The Achievements of Cuban Exiles

06 Sep The Achievements of Cuban Exiles

by Frank Rodríguez
presented at Patria de Martí. Miami 3/31/16

Versión en español

President Obama, during his recent speech before the Communist hierarchy in Cuba named Miami as a “monument” erected by Cubans. He added that he knew how things would be for Cubans under a future free market based on this evidence. In fact, Cuban emigration has been among the most successful in U.S. history, comparable to the Jewish or South Korean in recent times. Obama added that two Cuban Americans were running for the presidency of the United States. Undoubtedly, being around 1% of the U.S. population, having three federal senators and five Congresspersons, in addition to the mayors of Hialeah, Miami and Miami Dade, as well as many others, is one of the most relevant achievements of the exile community. A casual ride through Hialeah, Westchester, Kendall or even Coral Gables, reveals the economic  strength of people who arrived here stripped away of their possessions and in a deplorable mood at having to face an unwanted and ill-planned exit from their beloved homeland.

Interestingly, these exiles were not really thinking about putting down roots in this country, as was the case with other refugees from Communism such as the Koreans or Hungarians. The reason was that they could not conceive that 90 miles away a Soviet colony could be installed in the midst of the Cold War. Up to that time the U.S. had never lost a war in its history and was the brand-new world super power. The exiles felt totally backed by the U.S. and even joined Brigade 2506 to return to their homeland guns in hand. Other Cubans such as Tony Cuesta infiltrated Cuba heading Alpha 66 and later Commandos L in an uphill struggle against the tyrant.  Years later the flotillas would be peaceful, such as those lead by Ramón Saúl Sánchez aboard the boat Democracia. And we should also remember the activities of the group Abdala from New York to Puerto Rico.

After the betrayal at the Bay of Pigs and the Kennedy-Krushev accommodation it became evident that it was time to “get going” validating educational degrees, learning English, relocating outside of Miami or opening a small business. A few didn’t have much trouble in restarting their professions without many obstacles, but the majority had to reinvent themselves, to use today’s jargon.

The story of Roberto Suárez is a great example. An accountant by trade he arrived with seven children and he heard that there were hiring day workers. The job was to carry bundles of the newspaper Miami Herald to load the delivery trucks. He had never done any such manual labor. When payday came he found out that the payroll could not be done as the bookkeeper was absent and Roberto raised his hand indicating that he was an accountant and that he could do it. They told him that he needed to speak English and he said he knew how. Suárez got to be president of the Miami Herald and of the whole corporation, even founding the newspaper in Spanish as well. At the beginning Roberto would spend all his salary in jars of milk and mattresses.

And talking about mattresses, at that time it was usual to go out in search of furniture and mattresses that the American would throw away. People would go to Coral Gables where the Americans would go crazy throwing out things. Many women found work as sewing machine operators in factories in Hialeah and the men washing dishes at the luxury hotels in Miami Beach or going to collect tomatoes in Homestead. From these humble beginnings the Miami we know today was built, a city that sustains half of Cuba today. No, we are not a Mafia, but rather a compassionate bunch.

Among the great businessmen that have reaped fame and fortune we all know about Carlos Saladrigas, Mike Fernández, Joe Arriola, Jorge Pérez, Alfie Fanjul and the former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutiérrez, the head of Kellogg’s cereals. All these men are today driving the strategy to do business with the enemy. On the other side are those that face the tyrant directly, such as the Ford dealer Gus Machado and the inventor of Telepizza in Spain, Leopoldo Fernández Pujals (the other Leopoldo Fernández, Tres Patines,  is still heard on the radio 60 years later in the U.S. and Spanish America). The other great patriot comedian who kept laughter among the sad exiles was the unique talent of Guillermo Álvarez Guedes, who like none other has capture the idiosyncrasy of the Cuban people.

Regarding the ladies that back the Ladies in White, let’s mention the very successful Remedios Díaz de Oliver, founder of All American Containers, active in the Cuba Democracy PAC with Machado and Fernández Pujals. And let’s mention Tere Zubizarreta of Zubi Advertising, co-founder of Facts  About Cuban Exiles, the organization that has published these two books that we have here today, who died after building up from scratch a great advertising company, as was also the case with Ana María Fernández Haar.

Among the Peter Pan kids the most famous ones are singer Willy Chirino and developer Armando Codina, as well as the former federal senator from Florida, Mel Martínez. The Peter Pans like me are the generation rescued from Communist indoctrination, and we are people who will never forget the land from which we were uprooted.

Cuban bankers really hit it out of the park in Miami. The most famous has been Carlos Arboleya, especially known for having been the president of Barnett Bank. I am talking about the most famous ones, such as Amadeo López Castro, but to really get into the topic the best thing to do is to buy the book Cubans an Epic Journey: The Struggle of Exiles for Truth and Freedom either in English or in -Spanish edited by my two co-panelists here today, Sam Verdeja and Guillermo Martínez. Another famous banker was the patriot Luis Botifoll of Republic Bank who founded a publishing house on Cuban History and Bernardo Benes who started the dialog that led to the freeing from Cuba of thousands of political prisoners.

Among Big League baseball players, a current topic of interest, the most famous have been the sluggers Tany Pérez, for Hall of Fame fame, and Tony Oliva, MVP and Batting Champion, as well as Luis Tiant, who recently threw the first ball at the Cerro Stadium (that is how I knew my stadium in my childhood). Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos were already in the big leagues when Castro called Cuban baseball out.

In music Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz were mentioned in the national TV broadcast in Cuba for the first time by President Obama. They are as well-known in the U.S. as Desi Arnaz used to be. The time for Willy Chirino has still not arrived to be mentioned in Cuba.

In the silver screen main actor Andy García stands out in the so-called Hollywood “A List” and we all thank him for rescuing the figure of bass player Cachao, a glory in Cuban music. Also marrying cinema and music is Nat Chediak, a multiple Grammy winner. The other great musician was Bebo Valdés, who crowned his career with his record Lágrimas Negras with Diego El Cigala.  His great friend Rolando Laserie and him promised never to return to Cuba under the Castros. The other great dame of the exiles was Olga Guillot, Olga de Cuba, a very obstinate opposition leader against the regime that oppresses us. And another uncompromising patriot has been jazz player Paquito D’Rivera, winner of multiple Grammys, who played the alto sax in the album with Nat Chediak as executive co-producer. And cartoonist Prohías, who used to draw for Zig-Zag in Cuba was able to develop the series Spy World in Mad Magazine, also reaching worldwide renown.

In the corporate word the figure of Roberto Goizueta stands out, as he became the head of noneother than Coca-Cola, as well as Benjamín León, Sr. and Jr., founder of Clínica Asociación Cubana and León Medical Center, respectively.

In the academic word Carlos Eire, professor of History and Religion at Yale University is among the galaxy of academics who found fertile soil in these lands of liberty. Luis Aguilar León reached the zenith of academia, as well as History and Geography author Leví Marrero, the latter in Puerto Rico. In the educational arena a special mention is due to Belem Jesuit, Lincoln-Martí Schools and Conchita Espinosa Academy, as well as the work of brigade member Dr. Eduardo Zayas Bazán, author of the best-selling book for the teaching of Spanish at the college level in the U.S. And the success of Cubans is undeniable at Miami Dade College under Eduardo Padrón and at FIU under Modesto Maidique.

In the area of religion the exiles were able to build penny by penny the Shrine to Our Lady of Charity under Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami, Monsignor Agustín Román, who all seems to indicate was a saint. That Miami is an archdiocese is definitely because of the Cubans. Another monumental work was the ministry and later building of the St. John Bosco Church, under the leadership of Father Emilio Vallina.

On the evangelical side innumerable temples of worship were founded by Cubans such as the Episcopal Max Salvador and the Presbyterian Martín Añorga. The academic historian Marco Antonio Ramos is among the Baptists the one with the greatest renown, along with Pastor Jorge Comesañas,  as well as the sage Catholic priest the Reverend Juan Luis Sánchez, assistant pastor at St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Church, and expert in genealogy, heraldry and Cuban history.

In journalism our compatriot and patriot Carlos Alberto Montaner stands out among many such as Gastón Baquero in Spain on account of his eloquent pen and clear explanations of the political happenings. Another journalist Gabriel Cabrera Infante earned the Cervantes Prize in Spain as a novelist for his masterpieces Tres tristes tigres, Habana para un Infante Difunto and Mea Cuba, in addition to his innumerable denouciations of the Castro regime from London. Another bulwark of Cuban exile literature was that of Reinaldo Arenas, who is studied today in universities throughout the hemisphere.

We could go on highlighting the names of outstanding entrepreneurs and professionals in all areas of knowledge or activity, from accountants, engineers, lawyers and doctors, such as Dr. Manuel Alzugaray, founder of the Miami Medical Team who is always ready to deploy to any place in the hemisphere to render aid in cases of medical emergencies and who was the doctor for the contras in the war in Nicaragua. But rather let us enter into the analysis to try to answer this question: What are the achievements of the Cuban exile?

Needless to say we have not achieved the freedom of our land or the restoration of a democratic system of justice or a free market economy. This is our great pain and frustration.

But have we achieved something? We have made it possible to be recognized that the people that left Cuba were hard-working people who with their genius were able to rebuild their lives to the point that it is inconceivable to realize that they left Cuba with nothing. Also the so-called “worms” became butterflies when they were allowed to go back to Cuba to help their relatives there, providing further proof of the love they felt for them and of the complete failure of Communism in the economic and social arenas.

And the Cuban exiles were also successful under Jorge Más Canosa in allowing the Cuban people ways and means to find out the truth through Radio and TV Martí. His Cuban American Foundation was also able to relocate thousands of Cubans in third countries so they could reunite with us in Miami. And of course the Foundation was instrumental in passing the various laws that codified the U.S. embargo against the Castro regime.

Also, under José Basulto we have been able to rescue thousands of compatriots that were drowning or dehydrating in the Straits of Florida with the Brothers to the Rescue airplanes. What a beautiful name for an organization and for the four martyrs shot down by Cuban Migs on February 24, 1996.

We have also been able to not forget, with organizations such as Cuban Historial Memory Against Totalitarianism under Pedro Corzo, who accounts for the victims of repression and with the Momument place in the campus of Florida International University. And the Miami-Dade Commission, replete with Cuban exiles approved the Cuban Museum which “is coming now” on Coral Way and 12th Avenue “near my humble dwelling” as goes the lyrics to Chirino’s song. This same Commission approved last year a to give room for a future mega Museum of Exile History on Biscayne Bay, which has yet to be achieved but which could be a great legacy of freedom. And without a doubt it has been a great achievement to rescue from the hands of the Castro regime the San Carlos Institute in Key West, where José Martí used to speak, thanks to the providential actions taken by attorney Raúl Peñalver, Jr. And the House of the Political Prisoner and the future Museum of Brigade 2506 in Hialeah Gardens , as well as the Eternal Flame in Calle Ocho provide proof of past and future militant struggle against the dictatorship.

We have achieved with Universal Publishing Co., under Manuel “El Gordo” Salvat, to leave behind a legacy of de History of Cuba and of truth for future generations, with the publication and distribution of thousands of books written by prominent exiled academics and intellectuals.


At El Nuevo Herald people such as Andrés Reynaldo, Ramón Mestre, Vicente Echerri and José Azel join Montaner with their reasoned dissertations regarding the oppressive totalitarianism in Cuba. Were it not for the Cuban exiles there would not be a daily newspaper in Spanish such as this in Miami.

We have been able to have our denunciations proclaimed in the radio by people such as Ninoska Pérez Castellón and Enrique Encinosa, and on TV and the Internet, for example Diario de Cuba, which comes out in Spain. And here we have Julio Shiling, who is dedicating his life to the triumph of truth over lies. When Orlando Zapata Tamayo diez of hunger and thirst, or when Guillermo Fariñas goes on hunger strike, or when Oswaldo Payá is assassinated, people like Julio Shiling are present. Today in TV Libertad the various activities of Patria de Martí, or Marti’s Fatherland are broadcasted, What a beautiful name for this organization!

In summary, we Cuban exiles have been able to become:

  1. The moral reserves of Cuba. The sounding board for dissidents and the place where they can come to heal their wounds and recharge their batteries.
  2. The reservoir of the true history of Cuba. We write books and we do activities like the one here today or at the Bacardí House at the University of Miami where we study and disseminate the real history of the Island.
  3. The reserve corps of technology and education for a future reconstruction after the Castro earthquake. At FIU there are more Cuban students than in any campus in Cuba. What Cubans have learned in exile represents a human capital that is very complementary with the human capital found in Cuba. We have learned things that are not taught in Cuba, and these things are transferable to our countrymen.
  4. The entrepreneurial corps of businesspeople that could at the proper time invest their capital and know-how in the national reconstruction.
  5. The central information worldwide hub for information about the Castro regime and 21st Century Socialism in the Americas. In five TV stations and several radio stations daily programs are broadcasted about the truth in Cuba, in addition to Radio and TV Martí and El Nuevo Herald and Diario Las Américas. Exile bloggers also keep alive the flame of truth about Cuba.
  6. The parents and grandparents of offsprings of children and grandchildren interested in Cuba who will visit it and will invest their energy and capital doing business in it to the betterment of our homeland.

At the end of the day we have survived – to fight another day. Thank you.

Frank Rodriguez
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