CBS' 60 Minutes Under Fire From Cuban Exile Groups

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

( - Cuban exile groups are criticizing a report on CBS' 60 Minutes, which they say made it look like Cuban-Americans are propping up the Castro regime. Despite criticism of the report, which focused on the money U.S. residents are sending to their relatives in Cuba, CBS is sticking by its story.

"I think [CBS is] missing the major point. The major point is that there is a distinction between people who care for and love their family members and people who support dictatorial regimes. People sent money to family and relatives in the bad days of the Soviet Union and people don't want their family members to starve in Cuba," said Dennis Hays, executive director of the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF).

According to the 60 Minutes feature, Cubans use the American dollars to buy modern appliances and other goods at shopping centers, but the money ends up flowing into the coffers of the Castro government, undermining the U.S. trade embargo that is in place against Cuba. The U.S. dollars are crucial to Castro's economic survival, the report stated, especially after the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, cut off aid to Cuba several years ago.

However, Hays believes the CBS report began with what he called a "false premise."

"The false premise is that people helping their families is somehow the same as advocating support for Castro," said Hays.

Hays didn't say whether the CANF, one of the Castro government's biggest critics, would file a protest against CBS. "We're taking a look at it," said Hays. 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl did not interview anyone from the CANF for her report.

Don Hewitt, executive producer of 60 Minutes defended the broadcast.

"We make no apologies for the piece. I think we touched every base," said Hewitt in an interview with

Stahl did interview a young Miami couple that fled Cuba several years ago, so they could, according to the broadcast, send U.S. dollars back home to their family. She also interviewed Rep. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is one of three Cuban-Americans in Congress, and who opposes the practice of Americans sending U.S. dollars to their relatives in Cuba.

Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, also said the 60 Minutes report failed to make an important distinction.

"I don't believe anybody could be against a mother or a child sending money to Cuban relatives. It is legal. That money goes to relatives. The money made from tourism does not get to the Cuban relatives because it goes directly to the government," Calzon said.

"Cubans have had for 40 years very little economic freedom," he added. "What Castro has done is create a beggar mentality. You can send money to your relatives to buy food but you cannot send money to relatives so they can start up a dry cleaning establishment or a restaurant or a small manufacturing company.