Foundation seeks to revoke residency for Cubans who visit the island
NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
When President Barack Obama announced that he would reestablish
diplomatic relations with Cuba, one part of the Cuban American community
— especially the so-called historical exile population — felt it had
Now, 1 ½ years later, a Miami lawyer wants to unite those exiles to
fight against the new policy of warming relations with the island and to
regain the political space he believes that Cuban Americans have lost in
the Cuba policy-making arena.
Inspire America, a non-profit inaugurated in August with a tribute to
dissident Oscar Elías Biscet that drew more than 700 guests, was born
out of frustration with the Obama administration and the need to
"intensify efforts in the fight for democracy" in Cuba, said it is
president, Marcell Felipe.
IT'S IMPORTANT THAT THE CUBAN EXILE COMMUNITY WAKES UP AND TAKES CONTROL
OF THE SITUATION
Marcell Felipe, Inspire America
"It's important that the Cuban exile community wakes up and takes
control of the situation," Felipe said. "Even though the opposition
inside Cuba … is gaining ground every day, and although our Congress
members are doing a great job in Washington and the U.S.-Cuba Democracy
PAC is doing a great job in Congress, both Washington and the internal
opposition feed off the support of the exiles.
"A united Miami is needed," Felipe, who owns his law firm, told el Nuevo
The foundation has not revealed the names of the people on its boards of
directors or advisers. Miguel Cossio, operations chief at America TeVe,
which co-sponsored the foundation's inaugural event, said the station is
not part of the foundation. Felipe represented the channel's new owners
in a recent lawsuit over control of the station.
The organization's politics are clear.
"We are categorically opposed to negotiations. Cuba's freedom cannot be
negotiated with the Castros," said Felipe, who accused the
administration of "yielding to pressure from the Castro regime" and
"bailing out the regime from its economic collapse."
A secret poll of Cubans carried out in March and commissioned by
Univision and The Washington Post showed that 97 percent saw the
normalization of relations between the two countries as something
positive. Felipe, however, believes that "the immense majority of the
people who live in Cuba" as well as all exiles oppose any negotiations
with the Raúl Castro government.
"In a totalitarian dictatorship, it is impossible to carry out a poll
that would provide a true measure of what people think," he said.
The tribute to Biscet was not accidental.
"In that first event we succeeded in having a leader like (former
Colombian President) Álvaro Uribe give his support to the most exemplary
member of the Cuban opposition, and perhaps the most principled," he
said, "someone who wants no accommodations at all, who doesn't want a
seat in the (legislative) National Assembly of People's Power, who
doesn't just want to be given some space — who wants the complete
removal and replacement of the regime."
Felipe, who left Cuba in 1982 when he was 10 years old, was a member of
the Cuban American National Foundation and later the Cuban Liberty
Council. His vision for Inspire America is an organization that would
fill the vacuum left by the late CANF Chairman Jorge Mas Canosa.
Other Cuban American activists said they agree with some of Felipe's
"You can talk about the vacuum created by the absence of a leader like
Jorge Mas Canosa, but we can't talk about a vacuum in the exile
community when we're still electing the same political leaders who are
committed to maintaining sanctions on the Havana regime," said Miami
radio commentator and activist Ninoska Pérez Castellón.
"Everything changes in life. When the Cubans came here, the only way
they had to be heard was through street protests," she added. "Today,
the Cubans have achieved important positions and we have simply learned
how to play the game."
Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy Political
Action Committee (PAC), agreed there is a vacuum, at least in terms of
the political message.
His PAC is "focused on Washington. CANF changed course and now focuses
more on issues on the island and the opposition, through its Foundation
for Human Rights. That's why in Miami itself there's no cohesive message
from any entity," said Claver-Carone. He added that from Miami, Inspire
America can complement the work his PAC carries out in Washington.
The key legislative proposal backed by the new foundation is a change in
the Cuban Adjustment Act: to revoke the residency of any Cubans who
obtain it under the Act and then travel back to the island; and deny all
of the Act's benefits to Cubans who arrive with tourist visas.
Florida Republican Congress members Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos
Curbelo, have both proposed eliminating some benefits provided by the
Act, but not residence.
Travel by Cuban Americans to the island continues to be controversial in
the exile community. News reports of abuses and frauds committed by
relatively new arrivals have stoked the fires of a debate that at times
shows some older exiles' disapproval for more recent migrants.
"Exiles are demoralized when a number of people arrive and stay under
the Cuban Adjustment Act, but then return because they're not really
political refugees. That's not the aim of the law. It not only
demoralizes the exile community but also discredits exiles in the eyes
of the rest of Americans," said Felipe. "Before they eliminate that law,
which has provided so many benefits for so many Cuban families who
really merit them, the right thing to do is to modify it to prevent abuses."
Felipe said too many islanders who arrive as tourists but overstay their
visas and become U.S. residents under the Cuban Adjustment Act are
"people who have no objection at all to the regime … they do nothing to
try to change the regime or change anything to make Cuba a democratic
His foundation's legislative proposal, he added, seeks to counter the
Cuban government's efforts to "demoralize the exile community by sending
people who wage economic war against the United States … using all sorts
of Medicare fraud and even drug trafficking."
Pérez Castellón said it's difficult to determine the political
inclinations of more recent Cuban arrivals.
"We're seeing that some people, when they arrive in the United States,
don't want to speak out, don't want so say anything that could get them
banned from returning to Cuba tomorrow," she said. "But until now we
have not seen the results of the voting by those people."
The radio commentator added that she's more bothered by Cubans who
return to the island but continue to illegally receive U.S. government
benefits available only to Cubans migrants.
While the organization begins to make a name for itself, there are
questions about transparency.
According to Inspire America's web page, the foundation "is organized as
what is sometimes called a 'Super PAC', an organization that can raise
an unlimited amount of money from individual donors and businesses and
spend these funds on political advertisements."
But Felipe told el Nuevo Herald that the foundation is registered under
the Internal Revenue Code as a 501(c)4, a non-profit, tax-exempt
organization operated to promote social welfare.
"We are what's known as a 501(c)4, which means that the political
advertisements we produce cannot specifically endorse a candidate. They
are political ads on issues, in this case democracy in Latin America and
in Cuba," he said.
Felipe nevertheless insisted on identifying the foundation as being
similar to a SuperPAC, writing in a text message that the definition of
a SuperPAC "is very fluid and can be used to cover the 501(c)4
organizations because SuperPAC is not a technical definition."
There are clear differences between the two types of organizations.
SuperPACs are classified as "independent expenditure-only committees"
supervised by the Federal Elections Commission, which can receive
unlimited donations from corporations, labor unions and individuals but
cannot contribute or coordinate directly with political parties or
The 501(c)4 non-profits can lobby on any issue, but politics cannot be
their principal activities and donations for political activities are
A key difference between them has to do with identifying donors:
SuperPACs must reveal identities while 501(c)4s can keep them secret.
Claver-Carone said he would not equate both types of organizations.
"To be precise, there are some cross linkages between what one (501(c)4)
can do in terms of advertising, but SuperPACs do not lobby and they are
not regulated in the same way," he wrote in an email.
Why then would Felipe portray his 501(c)4 as a SuperPAC?
"The only thing that occurs to be is the attraction for raising funds,"
said Lloyd Mayer, an expert on the laws that govern non-profits and
professor at Notre Dame University. "People know what a SuperPAC is, and
that may be attractive to some people," he said.
But portraying the two as being the same "is misleading because you're
either a SuperPAC or a 501(c)4," Mayer said. "You can't be both."
Inspire America will have to do a lot of fundraising if it is to meet
its pledge of spending $1 million this year on ads promoting democracy
in Cuba and Latin America. Felipe said it already has received promises
of support from major donors, but declined to provide names.
"Our hopes rest on the nearly 1,000 people who attended our inauguration
… in donations of $5, $10 and $20 that we started to receive already,
without asking for them," Felipe said. "How are we going to reach the
economic goals that we have set? We're not worrying about that. We have
an exile community that will support us."
Part of the funds collected will be put into an independent fund and
used to support dissidents in Cuba, he said. All details of that fund
will be made public, the lawyer added, declining to offer any further
"All of the remainder of the money that we use for the different
operations will be kept under the utmost confidentiality because we are
fighting against a dictatorship," Felipe added. "We may not necessarily
always reveal the identities of our collaborators, because many will
have to be be extremely discrete in order to help the cause of Cuban
Source: Inspire America seeks to revoke residency for Cubans who visit
the island | In Cuba Today -