject: “In Castro’s Corner: A story of black and red.”) “Castro learned very early on the power of the race issue,” Lincoln Diaz-Balart explains. “His sociological base was always elite, anti-Republic, and racist.” The dictator Batista was actually a mulatto, and Castro was the Spaniards’ “Great White Hope.” As dictator, Castro has instituted a system of apartheid, whereby only foreigners and certain carefully vetted Cubans can enter particular hotels, hospitals, and beaches. Furthermore, many of the leading political prisoners and oppositionists are black. Castro’s reputation as a racial liberal and redeemer seems a cruel, ghastly joke to the Diaz-Balarts.

On the subject of racial politics: When Lincoln first arrived in Washington, he joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Then, however, the chairman of the caucus made a visit to Cuba. As Lincoln tells it, he and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — another Cuban-American congressman — asked the chairman to make a statement in favor of free elections and democracy. They didn’t ask him to agree with the Miami Cubans or to support U.S. policy — merely to favor freedom. The chairman (Xavier Becerra of California) refused. He did the usual buttering up to Castro.

Afterward, Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen asked the caucus to issue a statement saying, simply, that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus favored democracy and freedom for all peoples — no mention of Cuba, no mention of Castro. Just freedom anywhere and everywhere. The caucus refused. “So Ileana and I said, ‘We have to leave.’” They will not return until the caucus finds itself capable of acting like democrats. Lincoln isn’t optimistic. Mario Diaz-Balart isn’t joining.

At this point, let me give you a little Q&A, with Lincoln. I interviewed both Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart in Lincoln’s congressional office. Mario had to cut out, however, and I chewed it over, at length, with Lincoln. Here are some excerpts, varied and in no conscious order.

JN: Castro was once married to your aunt, and they had one child, Fidelito [who was sent to the Soviet Union to be communized]. How old would he be now?

LD-B: Let’s see: He’d be 53.

JN: Have you ever met him?

LD-B: As a little kid — but I left [Cuba] when I was four years old. I’ve never spoken to him; I’ve never attempted to reach him. He was out of favor for a while, but now, apparently, he’s back in. He’s part of that whole oppressive system.

JN: You’re quite exercised that Castro’s relation to international terrorism is not widely known.

LD-B: Nothing about Castro is widely enough known! Sure: Castro has had relationships with ETA, FARC, the IRA, the Arab extremists. The IRA trained the Colombians in Cuba. Hezbollah trained in Cuba to blow up that Jewish center in Argentina.

JN: Are you happy with President Bush’s Latin America policy?

LD-B: Well, I’ll tell you this: With regard to Latin America, I don’t think Secretary Powell has been sufficiently in tune with what’s going on. The general strike in Venezuela has just been broken by Chavez. His government has a legitimacy of origin — it was elected — but Chavez lost that democratic legitimacy long ago. You lose it through your daily conduct. Plenty of other people have been elected and turned out not to be democratic. Colombia needs more help, more attention, more emphasis. So it’s not just Cuba. There’s an inertia in the United States that ignores this hemisphere.

I like the instincts of President Bush. Whenever a problem reaches his desk, he decides it in the correct manner. I’m concerned about the fact that information about Cuba is not reaching him. It’s not reaching the highest echelons of policymaking. There’s a serious problem in the intelligence community. We should have seen this when [Ana] Montes [the Cuban spy] was discovered. This is not merely an issue of the Cubans [the Cuban-Americans and Cuban democrats] crying wolf. When we see that the Cuban regime continues to harbor terrorists, as very few governments in the world do, and the information does not get to senior policymakers, we realize that the problem is very serious.

I’ve had an opportunity to speak to senior policymakers. And I have confirmed that they do not receive information with regard to the nature and conduct of the Cuban regime.

JN: Is it that the information is not being obtained or that it is being suppressed?

LD-B: Suppressed. One of the best things about this job is that it’s a constant education. So what I’ve told you now — which I have not told any other interviewer — is not something I would have been able to tell you a few years ago. A few years ago, I was convinced that the problem was Clinton. But this administration — the present administration — is very security-conscious. And even now, information is not making its way up. I can’t tell you that there are other spies about. I can tell you, however, that information is not reaching the top.

JN: The CIA is always thought of as a nest of right-wingers and hard-liners. Of course, that’s a laugh.

LD-B: Yes, and not just the CIA. Would you like to know something? Even the Pentagon has this problem.

JN: The Pentagon? But that’s always thought of as a redoubt of hard-liners and right-wingers.

LD-B: Yeah, I know. But when you talk to certain people in the Pentagon, you might think you were on a typical liberal college campus. I’m talking about the professional students — the ones who haven’t seen much combat but who have a lot of Ph.D.s. When you talk to them, you can’t tell any difference between them and the standard left-wingers on campus. Very strange. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that a few years ago.

JN: Why are you so supportive of Israel?

LD-B: I almost feel Zionist, in many ways. First of all, I have a special admiration for Maimonides. He was born in Spain in the 12th century. An incredible guy. I’ve read a lot of him. He simply gets it. And, as far as Israel is concerned, I just admire the Jews for surviving as a people. After 1,800 years in exile, they founded a modern nation in their ancestral land. They fought back from the Holocaust. They are a democracy. I find that admirable, that’s all.

JN: How’s assimilation going in Miami? Are people speaking English there?

LD-B: It’s interesting. What you see in Miami is a couple of things. It’s a gateway to, and the capital of, Latin America. You find businessmen speaking Spanish in the boardrooms; you don’t just hear it in the mailrooms. It’s a place where, by virtue of the fact that Latin Americans feel comfortable there, they are present in ever-growing numbers, from the entire hemisphere. Miami is constantly evolving, changing. Thus you’re going to hear a lot of Spanish. People are in touch with their homelands, and they watch television in Spanish.

But the kids of people who have been here for a while? The same thing is happening with them that has happened with kids from all over the world. Cuban-American kids feel reverence for the land of their fathers. They know about the horror, they feel the pain, they feel the passion, on the issue — but they’re American.

JN: Is the Miami Herald the 800-pound gorilla?

LD-B: Look: We have the ability to get 75 percent of the vote. That’s what I got the last time I had an opponent, and I’ve only had one in six elections. I’ve ignored the Herald, and the Herald has ignored me. That’s okay. It’s a strongly Democratic paper.

JN: My impression, though, is that it’s better than the New York Times or the Boston Globe.

LD-B: You get that impression because they cover Cuba, and no one else does. They sort of have to. But they’re really, really slanted. Biased. We can get around them, however, because we have Spanish television and Spanish radio. They’re more balanced. I really feel sorry for people like Clay Shaw and other Republican Anglos. I don’t know how they survive.

JN: A Cuban-American friend of mine once told me, “You know, it takes a martyr-level courage even to function as a decent human being in Cuban society” — not to steal, not to inform, not to sell sexual favors, not to buy them, not to lie.

LD-B: Oh, yes: “the internal policeman inside every Cuban.” It’s a horrendous thing.

Do you know Vickie Ruiz?

JN: No.

LD-B: She’s in Miami now, with her kids. Her story made a great impact on me. Just to think what she did . . . She had the courage to do something decent in a society where decency isn’t respected by the totalitarian system. I don’t know that I could have done it. I live here, in a free society. Vickie Ruiz is a heroine. She said, where she worked, “This is wrong. This society is wrong. We have to do something about it.”

The next day, her kids were in school — nine and seven. The teacher said, “I’m sorry to inform the class that we have two children here whose mother’s a whore and a CIA agent. So, I ask all of you to express yourselves to them, to show them how despicable they are.”

So they get home, and they say, “Mom, why’d you do that to us? Don’t you love us?”

And that night, they start hearing things, in the neighborhood. Vickie Ruiz was a woman alone, with two kids. They start hearing things. And a truck comes up, carrying manure. The manure is dumped onto the house. They start smelling it. They’re scared. Excrement. It’s covering the house.

They wake up the next morning, and the pets — dogs — they’re decapitated. And you know what else? All the pets in the neighborhood are decapitated.

JN: Oh, yes: make it even worse for them by involving the entire neighborhood!

LD-B: Exactly. The whole block was punished. That sent the message, “You’d better not have any dissidents in this neighborhood.”

But Vickie Ruiz is now in Miami with her two kids, and they’re wonderful.

JN: The media won’t cover Cuba, will they?

LD-B: No. Not even Fox. You ever see anything on Fox? We could certainly use some journalists who can tell the American people what’s going on 90 miles away.

JN: Some of the Cuban dissidents I know say CNN is the worst. Who is that woman in charge of the Havana bureau? Lucia Newman?

LD-B (shaking his head): She’s almost in a category by herself.

JN: It would be better to have Castro deposed than to allow him to die in office, wouldn’t it?

LD-B: Of course. No one wants a monster like that to die in power. That’s his only goal: to die in power. It’s kind of a sickening goal, but he has no goal with regard to family, with regard to personal relationships, with regard to love. Even Franco — I don’t defend Franco, who was a dictator and murderer — but I’ll give you one big difference between Franco and Castro: Franco loved his country. He loved Spain.

This fellow Castro is incapable of love. He hates the Cuban people. Despises the Cuban people. And it all comes from his earliest years. My father told me about this. [Castro and the Diaz-Balarts’ father were best friends, in university days — this is explained in the magazine piece.] He used to go to Castro’s place, in the summer, during vacation. Castro hated his father and mother. And he learned hatred from them. He saw that his father would bring over indentured servants, and before he had to pay them, he would kill them. Bam, bam. He controlled the rural guard in the area, so nothing would happen. The mother packed a pistol. They had a lot of money. Not only did he despise his parents, he learned Al Capone-ism from them.

JN: The Castro parents sound terrible.

LD-B: Disgusting. Disgusting.

It was a fascinating thing for my father, who would go out to the family’s house. It took a long, long time to get there. It was the “wild, wild East,” as we called it. You get there, and there’s this big house, a lot of money, and the animals occupied the bottom floor, and the house was on top of the animals. You go to the kitchen, and Castro says, “You can eat all you want.” There are a couple of cows strung up. You take a machete. “Wanna get yourself a steak? Cut yourself a steak — whatever you want.” There’s no furniture in the kitchen. Just a table. You eat standing up. Yet they had tons of cash. They were living like animals, but they were very wealthy.

Anyway, the thing is, the difference with Castro is that, unlike other dictators who have done horrible things, he doesn’t love his country. At least the others don’t hate their country. He hates his country. He’s a hater. Just a hater.

JN: But he must love communism, right? The international struggle?

LD-B: No, no! He’s never been a communist! Never! He’s an opportunist. The ultimate opportunist. He has no love for communism — he loves only himself.

JN: That’s almost worse than being a dedicated communist. At least the communists believe in something.

LD-B: That’s what my parents say. Raul, now [Raul Castro, the dictator’s brother, who is his defense minister and alleged successor] — Raul is a dedicated communist. He believes all the stuff about the proletariat, class warfare, and so on. He has an ideology, a system. But not Castro. His only ideology is to die in power — to “die with my boots on.” And after him, who cares?

JN: Castro must have some talents, yes? Some evil talents?

LD-B: He was able to organize the totalitarian state, but you have to remember that he had the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union gave him a franchise. It’s sort of like McDonald’s — Castro was the recipient of a communist franchise. And a lot of what he has is franchised East German stuff.

JN: Are you optimistic at all about Cuba?

LD-B: [Congressman] Chris Cox was telling me, we have to take advantage of the post-Soviet, post-Clinton era. Right after the Soviet Union imploded, we had Clinton. For eight years. So only now do we have a real opportunity. That’s why it has been frustrating, getting the right information to our top policymakers. The good news is, whenever you talk to the president of the United States about this issue, his instincts are right. Right-on.


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