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Alfredo Duran: After Fidel, no deluge

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  • Walter Lippmann
    08/02/06 - Salon.com - After Fidel, no deluge Alfredo Duran, Bay of Pigs soldier turned voice of moderation, says Miami s angry old guard of Cuban exiles won t
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2006
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      08/02/06 - Salon.com - After Fidel, no deluge

      Alfredo Duran, Bay of Pigs soldier turned voice of moderation, says
      Miami's angry old guard of Cuban exiles won't like what follows
      Castro. by Mark Schone

      August 2, 2006

      http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/08/02/duran/index1.html

      Aug. 02, 2006 | Among South Florida's half-million-strong Cuban
      community, hopes are high for rapid change in Havana now that
      79-year-old Fidel Castro seems near his long-awaited end. But Miami
      lawyer Alfredo Duran says his fellow exiles are laboring under a
      misconception. Duran left Cuba in that first wave of middle-class
      refugees more than 40 years ago, but unlike many of his generation,
      he's been back, and his sense of what is possible is grounded in
      experience.

      Duran's first return voyage to Cuba was in uniform. As a 21-year-old,
      Duran joined the famous Brigade 2506 and participated in the Bay of
      Pigs invasion, where he hid in the swamp for 30 days before being
      captured by Cuban soldiers. Ransomed by the American government, he
      earned a law degree, settled in Miami, and twice served as president
      of the right-wing Veterans Association of Brigade 2506. During the
      1980s, however, he soured on the idea of violent regime change in
      Cuba and moved to the political center. In 1993, he was thrown out of
      the group he'd once run for advocating negotiations with Castro --
      for having morphed into a despised "dialoguero." He has since become
      a leading force in such moderate Cuban-American political
      organizations as the Cuban Committee for Democracy and ENCASA. Duran
      has visited Cuba several times since 2001 and has met the now-ailing
      Maximum Leader in person.

      Salon spoke with Duran by telephone on Tuesday.

      What happens next?

      You know, the Cuban government has for the past two or three years
      been planning on a process of succession. We here in Miami call it
      transition, but they call it succession. And so I think they're
      pretty well-established as to what they're going to do. We haven't
      seen anything going on in Cuba today, so apparently everything is
      under control.

      What is it that they're planning?

      At the last assembly of the party they added an amendment to the
      constitution that in the event Fidel Castro for some reason gives up
      power or dies, his brother Raul will take over for six months. Within
      that six-month period, they have to call for a meeting of the Central
      Committee of the party. That Central Committee will then choose the
      new leadership. I would expect that because Fidel Castro is such a
      huge figure in Cuba the vacuum he's going to leave is going to be
      very hard to fill. Probably they'll have some kind of collective
      leadership out of the Central Committee of the party. Which, by the
      way, is made up of relatively young men. There are only four or five
      of the old historical figures there. But everybody else is around 50
      or 55 or younger. Those people have a new vision of what Cuba should
      be about. They will probably move quickly to integrating themselves
      into the overall international picture, communications,
      globalization, the whole thing the 21st century is about.

      That doesn't sound like what the Miami exiles have been fantasizing
      about all these years. They're not expecting the old regime to
      continue with new leaders.

      There's two types of people in Miami. The old Cubans, the ones who
      came prior to the 1980s, they would probably wish the U.S. Marines
      would invade Cuba and really have a complete overthrow. Those who
      came after the 1980s, who have a more benevolent view, what they
      would like to see is really a transition where the people of Cuba
      would not suffer as much, where things would go towards
      normalization, where ultimately democracy would be established. But
      they don't want a violent overthrow. They want basically an evolution
      of the system.

      Which group of Cuban-Americans is dominant?

      The new generation, basically just because of the survival factor.
      The people who came in the '60s are becoming less and less. You're
      getting a more moderate view in the community. That's reflected in
      voter registration. They're starting to act more and more like
      immigrants and less and less like exiles. They want Cuba to be
      normal. They don't want Fidel Castro, but they don't want a civil war
      that would kill their relatives.

      Do you foresee another floating exodus, another wave of balseros?

      I see it more -- if that were to happen, it would originate from
      Florida, not Cuba. People would be trying to go to Cuba to get their
      relatives out. And I don't think the Coast Guard would allow it. I
      see very little chance of it. I think that people will ultimately
      come to accept [the change]. I think the United States will finally
      decide to have a more intelligent policy toward Cuba and start
      talking to the new government in Cuba and normalize things,
      especially travel back and forth and that type of stuff. That would
      alleviate a lot of the tension.

      Will that happen while anyone named Castro, meaning Raul, is running
      the government?

      It's a macho thing. They can't let a Castro beat them. United States
      policy a long time ago stopped being about the best interests of the
      United States. It's got a lot to do with local politics, and it's got
      a lot to do with the fact that it's Castro in there, and they're not
      going to let Castro have his way. It shouldn't be that way, but
      that's the mind-set in Washington, at least until a new
      administration comes in. The time to start talking is now.

      What happens to the people in the anti-Castro movement when the
      bogeyman is dead?

      They will have to adjust. The anti-Castro movement is becoming more
      and more moderate. You only have a few ultra-right-wing groups that
      are at all effective, and mostly they are very old men. They will
      adjust to the new system and try to bring about the trend for
      democracy, the travel back and forth, a freer economy.

      They won't lose interest?

      A lot of them still want to roll the clock back to 1959 both
      politically and economically. A lot of them would like to get their
      property back on the backs of the U.S. Marines. I certainly hope that
      doesn't happen. Those people are out of touch with what the reality
      of Cuba is now. Cuba has had tremendous social and political changes.
      It's not going to be easy to turn back the clock.

      You're part of that earlier generation. How many times have you been
      back?

      Three.

      Did you have culture shock? And I don't mean big pictures of Fidel.
      I mean something unexpected that really made you feel like you were in
      a different country.

      You know, the biggest surprise is that it didn't feel like a
      different country. It felt the same. The first time I went back was
      40 years after I left. I felt sort of strange. I said, "What the hell
      is going on?" Basically, I realized the shock was that everything was
      exactly as I had left it. Havana hasn't changed that much. I could
      get around exactly the way I had before. The second biggest shock was
      that after so many years of a Soviet presence, I couldn't see any
      signs of Soviet cultural influence. There was more American
      influence.

      Are there really people celebrating in the streets in Miami?

      They are celebrating, but not like people thought they would. There
      aren't any traffic tie-ups, as many people expected. There isn't any
      pandemonium. People are working, going to their jobs. People thought
      the reaction would be more extreme than it has been. Basically, the
      only place that you really have that reaction is down at the
      Versailles Restaurant [on Calle Ocho], because that's where the TV
      cameras are. They're waiting for you there if you want to talk about
      Cuba.

      -- By Mark Schone
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