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2007-05-07

"The Man of Two Havanas": Max Lesnik on His Transition From Cuban Revolutionary to Exile to Target of Terrorist Attacks by Anti-Castro Cuban Militants in Miami

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Max Lesnik joins us in the Firehouse studio with his daughter, Vivien Lesnik Weisman who directed the "The Man of Two Havanas." The film premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. [includes rush transcript]

"The Man of Two Havanas" is a new documentary about Max Lesnik. Lesnik was a close friend of Fidel Castro’s who was exiled to the U.S. following a public disagreement over Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union. But instead of joining Castro’s right-wing Cuban-American opponents, Lesnik became an outspoken critic of the U.S. embargo and covert warfare to bring down the Cuban government. For his views he was the target of several attacks that nearly cost him his life. In a moment we’ll hear from Max Lesnick and his daughter Vivien Lesnik Weisman, director of the "The Man of Two Havanas." But first, a preview of the film.

  • The Man of Two Havanas

A preview of the film "The Man of Two Havanas", which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival here in New York. The film is directed by Max Lesnik’s daughter, Vivien Lesnik Weisman. Vivien and her father join me in the firehouse studio.

  • Vivien Lesnik Weisman, director of "The Man of Two Havanas", which recently premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival in New York. She is the daughter of Max Lesnik.
  • Max Lesnik, former Cuban revolutionary turned exile, Max later became the target of terrorist attacks by anti-Castro Cuban exiles. He’s currently a journalist with Radio Miami.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to The Man of Two Havanas, a new documentary about Max Lesnik. Lesnik was a close friend of Fidel Castro’s, who was exiled to the United States following a public disagreement over Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union. But instead of joining Castro’s rightwing Cuban American opponents, Lesnik became an outspoken critic of the US embargo and covert warfare to bring down the Cuban government. For his views, he was the target of several attacks that nearly cost him his life.

In a moment we’ll hear from Max Lesnik and his daughter Vivien Lesnik Weisman, who is director of the film The Man of Two Havanas, but first an excerpt of the film.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: Did the Dolphins just win the Super Bowl? Some kind of Cuban American Mardi Gras? We are celebrating the imminent death of the non-plus, ultra-evil-doer of the twentieth century: Fidel. These are my people. However, since I don’t see Castro as the root of all evil in the universe, well, I’m a little out of step with my tribe, and I could give a [beep], but there is a complicating factor: my dad. He gives a [beep]. He really does care, and he has from the very beginning.

Back in Havana, he was a revolutionary, and he fought alongside his buddy, Fidel. Then he fought Fidel, and it was "Miami, here we come." But his animosity for Castro didn’t last. Now, he wanted dialogue. Really, he wanted peace. That’s the when the [beep] hit the fan.

MAX LESNIK: A group of fascists tried to kill me in Little Havana, but anyway, this is the situation that any real newspaper man or journalist have to face when you want to openly explain your position.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: Bombings, drive-by shootings, assassination attempts on his life — but who would do this to us? We were Americans now. It must be the communists, right? Wrong, my father became the focal point of the anti-Castro terrorists. These were Cuban Americans, people just like you and me. Well, not exactly. They were trained by the CIA. What most people don’t know is that terrorism in America did not begin on September 11. In the 1970s and the 1980s there was a reign of terror in Miami. There was as many as seven bombings in one day and hundreds per year. The culprits were not communists, they were Americans, Cuban Americans, and my dad was at the epicenter.

AMY GOODMAN: Vivien Lesnik, narrating the film about her father, The Man of Two Havanas. And now, we’re going to go on and see another clip of that film that focuses on that issue of terrorism.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: On October 6, 1976, a Cubana Airlines plane took off from Venezuela, heading towards Cuba. The seventy-three passengers included the entire Cuban fencing team. In Havana, a hero’s welcome awaited them. The young athletes were bringing home from the Central American Games a gold in every category. They only made it as far as Barbados.

CUBANA 455: We have an explosion, and we are descending immediately. We have fire on board. This is Cubana 455. We are requesting immediately, immediately landing.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cubana 455, you are cleared to land.

CUBANA 455: That’s worse! Get down to the water, Felo, close to the water!

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: What should have been a welcoming parade for the victorious young athletes on board Cubana 455 was instead a state funeral. The entire country mourned. The incident transformed them into revolutionary martyrs. Castro accused the CIA.

FIDEL CASTRO: [translated] The CIA directly participated in the destruction of the Cubana plane in Barbados.

PETER KORNBLUH: The CIA believed that a terrorist group of Cuban exiles led by Orlando Bosch was planning to blow up a Cubana airliner. Not a single agency in the US government passed along this extraordinary intelligence as a warning to the Cuban government.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: The tragedy that came to be known as Barbados was an awakening for a new generation of Cubans that had not known hate, had not known fear. With Barbados, all that changed. A national wound had been inflicted.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: [translated] It was absurd. It was the Olympic fencing team. Imagine, almost children.

ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Orlando Bosch, Luis Posada and two Venezuelans were charged with that crime, which was the first act of airline terrorism in our hemisphere.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: The downing of the Barbados plane was buried on page eight of the New York Times and hardly got a mention in other newspapers. Most Cubans in Miami thought this act of terrorism was a well-deserved blow. Orlando Bosch was often quoted: "All of Cuba’s planes are war planes and therefore legitimate targets."

ORLANDO BOSCH: In this war against communists, a lot of innocents have been sacrificed, and we know some more has to be if we want to make the victory, the final victory.

AMY GOODMAN: Orlando Bosch in the film The Man of Two Havanas, but that film is about Max Lesnik. His daughter did the film, Vivien Lesnik Weisman, and they both join us here in New York, as the film has just debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! And before we get into Posada, in particular, and Max Lesnik, your concerns, as you are a Cuban American here in this country, Vivien, why did you do this film about your dad?

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: Well, first I wanted to explore my relationship with my father. It’s a personal film, as well as a political film. But my dad is — he has one passion, and that’s Cuba. So in order to understand my father better, I had to understand his passion. So therefore I went to Cuba. I got to know my country, the Cuban people, and was immersed in all the information about the terrorist groups that had targeted him throughout my childhood.

AMY GOODMAN: Had you understood this through your life?

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: Well, I was aware when I was growing up that we were bombed and that there were drive-by shootings in our house, and I lived in a constant state of siege, like a war zone. And Orlando Bosch —

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re talking about here in the United States, when you lived in Florida.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: Yes, that’s in Miami. And we were targeted by these people, the anti-Castro terrorists. And the two names, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know those names, because they were constantly being discussed. And one of the groups that targeted my father was under the umbrella terrorist group that Orlando Bosch headed.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Max Lesnik, as Vivien — in this film, The Man of Two Havanas, you, Little Havana in Miami and Havana, Cuba, as she tells the story, you were one of the revolutionaries with Fidel Castro. Describe your early years in Cuba before you split with Castro.

MAX LESNIK: I was a young leader of Ortodoxo Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Of the Orthodox Party?

MAX LESNIK: Orthodox Party, the same party that Fidel Castro belong at that time. I met Fidel in the University of Havana, year 1949, where I was only eighteen years old. Fidel was maybe twenty, twenty-one. Both together fought — not the revolution, but in some way I started with the student movement fighting for reforms and going to all — the way the student at that time in Cuba did, fighting the police.

Then happened something incredible. At that time, Cuba was a democracy, but with defects, corruption, but democracy like your organization Democracy Now! But that system was overthrown by Batista. He was a sergeant in the ’33 revolution, and then he took power by arms in 1952. Then happened to Cuba the worst thing that can happen in a democracy: the overthrow of the system by a military group of — commanded by Batista, that was a senator at that time.

Then after that, the only way to change the situation is through the arms, because Batista don’t permit any play in democracy or something like free expression. Then Fidel went to hills in Oriente province, the most — the oriental section of the island. I was related to the group that went to the center part of the island, the Escambray Mountains, and by that time we fought for two years as guerrillas, combatant. Then, the first of January, Batista left the country, and the Revolution took power.

AMY GOODMAN: You were the first person in Havana of the group?

MAX LESNIK: I was one of the first —

AMY GOODMAN: Before Fidel Castro got there?

MAX LESNIK: Before Fidel. Fidel arrived to Havana in January the 8th, but I was in Havana the day that Batista left, because I was going forth from the Sierra to the city to organize the clandestine movement, and then Batista left the night of January the 1st, and then I go openly to the radio station and television station. I suppose I was the one of those who appear on television telling Batista left and we are here. In reality, only were a lot of people like milicianos in the city of Havana, but the rebel army was in Oriente and in Las Villas. I was alone fighting the government, because they was afraid that it’s true that I say that we have an army here, that it’s [inaudible] in a way functioned the joke.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break. When we come back — you parted ways with Fidel Castro and came to the United States. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We’ll continue with Max Lesnik and his filmmaker daughter Vivien Lesnik in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are filmmaker Vivien Lesnik Weisman, who has directed the film The Man of Two Havanas about her father, Max Lesnik, former Cuban revolutionary turned exile, later became the target of terrorist attacks by anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami, currently a journalist with Radio Miami. Max Lesnik, you parted ways with Fidel Castro. Why? How did you end up coming to the United States?

MAX LESNIK: The main reason was the new relation between Cuba and the Soviet Union. I was not an anti-communist, only I was democrat. And at that time, remember in the ’50s, the war was split into camps: the Soviet Union, one part, and the other one, the occidental democracies. But anyway, my position as a revolutionary was Cuba will have a revolution and I pretend that goal free of both camps. To tell you the truth, it was an idealistic aspiration. Fidel was smarter than me at that time. And when the American government tried to overthrow the Revolution, he go to the other camp and asking for help from the Soviet Union.

I disagreed with that position, and then I went to the underground fighting against my revolution. Then, the only choice was to escape, because they pressured me. Then I arrived in this country in 1961. But my disagreement with the opposition at that time was that all those groups against the government where controlled by the CIA, and I discussed with Fidel how you are going to embrace Soviet Union and then all the groups in opposition were controlled by the American government through the CIA.

AMY GOODMAN: You started a magazine in Miami?

MAX LESNIK: I started a magazine in Miami.

AMY GOODMAN: It was bombed how many times?

MAX LESNIK: Eleven times.

AMY GOODMAN: By who.

MAX LESNIK: By those terrorist groups that were fighting first with the CIA, and after —

AMY GOODMAN: Fighting and supported by the CIA.

MAX LESNIK: Supported, trained by the CIA, and then going to Cuba to make activities in terrorism. And then, when I denounced the flight of Cubana, one that was going down in Barbados, they focused on me, because I denounced terrorism in the United States and outside the United States, made by Cubans, related with the CIA or in some way with the right wingers of all the Latin American countries.

AMY GOODMAN: You live in a city in Miami, where you have Orlando Bosch Day. We’re talking about Luis Posada, who worked with Orlando Bosch. He, too, lives free in Miami. Talk about their significance right now and why this has become such a mission in your life.

MAX LESNIK: Posada Carriles now is the most notorious terrorist in our hemisphere. It’s like Osama bin Laden of the Americas. And it’s incredible that this government, Bush administration, say that we are at war against terrorism all around the world, and we receive Posada Carriles like a friend. This is not realistic, because all the policy of the government go down there. We don’t have the moral force to tell to the world, we are against terrorism, but Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, our terrorists, are living freely in Miami.

AMY GOODMAN: Vivien, you describe well in The Man of Two Havanas the political support for them and the connections going to Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and, of course, the current President George W. Bush’s brother. Talk about his relationship to the congress members, Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: The congresspersons, the Cuban American congresspersons from Florida, have always protected the terrorists. Iliana Ross-Lehtinen ran her political campaign — one of the main themes was "Free Orlando Bosch," and Jeb Bush at the time was her campaign manager.

AMY GOODMAN: And his father was President at the time?

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: At the time, yes. And when she won the election, behind the scenes, Jeb Bush talked to his father and George Bush overruled his Justice Department that called Orlando Bosch a terrorist. They had much evidence, many of it coming from our own intelligence, from the CIA, and he overruled his Justice Department and allowed Orlando Bosch to stay in Miami.

AMY GOODMAN: This is George H.W. Bush.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: George H.W., George I. And he lives freely in Miami.

AMY GOODMAN: And Diaz-Balart, the other congress member.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: Congressman Diaz-Balart was part of the fundraising campaign before he was a congressman, and he has actively supported — he has also — the congresspersons were very active in behind-the-scenes talks with President Moscoso of Panama, who — one of her last acts before leaving power was pardoning Luis Posada and the other Cuban Americans that were going to blow up the auditorium in Panama where Castro was going to be speaking. Peter Kornbluh addressed that. There were thirty-three pounds of C4 plastic, which would have not only killed Castro, but it would have killed hundreds of Panamanian students.

AMY GOODMAN: In her last act, one of her last acts as president of the country.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: One of her last acts as president. And she summers in Key Biscayne, where the Cuban American right wing live, and she had friendly relations with the Cuban American rightwing elite.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Lesnik, how have you have co-existed there in Miami? So your magazine was blown up time after time after time. You ultimately close the magazine. Now you’re a radio journalist.

MAX LESNIK: Yes. How I live there? Because it’s my duty to live there. I am Cuban. The Cuban community is very powerful. And I’m a journalist, like you live here. I — my career now isn’t as a politician, only as a journalist. But my duty as a Cuban and living in America is fight in some way terrorism and the other way to try to maintain a little light in the security of the Miami Cuban community.

AMY GOODMAN: You returned a few years ago to Cuba — it’s all documented in The Man of Two Havanas — with your wife. You met with Fidel Castro.

MAX LESNIK: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What was that reunion like, given that you had last left there fighting him?

MAX LESNIK: It happened in 1976, when Mr. James Carter was the President. At that time, I was the hope that the Carter administration will change the relation with Cuba, was very tense at that time. As a matter of fact, President Carter before, when he was "Jimmy Who?," he came to Miami to meet Cubans that tried to help him to go to the White House, and I interviewed him, Mr. Carter, for the magazine, Replica magazine. I asked him one question: what will you do as President of the United States with Cuba and Castro government? He answered to me, "I will try to press for human rights in Cuba." And I then asked, "Can you go to Cuba?" He said, "If I need to go to Cuba, I will go to Cuba." After that, I realized that maybe Jimmy Carter will change the policy, because I was advocating for dialogue between Cubans from Havana and Cubans from Little Havana, dialogue between the American government and the Cuban government.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Fidel Castro will return to power?

MAX LESNIK: Now? Not as he was before. I suppose as an [inaudible] statement, not in the working day. He may retain the position of president of the country, but in Cuba that happened now, a very succession of power as the constitution said. Raul Castro, the general, is the brother, but anyway, by the constitution is the second man in command, and he will be in charge. But remember that Raul is seventy-five years old. He’s not a young kid. And then, I suppose a new generation will be in power in the next four or five years.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for joining us, Max Lesnik, a Cuban revolutionary turned exile, now at Radio Miami in Florida, and Vivien Lesnik Weisman. Her film is called The Man of Two Havanas. It will be shown now around the country. It started here at Tribeca Film Festival.

VIVIEN LESNIK WEISMAN: Thank you. We hope so.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will link to the website at democracynow.org. Thank you so much.

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