Death of a Cuban in exile Mas Canosa: Anti-Castro crusader won control of U.S. policies.

November 25, 1997

FIDEL CASTRO has outlived his two bitterest enemies. One was John F. Kennedy, who ordered his assassination only to be assassinated himself in 1963. The other was Jorge Mas Canosa, who fled Cuba penniless in 1960 and rose to become a Florida tycoon, act like Cuba's president-in-exile and control U.S. policy on his homeland.

Mr. Mas Canosa died Sunday at home near Miami of lung cancer and other complications at 58. Mr. Castro, after 38 years in despotic power, is going strong at 71.

Through the 1970s, anti-Castro Cubans in Florida engaged in quixotic conspiracies. Mr. Mas Canosa was part of that scene. He started a contracting business in the late 1960s that grew into the publicly owned MasTec, big in utility construction and telecommunications. In league with right-wing ideologues, he founded the tax-exempt Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) to influence U.S. policy. It now has 50,000 members and is the dominant voice of Cuban America.

CANF lobbied the Reagan administration for creation of Radio Marti, which broadcasts news to Cubans that is not Mr. Castro's propaganda, though may be Mr. Mas Canosa's. This was followed by TV Marti, jammed and unseen by Cubans, which continues at U.S. taxpayer expense. President Clinton buckled under to sign the Helms-Burton Act of last year, purporting to outlaw foreigners' investments in Cuba, alienating allies from Canada to Spain affronted at infringement of their sovereignties.

Mr. Mas Canosa was a vindictive man who once challenged a Miami politician to a duel. The politician elected to fight with water pistols. The duel was never held. When the Miami Herald in 1992 opposed his ideas on the Cuban embargo, Mr. Mas Canosa advertised for a reader boycott. Newspaper property was vandalized and editors received death threats. He disavowed the violence.

Mr. Mas Canosa's popularity was based on wide agreement with "la causa" among the 1.5 million Cuban-Americans. CANF lives on without him, but also without his passion and skills. This encourages hope that U.S. policy can in time evolve into a fair expression of U.S. national interests rather than those of a handful of emigres who hope to take over Cuba.

As for Mr. Mas Canosa, he deserves only praise. More than any immigrant from anywhere, he mastered the American system and learned to work within it to achieve his political goals. Fortunately, he was unique.

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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