Field Notes 2: Miami

We are sitting in the cramped, cluttered offices of Radio Miami, which look more like a 1960s commune than a modern radio station. Radio Miami—“radio para la difusión de ideas”—is located in a nondescript strip mall well beyond the stifling political and cultural confines of Little Havana.

That, I have been told, is more a safety precaution than an accident.

Lesson #1.

I have come here on this June day to try to learn what it is like to be a progressive Cuban-American in militantly right-wing, pro-blockade, Castro-must-die, our-terrorists-are-freedom-fighters Miami.

My guides to this strange netherworld are two of the key figures in Miami’s besieged and beleaguered Cuban-American left, Max Lesnik and Andrés Gómez.

Max thumb
Max Lesnik

Lesnik, now 77 and a regular commentator on Radio Miami, was a close friend and ally of Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution but the two men had a falling out soon after over Castro’s decision to embrace communism.

In 1961, Lesnik joined the exodus of Cubans fleeing to Miami, but he never became—or attempted to become—part of Miami’s virulently anti-Castro el exilio community.

Instead Lesnik, who published a magazine called Replica, made it a point to include all shades of exile opinion in its pages. But the 1976 bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane that resulted in the deaths of 73 people—the first ever act of airplane terrorism—became his personal “point of no return,” he tells me. “Replica was openly democratic, publishing all points of view. Right, left… The bombers wanted only one side represented.”

His criticism of the masterminds of the airline bombing—widely believed to be CIA-trained Cuban exiles Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada—brought him into the crosshairs of the militant exile groups. And not just those directly responsible for the airplane attack.

Replica’s offices were bombed 11 different times and Lesnik’s life threatened many times. The threats were anything but idle. In 1975, Luciano Nieves, one of Lesnik’s closest friends, was gunned down by a fellow exile after visiting his 11-year-old son in the hospital. Nieves’ sin: speaking publicly in favour of the United States government improving its relations with Cuba.

Miami, Lesnik has said, is a place where “terrorists are heroes” and “political assassination is regarded as heroic.”

Vivien and Max
Vivien and Max

Lesnik is about to tell me about how he’d first come to know one of those Miami terrorist “heroes”—Orlando Bosch—in Havana in the days before the revolution, but then he looks at his watch. He has to go. His mother, who is 100, is not well and he needs to go see her, he says. He hands me a DVD of The Man of Two Havanas, an award-winning but little seen documentary his daughter Viven Lesnik Weisman made about him two years ago. “It’s all in there,” he says simply as he makes his way out the door.

It is—as I discovered later—all in there indeed. Weisman has produced not only a quirky, entertaining personal documentary about her dad and his strange obsession with Cuba but also an insightful, informative primer on the even stranger world of Miami’s el elixio. I highly recommend it.

After Lesnik left, Andrés Gómez, a journalist and leader of the Miami-based Antonio Maceo Brigade, a pro-Cuban group, who works with Lesnik at Radio Miami, picks up the story of what it’s like to be a progressive Cuban-American in militantly right-wing, pro-blockade, Castro-must-die, our-terrorists-are-freedom-fighters Miami.

And I’ll pick up his story in the next Field Notes.

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