Cuban Exiles in Havana for Talks with Government
HAVANA (AP) _ In the early days, Fidel Castro denounced the people who fled Cuba’s new communist government as ``worms.″ Emigres in the United States fought back by encouraging sanctions, propaganda _ even an invasion.
Today, dozens of emigres meet with government officials in Havana for a three-day conference that Cuba hopes will improve relations with exile communities.
``It is to continue unifying the family that has been so separated,″ said Melquiades Hernandez, who lives in Venezuela.
The government says at least 361 refugees, most from the United States, plan to attend the conference. It follows a similar meeting in April 1994 that drew 220 emigres.
Many of the visitors said they hoped to prod the government into easing travel restrictions. Some hoped contacts would lead to more Western-style freedoms in Cuba.
``You have to have dialogue,″ said Irene Fernandez of Key West, Fla. ``You have to have disagreements and negotiation.″
For the government, the meeting is an effort to find allies _ or at least neutrals _ in the exile community, whose leaders have promoted the U.S. boycott of Cuba and are backing efforts in Congress to tighten it. Many Cuban-Americans oppose any dialogue with Castro.
But as Cuba’s attitude has softened, so has that of many emigres.
Cuba barred the most vehement anti-Castro groups from the meeting, but those attending include former members of groups that tried to topple Castro by force.
Rafael Huguet, a Miami resident who helped found the militant anti-Castro group Alpha 66, arrived Thursday. He said he now did not expect a ``revolutionary process. It has to be an evolution.″
Since last year’s meeting, Cuba has eased some travel barriers. In July it announced that Cubans living abroad could _ like foreigners _ invest in Cuba and even buy property here, privileges granted to few if any Cubans living on the island.
Huguet said he would push for more changes, including the right of Cubans to leave the country and return without permits or exit visas. He said he would also argue for greater freedom of speech.
``When we come here, we talk and we express ourselves. We make criticism of the Cuban government,″ he said. ``We are breaking the law.″
As many as 1 million Cubans live abroad, most in the United States but some in Latin America and Europe.
The money they send home to relatives has been an important source of hard currency for Cuba since its economy plummeted with the loss of Soviet aid and trade in 1990.
President Clinton tightened rules on money remittances last year in retaliation for Castro’s decision to let tens of thousands of Cubans set sail for Florida. The exodus stopped when Cuba started blocking the trips again and the United States stopped automatically admitting most Cubans picked up on the high seas.
On Thursday, the United Nations voted 117-3 _ the largest margin ever _ to call on the United States to end its embargo against Cuba. Only Israel and Uzbekistan voted with the United States to oppose the resolution. But the vote carries no legal weight.