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Castro Offer a Quandary For Exiles

July 28, 1993

MIAMI (AP) _ As he sipped Cuban coffee, Alfredo Pinedo laid out the exile’s quandary: He wants to help his family back home but quakes at the thought that his U.S. dollars might help fatten Fidel Castro’s economy.

The dilemma is Castro’s doing. In his annual speech celebrating the communist revolution, the Cuban leader said Monday it would no longer be illegal for Cubans to possess American dollars, and it will become easier for exiles to visit their homeland and presumably take dollars with them.

Pinedo works at a fast-food joint and doesn’t have much money to spare, anyway. But he believes most Cuban-Americans will react coolly to Castro’s new position - though it won’t be easy.

″A lot of Cubans are worried about their families over there,″ said Pinedo, who came to the United States in the 1980 Mariel boatlift.

″If their family is sick, they need medicine, they need clothes, they need a good pair of shoes ... their niece is having her ‘quince’ (the 15th birthday celebration that marks a Cuban girl’s coming of age). They want to help.″

″I don’t agree with sending dollars to Cuba,″ echoed Fidel Pijeira, manager of El Tropico restaurant in west Dade County. ″We want to make it more difficult for Castro.″

Taking trips to Cuba ″would just fatten him up,″ said customer George Suarez, a New York native whose mother is Cuban. ″We don’t want to do that, do we?″

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., cautioned that Cuban-Americans, who number 600,000 in the Miami area, must show restraint.

″The bottom line of this action of Castro is that it’s a very clear sign of desperation. This will accelerate the process of his downfall,″ he said.

Besides efforts to refrain from helping Castro, Diaz-Balart said exiles should remember U.S. law sharply restricts aid to Cuba. Exiles are limited to sending an average $100 a month to their families in Cuba.

The congressman said not many exiles, perhaps about 20 percent, have close relatives left in Cuba. He predicted Castro’s policy will worsen tensions among his own people by giving a big advantage to those who do have U.S. relatives.

The collapse of the Soviet Union cut off a generous flow of aid, causing Castro to turn to the exiles he has often blasted as counter-revolutionaries and ″worms″ during his 34 years in power.

″I think it is very ironic that he is asking Cuban exiles to subsidize his revolution,″ said Antonio Jorge, an economist at Florida International University. ″These people have been the nemesis of Castro, and now he is asking them to take the place of the Soviet Union.″

At most, he said, only a few hundred million more dollars would go into Cuba, on top of the estimated $300 million to $400 million exiles put into Cuba’s economy through travel there and direct aid to relatives.

That’s not much in the face of Cuba’s needs.

Castro said Monday that imports are estimated to drop to $1.7 billion this year, from $8.1 billion in 1989.

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