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Efforts to Remove US Embargo on Cuba Derailed by a Kiss

Release of a video showing a cordial meeting between a Cuban American and Castro draws fire from old guard

MOVES by some Cuban Americans to have President Clinton lift a three-decade-old trade embargo against Cuba have been set back by an embarrassing incident in Havana last month.

The incident revealed the strength of the anti-Castro lobby in the United States, despite the end of the cold war.

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The incident began when Magda Montiel Davis, a Cuban American immigration lawyer who ran for Congress two years ago, joined about 200 exiles to Havana for semi-secret talks with the Cuban government. The conference was a followup to one held in 1978. The press was barred from the event.

After the talks, however, the Cuban government released a video clip showing some of the exiles meeting Cuban leader Fidel Castro at a reception. Ms. Davis was shown shaking hands with him, planting a kiss on his cheek, and saying: ``Fidel, I want to tell you something. Thank you for everything you have done for my people. You have been a great teacher for me.''

Many in the Cuban American community were incensed. Many thought she was a traitor for cozying up to the dictator they fled. Calls flooded Spanish radio stations denouncing her. She received bomb threats. Five of her staff quit and were offered jobs by Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the pro-embargo Cuban American National Foundation. And about 1,000 marchers protested near her home.

Anticommunist scion

Davis is the daughter of Jose Montiel, a banker and former United States intelligence operative during the 1963 failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. She was forced to resign as treasurer of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, a group advocating dialogue with Cuba, formed by Cuban American Democrats.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart (R) of Florida sent a copy of the tape to Attorney General Janet Reno saying the conference participants showed an ``intense devotion and servile attitude'' to Mr. Castro, and for that reason they have to register as foreign agents of the Cuban government as required by federal law.

The videotape has set back both Davis' political aspirations and the hopes of some Cuban Americans that the embargo against Cuba would be lifted soon, analysts say.

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For Clinton to open ties with Havana, there have to be Cuban Americans calling for it who are seen as credible, these analysts say. Davis was seen as highly credible because of her run for Congress and because she is the daughter of a prominent anticommunist Cuban exile.

How to speed reforms

The number of Cuban Americans supporting an end to the embargo has been rising steadily since the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union three years ago. Cuba is tinkering with economic reforms. Those calling for lifting the embargo say that if the embargo is removed, the reforms will move faster.

They add that the economic suffering that Cubans are facing would lessen and a transfer of power from Castro would be smoother if the embargo was ended. Keeping the embargo might bring about chaos if it forces a violent overthrow of the government, they contend.

The majority of Cuban Americans supporting this view are a younger generation raised in the US, says Thomas Boswell, a professor at the University of Miami. In Dade County there is overwhelming support for the embargo because the largest concentration of Cuban exiles over age 50 live here.

``The older Cuban Americans who left Cuba for political reasons have very strong feelings toward Castro,'' Mr. Boswell says. Of 1.5 million Cuban Americans in the US, 600,000 live in this county; most of the rest live elsewhere in Florida.

But with a Republican no longer in the White House and with the example of Clinton having recently lifted the embargo against Communist-run Vietnam, moderate voices in the Cuban American community have been gaining ground, says Maria de Los Angeles Torres, a professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago and who also attended the Havana conference.

Hard-liners under Castro who would rather have the island ``isolated and closed off from the outside world'' may have released the video, she said.

Torres thinks the position of the Cuban American National Foundation is going to lead to a situation where there will be a need for a military government. ``I'm not sure that is what the Cuban people want,'' she said.

``I know for sure that is not what the United States should support. You don't want to go from a totalitarian government to another.''

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