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Cuban-American Leader Speaks of Restoring Democracy After Castro


Jorge Mas Canosa was gesticulating wildly, working his audience into a fever, when a solitary figure slowly emerged from the crowd and made his way toward the podium.

The bent old man finally teetered to a stop a few feet from Mas Canosa and pulled out a camera. Without missing a beat, Mas Canosa turned and made brief eye contact at the instant the flash went off, sending the photographer back to his seat with a personal photo.

Mas Canosa's ability to inspire the masses while making every individual feel unique is one of the main reasons behind his unparalleled success as leader of the Cuban-American National Foundation. Since the foundation was formed in 1981, it has grown to 252,000 members--52,000 of whom pay dues.

Mas Canosa visited Los Angeles last month to address the Foundation's members in the Southland. He kept his audience of 500 spellbound for almost an hour. While speaking without notes at the Proud Bird Restaurant near Los Angeles International Airport, he was interrupted by applause several times as he called on Cuban-Americans to sacrifice in order to fulfill "the dream of Jose Marti" for a free and democratic Cuba.

At least once in each of the past six years, Mas Canosa, 53, has visited Los Angeles to deliver the same call.

"These people hold me accountable for everything the foundation is doing," he said. "So we face the people . . . in every city to explain to the Cubans what we are doing and in what direction we are headed."

That direction, clearly, is back to Cuba. Forecasting the end of Castro's Cuba, Mas Canosa pushes his "program of preparation" for the new Cuba.

Convinced that the time is near, many Cuban-Americans join the cause. The feelings of others in Southern California's Cuban-American community of 60,000 appear to vary from political apathy to sympathy toward the Castro government. (Foundation members in the region say there are no accurate figures on the size of its Los Angeles chapter.)

The national group has an annual budget of nearly $4 million and, through its political action committee, distributes nearly $1 million a year to influential politicians.

"I am telling you for certain that the fall of Castro is near," he said to a huge ovation. "Cuba will change into a country that will be an example for the rest of the world because of the sacrifice and the work of the Cuban exiles."

"Every one of you," he said, "can write part of this history." At that, the crowd rose as one, each person apparently certain that Mas Canosa was addressing him personally.

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