By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Looking like a battered Spencer Tracy, 49-year-old Julian Jorge Reyes stands beside his 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme in the parking lot across from Domino Park in Miami's Little Havana. At 3 a.m. the bright lights on the marquee of the newly renovated Tower Arts Center theater turn the gray at his temples silver. The glow of his white jeans and plain, cotton T-shirt is broken only by a thin black cloth tied around his left arm.
"This is my battle armor," Reyes says.
Hanging from a metal rod on the car's roof, a roll of white butcher paper covers the enormous rear window and trunk. Reyes, who emigrated from Cuba to the United States in 1994, has written a series of what he calls news bulletins in boldly colored Magic Marker. Opposed to Spanish-language radio's nostalgia-mongering, this veteran of Castro's prisons has launched his own imaginary emisora, his own station.
Lying flat on the ground in the shadow of the Cutlass's dented rear bumper, the first news item on the butcher paper asks: "For Cubans only: How can you explain your energetic protest here, when during 41 years in Cuba you never made a peep against the tyrant Castro?" News bulletin number two adds: "(More important than No. 1) For all who wish to express their views, here is paper and ink enough for everyone. I hope that what you write will contradict me."
The driver of a white Jeep slows down to read the signs. A scrawny young man with the beginnings of a mustache parks, hops out, and puzzles over Reyes's statements.
Cocking his head to one side, Reyes tells the young man: "What I thought I was going to find [in South Florida] was false." Dropping his jaw, he continues: "What you have here is Fidel inside out. It's exactly the same thing, but inside out."
The young man mulls over Reyes' words, then takes a marker from the cup on the roof and writes: "After a beautiful day I ran into a stranger. I don't know who he is but I do know that I curse the day I met him."
Drawing a pair of tortoiseshell glasses from his pocket, Reyes reads, then nods approvingly. "Good," he says in English as he shakes the youth's hand. "You have very nice handwriting."
A rusty Cadillac with tinted windows cruises slowly down Calle Ocho (Eighth Street) blaring gangsta rap. Two men in their early twenties, wearing sleeveless T-shirts and dark sunglasses, peer out the window at the Cutlass, stop, then continue down the street. At the next block, they pull over in front of a transvestite prostitute.
Drawing closer to Reyes, the Cuban youth asks: "Do you think [those men] could be dangerous?"
"Naw," says Reyes, pulling off his glasses and sucking on the end of one of the earpieces. "To tell you the truth, I'm a little bored with Miami. People say they're going to kill you. They circle their cars around like they're going to kill you. But in the end they never do kill you. They know I'm crazier than they are."
To prove the point, he whips the upper row of his teeth from his mouth. Holding the dentures up in the light, he asks, "Do you know how many times I've had my teeth kicked in?"
Unafraid of the consequences Reyes has waged his quixotic crusade for democracy on both sides of the Florida Straits. Born in Cuba on January 28, 1952 -- the anniversary of the birth of the island's most celebrated patriot, José Martí -- Reyes grew up in a household where revolutionary philosophy was a religion. As a teenager Reyes proved his socialist mettle by overseeing volunteer work in his neighborhood Revolutionary Defense Committee. In 1971 he wed one of the beauty queens of the Havana Carnival. After graduating with a degree in agricultural engineering in 1978, he went to work cultivating avocados and aromatic plants.
Within two years the earnest young revolutionary turned dissident. Reyes first became disillusioned when he learned that political connections allowed his incompetent supervisor to remain in power. After transferring to another post in a research lab, he discovered his superiors were embezzling with the tacit approval of the Communist Party.
"I realized in 1980 that there were only two options," he recalls. "I could either look the other way, or I could oppose the government." So he quit and took on odd jobs in carpentry, gardening, and fishing because, he explains, "I refused to contribute any more of my labor to the state."
Reyes dedicated the next few years to studying Cuban history and making contact with dissidents. Viewing clandestine activity as capitulation, he opted for open, if eccentric, opposition. In his white uniform with black arm band, he rode through the streets of Havana from 1987 through 1988 on a Soviet-made bicycle bearing metal plates engraved with the word perestroika.
At the end of 1988, he embarked on what he believed to be a suicide mission. He separated from his wife, sold his car and all other possessions, and hosted a farewell paella dinner for his family and friends. Then on December 8 he attended a speech by Castro in Havana's Revolution Square, a white spot amid hundreds of thousands of socialists wearing blue-and-green uniforms. As el comandante justified the casualties sustained in the failed Angolan war, Reyes held aloft two poles on which he had mounted two white bed sheets, emblazoned front and back with the words: We all have the right to speak.