Alfredo Duran: After Fidel, no deluge
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
-- By Mark Schone