Inspired by Ybor uncle, actor calls for protest in Cuba
By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff
Published: March 24, 2014
TAMPA — A former anti-Castro militant turned Hollywood actor with family
ties to Ybor City has launched a social media campaign that's drawing
international attention with its call for a moment of civil disobedience
in Cuba to protest socialism.
Orestes Matacena has over 30 credits to his name, most notably as Jim
Carey's foil in 1994's "The Mask."
The 72-year-old entertainment veteran lives in Los Angeles so he
wouldn't expect people in Tampa to recognize him. He's less forgiving of
those who have never heard of his uncle, Orestes Ferrara.
"He is a historic figure," Matacena said. "And he was an exceptional
man. Everyone should know him."
Ferrara has a historic marker in his honor on the corner of Seventh
Avenue and 17th Street in Ybor City, where he gave a speech in 1896 that
rallied many local Cubans to return to their native country and take up
arms in its War of Independence against Spain.
Ferrara, an Italian native with no ancestral link to the island nation,
later fought in the war.
Matacena, a Cuban native, first followed in his uncle's footsteps as
part of an underground militia in the 1960s that sought to overthrow
Today, he hopes to push Ferrara's legacy forward by inspiring others to
fight socialism in Cuba.
Matacena launched his social media campaign in February. He is asking
any Cuban citizen dissatisfied with the government to take to the
streets April 1 at noon and make their feelings known via peaceful means.
"It is time for the people of Cuba to demand change," he said, "They
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Through Facebook and Twitter, he circulated online flyers now shared by
thousands and noticed by journalists around the globe.
During a mid-February interview on CNN Latino he discussed the April 1
call to action.
The television show Arrebatados on the America TeVe network in Miami has
produced two segments.
And television networks in England recently picked up the story.
Each news outlet has asked its viewers to share the call for civil
disobedience via social media.
Matacena said the choice of the date, April 1, may seem odd in the U.S.,
where it's a day of practical jokes. Cuba has no such tradition.
"This is not a joke," he said. "I take this issue very seriously."
His idea was partly inspired by the courage of Venezuela's opposition
party, which has taken to the streets demanding the resignation of
President Nicolas Maduro or a change in his government policy.
Protesters blame the Maduro administration for the nation's violent
crime, high inflation and crumbling economy.
Matacena said he is puzzled that Cuba's people don't speak out in the
Explanations among Cuba experts have varied.
Some believe Cubans are afraid. Peter Hakim, president emeritus of
Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank on Western Hemisphere
affairs, blames a lack of leadership.
"In Cuba, there has never been an opposition to lead demonstrations and
protests," Hakim said via email. "Fidel did away with anyone who could
mount an opposition, including many who had supported and fought for the
Others say Cubans are simply content with their socialist government.
Matacena refuses to accept that.
"My uncle, with no ties to Cuba, fought for them because he believed
every nation should enjoy democracy," said Matacena. "He knew Cuba
deserves it. He was right then and he would be right today."
Matacena said any Cuban named Orestes in his 60s or 70s, himself
included, was probably named in his uncle's honor.
"He is that respected and loved in Cuba," Matacena said.
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Ferrara was a law student in his native Italy when he learned of Cuba's
fight for independence from colonialist Spain.
Ferrara's grandfather and father both fought for Italy's independence.
Inspired to make a difference in the world, too, Ferrara left his
comfortable life and traveled to Cuba.
"Imagine that bravery," Matacena said. "The world was not as small as
today. There were no planes or internet. All he knew about Cuba was what
he read and it must have taken weeks to get there. Yet he braved it out
of his love of freedom for all."
On his way to Cuba, Ferrara stopped in Ybor City and delivered his
Following the war, he became known as the Italian "Mambi" — the term for
the guerrilla Cuban independence soldiers — and was named president of
the Cuba Senate. He later became Cuba's secretary of state and then U.S.
ambassador to Cuba.
In the late 1940s, he returned to Italy, where he lived until he died in
Born and raised in Cuba by Italian parents, Matacena met his uncle in
the 1950s and kept in touch with him through letters.
Matacena credits this relationship with his desire to play an active
role in battling socialism.
Following the Cuban Revolution that brought socialism to the nation,
Matacena spent five years as an armed fighter on the island nation
taking part in clandestine missions against the government. In the
mid-1960s, he had to flee his homeland when law enforcement learned of
"I left everything behind," he said. "I never saw my family again."
He has never stopped speaking out against Fidel Castro and now Raul.
In late-February, Matacena wrote a letter to Cuban dissident Jorge Luis
García Pérez, known as Antúnez, who was in the midst of a hunger strike
in protest against the siege of his home by Cuban authorities.
"I told him that instead of dying as an idiot, he should start to
promote civil disobedience in the island," said Matacena.
Perez ended his hunger strike soon after Matacena sent the letter.
Whether he received it or it was coincidence, Matacena does not know,
but he was inspired to lead an effort for civil disobedience on his own.
"I am not as famous as my uncle or as great," said Matacena. "But I love
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