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Cuban exiles strike back at filmmaker Michael Moore | (KRT) MIAMI -- Weeks after Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" became a controversial blockbuster in the United States, the film and its maker are generating a new wave of attention - this time from Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.

In Cuba, where leader Fidel Castro is in a heightened war of words with President Bush, bootlegged copies of Moore's Bush-bashing documentary were shown to packed cinemas for a week, and the film was aired on state-run television July 29.

Cuban Americans who support Bush are vilifying Moore on Spanish-language radio, the Internet and in e-mails.

Their objection, beyond the new film: inflammatory pieces Moore wrote about Cuban exiles in 1997 and 2000 in which he called them ''Batista supporters'' and ''wimps'' who were wrong not to immediately send home child-boater Elian Gonzalez.

The controversy has put Cuban-American Democrats in a sensitive spot: Moore's writings about Miami exiles are sure to offend some of them, but the filmmaker's anti-Bush message resonates strongly with Democrats eager to reclaim the White House.

Miami Cuban-American Gus Garcia, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Boston, said he skipped the Florida delegation's July 28 breakfast with Moore because a relative called and read him an e-mail quoting Moore's writings.

''Total Cuban bashing,'' Garcia said Thursday. ``I lost my father when I was 11 in the struggle against Castro, so I did not appreciate that, as a Cuban American or as a human being.''

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Cuban exiles are spreading Moore's writings around the globe ''in what I call the Web track, the information highway, going about 90 miles per hour,'' Garcia said.

Garcia's opinions form rare common ground with Radio Mambi host Ninoska Perez Castellon, a staunch Bush supporter, who criticized Moore during her show on Tuesday.

''I mentioned the fact that what he's written about Cubans is totally insulting,'' she said last week. ``Of course there's a lot of talk, because people feel offended - and rightly so - by the things he has said.''

As for the film being shown in Cuba, Garcia said it could send a message that ``this country allows criticism of the power structure, which the Cuban government doesn't. I think Moore should point that out. It's fashionable now to go to Cuba, but it's not quaint to point out the loss of human rights in Cuba.''

People are calling Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas' office to complain, too.

''They want us to stand up and tell Michael Moore a thing or two,'' Penelas spokeswoman Lynn Norman-Teck said.

Excerpts from "Downsize This!," Moore's 1997 book, available at

``It is (in Miami) that a nutty bunch of Cuban exiles have controlled U.S. foreign policy regarding this insignificant island nation. These Cubans, many of whom were Batista supporters and lived high on the hog while that crook ran the country, seem not to have slept a wink since they grabbed their assets and headed to Florida.

``U.S.-based Cuban terrorist organizations have been responsible for more than 200 bombings and at least 100 murders since Castro's revolution. They have got everyone so afraid to stand up to them that I probably shouldn't even be writing this chapter. I am, after all, one of the few unarmed Americans.

``So why am I not worried? Because these Cuban exiles, for all their chest-thumping and terrorism, are really just a bunch of wimps.

``That's right. Wimps.

``Need proof? For starters, when you don't like the oppressor in your country, you stay there and try to overthrow him. . . . But you don't just turn tail and run like these Cubans.''

-- Excerpts from an open letter Moore sent to Elian Gonzalez on March 31, 2000, available at

``You are being told that your mother died trying to bring you to freedom. I am so sorry to have to tell you, that's not true. The Cuban court granted your father custody of you, and your mother decided to kidnap you. She placed your life in horrible jeopardy by putting you in a leaky, overcrowded raft that eventually sank, killing everyone except you and two others. ... The worst that could be said is that, in Cuba, you were in jeopardy of receiving free health care whenever you needed it, an excellent education in one of the few countries that has 100 percent literacy, and a better chance of your baby brother being born and making it to his first birthday than if he had been born in Washington, D.C. ...

Will Penelas, a Cuban-American Democrat running for a U.S. Senate seat, take up the cause? Norman-Teck said she would ask him when he got out of a meeting. There was no answer Thursday night from Penelas, who did attend the delegation breakfast in Boston at which Moore spoke.

Shawn Sachs, Moore's spokesman in New York, said Moore declined to comment.

"Fahrenheit 9/11" reached Cuban homes and 120 cinemas ''from an unauthorized, pirated copy'' broadcast without prior knowledge of Moore or the film's distributors, their representatives said.

In a country with a long-held distrust of U.S. governments, the film has sparked widespread public interest and added to a recent barrage of official - and personalized - attacks on President Bush.

Relations between Washington and Havana have soured since the White House tightened the Cuba embargo on June 30. New rules limit visits and cash gifts from Cubans in the United States.

For Maria, a wife and mother struggling to support seven loved ones in her cramped Havana apartment, watching "Fahrenheit 9/11" on Cuban television last week had the intended effect:

''I'm surprised at what (George Bush) was doing when Sept. 11th happened,'' said Maria, who agreed to give only her first name. ``I couldn't imagine that he was in the school visiting children and that terrible thing was happening and he didn't do anything.

``In my opinion, he is not intelligent enough to be president of the United States. I wish that in November he would not be the president again.''

Encouraging the masses to bash President Bush is a shared goal for filmmaker Moore and Castro. But they share opinions about more than Bush.

According to material written in 1997 and 2000 by Moore, both men abhor Miami's Cuban exile community. In a chapter of his 1997 best-selling book "Downsize This!" that is excerpted on the Internet, Moore wrote about Miami's Cuban exiles as ''always present and involved ... in every incident of national torment that has deflated our country for the past three decades,'' including as examples the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Iran-Contra and the drug-abuse epidemic.

In a letter of apology to Elian on Moore's Web site, Moore calls Elian's mother a child abuser for taking the boy to sea. Elian's mother died on the journey, setting up a tug of war for the boy between his father in Havana and his Miami relatives.

The film's distributors hastened to say they had not provided the movie to Cuba after a report last week suggested that it could be disqualified from the Academy Awards because it had aired on television within nine months of its theatrical distribution - a violation of academy rules.

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© 2004, The Miami Herald. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services