Unlikely alliance forged in N.J.
Monday, October 23,
By ELIZABETH LLORENTE
Like many in his native Venezuela, Hector Contreras of Fort Lee saw Cuban leader Fidel Castro as a romantic figure – a Robin Hood in military fatigues who wanted to take from Cuba's privileged and give to its poor.
They admired Castro for condemning the United States as a meddler in Latin American affairs, a global bully that looked down upon its neighbors to the south.
But now, Contreras and many other Venezuelans are denouncing Castro with a disdain that perhaps is second only to that of Cuban exiles.
"He's nothing but a dictator," Contreras said. "His grand promises were only propaganda. He's caused a lot of suffering in Cuba, and he has achieved no real improvement for the
And so, Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants have formed an alliance that was unthinkable just a few years ago.
The catalyst was leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Castro protege who Venezuelans
fear is going to turn Venezuela -- with its long-standing democracy and U.S. ties -- into another Cuba. They fear that Chavez is stripping away freedoms by cracking down on dissenters and media outlets that criticize his policies and actions.
The similarities between Chavez's restrictions on civil liberties and the erosion of rights in the Castro regime have bred a political and social affinity among Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants. Venezuelans attend anti-Castro rallies in significant numbers, and Cuban exiles abound at anti-Chavez demonstrations. Cuban exile organizations have allowed Venezuelan groups to operate out of their offices, many of which now display Venezuelan flags and other symbols of the South American nation on their walls.
And just as Castro has mentored Chavez, Cuban exiles are showing Venezuelans how to become a potent lobbying group in the United States. They are introducing Venezuelans to their many friends in the U.S. Congress and the media. They are also helping anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela by providing funding, political campaign advice and firsthand stories to the media about oppression in Cuba and the ineptitude of the Castro regime.
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