Miami a rebel base again. First anti-Castro Cubans, now Nicaraguan `contra' forces operate out of Florida city
For the exiles from Castro's Cuba who have made this city the economic center of Latin America, it all smacks stirringly, and for some saddeningly, of d'ej`a vu. Miami has once again become the full-fledged capital for efforts, with Central Intelligence Agency support, to overthrow a new communist dictatorship in Latin America.
After several weeks of bargaining in various Miami hotels between the three leaders of the umbrella ``contra'' organization, United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), the triumvirate emerged intact but with power slightly redistributed.
Arturo Cruz, the leader favored in the US Congress, and Adolfo Calero, the conservative most favored by Nicaraguan exiles, probably are the best known of the thousands of Nicaraguans to have moved to Miami since the Sandinistas took power in 1979. (Dade County officials put the figure at 20,000, but other sources say it is closer to 60,000.) Most of them are more immediately concerned with getting legal status and work permits than with Nicaraguan exile politics.
Like the Cubans who arrived here fleeing communism more than a quarter century ago, Nicaraguans want to overthrow the government of their own country, but also to make successful livings in this one.
``They are following the same pattern,'' says Ariel Remos, a Cuban-American editorial writer for a Nicaraguan-owned newspaper here.
Miami Cubans fear that the CIA-backed Miami-based opposition to the Sandinistas will end in failures, as did the CIA-backed and Miami-based opposition to Castro. ``Unfortunately, I am very, very pessimistic that that will be the pattern,'' Mr. Remos says .
Nicaraguans themselves make a different comparison. They see the Cuban exiles of the early 1960s entering a US that welcomed them with open arms -- granting them refugee status and aiding them through the Roman Catholic Church. The Nicaraguans came on visitor's visas and now find that the vast majority of their applications for political asylum are being denied.
But the Nicaraguans also are optimistic that the Reagan administration is becoming more sympathetic.
One signal came this spring when Perry Rivkind, the local director of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, announced that he would refuse to deport any more Nicaraguans to their communist-controlled homeland.
``At least we have hope now,'' says the Rev. Leon Pallais, a Nicaraguan Roman Catholic priest who plans to meet with US State Department officials early in June.
The Nicaraguans who arrived soonest after the Sandinista coup were of the professional class -- or members of ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle's national guard.
Robert Arguello, an officer at Northern Trust Bank in Miami and a recent president of the Nicaraguan-American Bankers Association, says that of the 50,000 to 60,000 Nicaraguans he estimates are in Miami, at least 5,000 are professionals. Those that began arriving after 1982, he says, are the ``Marielitos of Nicaragua'' -- referring to the Cubans, some of them with criminal records in Cuba, whom Castro sent to the United States in 1980.
Overall, the Nicaraguan community has a much smaller elite of businessmen and professionals than the Cubans that preceded them here, according to Alex McIntire, a Latin American expert at the University of Miami.
Miami is more than a bedroom community to the Nicaraguan opposition, however. UNO headquarters is here, in an unmarked office. Several Miami hospitals treat wounded contras. Most US aid to the contras is funneled through Miami banks.