If Castro had a talk show
If Castro had a talk
show, it might sound a bit like this
(This article first appeared in The New York Times on Thursday, December 07,
At the far
right end of the AM radio dial, a broadcast from a parallel universe emerges
from the static:
state travel agency. Reportage from last weekend’s
birthday parade in
complete with an admiring assessment of Soviet-era tanks. Excerpts from speeches
by whichever Castro brother is running the country.
It is not a
signal-jamming effort beamed from the Cuban coast like some kind of reverse
Radio Martí. It is not, compadre, a joke of any sort.
Francisco Aruca, onetime Cuban political prisoner turned Castro admirer,
speaking out from a little radio station on the industrial north side of Miami
or, more often these days, from the comfort of his home office in the lush
suburb of Pinecrest.
For 15 years,
Mr. Aruca, founder of the first American company to run charter flights to
has doubled as on-air apologist for a man whom the vast majority of
Cuban-Americans in Miami consider a despicable and murderous dictator.
In doing so,
Mr. Aruca speaks to — and for — a tiny community of committed Cuban-American
leftists who have endured years of public scorn, threats and, in the
not-too-distant past, violence.
every day; it’s the only way you can keep fairly informed in the Banana Republic
of Miami,” said Eddie Levy, chairman of the Cuban American Defense League, a
civil rights group. “I consider him a hero. We come and go, but Aruca’s there
legions of critics dismiss his show, “Ayer en Miami (Yesterday in Miami),” as a
glorified infomercial for his business, Marazul Tours, which depends on good
relations with the Cuban government and would benefit handsomely from the
lifting of travel restrictions to Cuba, one of Mr. Aruca’s many causes. Mr.
Aruca buys his time slot, an hour every weekday morning, on the station, WOCN-AM
means of support, the very persistence of the show has made it into something of
an institution, however widely ridiculed. While it is anyone’s guess how many of
County’s 700,000 Cubans actually listen to the program, Mr. Aruca remains a
perennial target on mainstream Spanish-language radio, the dominant medium of
Cuban-American political discourse here. A popular song these days has a
character impersonating Mr. Castro and discarding his customary fatigues in
favor of “the Adidas outfit that Aruca bought me at Dolphin Mall,” where much of
call-in segment of Mr. Aruca’s show on Monday, all four phone lines were
constantly busy. On the other end were at least as many foes as fans, which is
how Mr. Aruca, 66, says he likes it.
believe that what I’m doing is useful for the Cubans in Cuba, for the
Cuban-American community in Miami, that it is useful in the U.S., which has
wrong relations with Cuba,” said Mr. Aruca, a cheerful, box-shaped man with a
face like a friendly bulldog. “And given the mediocrity and lack of freedom of
expression and diversity that is in Miami, I have found that doing something
I’ve always enjoyed, which is talking, I can be useful.”
born 60 miles west of Havana, was a student at a Jesuit school when Mr. Castro
took power in 1959, and he became part of the counterrevolution soon after. He
said he organized student strikes against the government’s crackdown on free
speech and was promptly arrested and sentenced to 30 years in jail. He escaped a
few weeks later.
rethought his politics after he made his way to
where he earned degrees in economics. “I was in Washington during the Vietnam
War and the civil rights movement, and came to realize that anti-Communism was
not enough reason to go to war,” he said. He now identifies himself as a
“Christian socialist, not a Marxist,” though he said he considered Mr. Castro a
started Marazul Tours in 1979, soon after the American government began allowing
family visits to Cuba. When he opened an office in
in 1986, he said, his windows were routinely smashed. His office was later
firebombed, and a
Watch report on right-wing intimidation in
Florida singled out Mr. Aruca as a leading victim.
the former executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, the
leading voice of the Cuban exile community, said Mr. Aruca was first and
foremost “a man who does business with a loathsome regime.” As for his on-air
opinions, Mr. Garcia said, “He calls things as he says he sees it and as he
benefits from seeing it.”
company and a few other tour operators are his show’s only sponsors other than
the Cuban travel agency. He said most businesses dared not advertise with him
for fear of boycotts.
on Monday was a report that Mr. Aruca recorded after birthday parade in
which the ailing honoree did not attend. “Somebody sitting next to me said that
the Cuban infantry is not supposed to be able to march,” Mr. Aruca says on the
tape. “Looks to me like they’re marching pretty well.”
(and praising) an excerpt from a speech at the parade by Mr. Castro’s brother,
Raúl, inviting the United States to begin diplomatic discussions, Mr. Aruca
opened the phones.
give you sneakers, the sneakers he used there?” a man asked.
going to joke around, go to other shows,” Mr. Aruca said, hanging up on the
caller. “Besides, Fidel doesn’t know my shoe size.”