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Even among the dissidents surveyed, only two agreed that Elian should remain in the U.S.

The Political Closet:
What Cubans Really Think About Elian

by Kelly Cogswell

FEBRUARY 6, 2000. The best kept secret in America is that hard-line anti-Castro Cuban-Americans don't speak for anyone but themselves, not for those still in Cuba, nor for most Cuban-Americans, or even for most Cuban dissidents on the island. Who's saying what?

While Cuban outrage against the U.S. is often whipped up by the Castro government, the outcry against the continued separation of Elian Gonzalez from his father is entirely genuine.

In fact, Cuban state television, in an almost unprecedented move, broadcast without censorship Elian's grandmothers' trip to the U.S. and their return. As CNN Bureau Chief Lucia Newman reported, "The vast majority of Cubans, regardless of their political inclination, believe firmly that the boy should be returned to his father, a sentiment that is leading to a growing sense of frustration and outrage."

In an article in Miami's El Nuevo Herald, Raul Rivero, the leading independent journalist in Cuba, reported that even among the dissidents he surveyed, only two agreed that Elian should remain in the United States.

In a statement published on December 8, 1999, the Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference supported the return of Elian to his father. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the head of the Cuban Church, reiterated this position in a strongly worded statement published on February 8.

"I do not approve of Sister O'Laughlin's behavior," Ortega bluntly declared, referring to the supposedly neutral nun who hosted the meeting between Elian and his Cuban grandmothers, and then supported the Miami family's demand to keep him in the U.S. He added that her statements, which were, "loaded with subjectivity, resulted from insufficient observations and are of a sentimental nature."

The Cuban Council of Churches, which represents mainstream protestant churches, has played a leadership role from the beginning in trying to repatriate Elian, in particular facilitating his grandmothers' trip to the U.S.

The Miami exile leadership, hard-line anti-Castroites, believe Castro is so powerful, so much the Uberfather, that Juan Miguel Gonzalez can't be considered Elian's real father. They will try to keep him here, if not via the federal courts, then by getting a bill passed in Congress to forcibly make him a citizen and strip him of his nationality.

To that end, they are using every weapon in their arsenal, their deep pockets, political sticks, and vast lobbying resources on Congresspeople like Sen. Connie Mack (Fl), Sen. Robert Torricelli (NJ), Rep Patrick Kennedy (RI), Rep. Peter Deutsch (Fl) that are fronting their bills and official letters. As always, they will silence dissenting voices with an effectiveness exceeding that of Castro himself.

Tony Judt, in Extremism Without The Virtue in the New York Times, gives insight into their mindset when he writes that dogmatic anti-communists are the mirror image of dogmatic communists. "Everything is once again black and white, merely inverted. Unrestrained capitalism is an unquestioned good, Communist society an undifferentiated evil. There are no nuances: if Communism is a cruel and unsavory political system, then all human life within that system must be irretrievably polluted...accordingly...it is our duty to feel and act for them--and against their wishes if necessary. Especially if they are Cuban."

This polarization of good versus evil, and U.S. versus Cuba, is manifesting itself in a movement to deify this 6-year old boy. A myth is growing in the Miami community that, writes Jean Marbella of the Sun National Staff, he is "a modern-day Moses, a baby-prophet afloat not in a basket but an inner tube. He is an angel, arriving on Thanksgiving Day under Protection of dolphins." In short, 6-year old Elian is a miracle who is supposed to deliver Cuba from Castro.

You wouldn't know it from the silence, but there are a great many moderate Cuban-Americans in the U.S. and they think Elian should be at home in Cuba with his father.

As Max Castro said in his Miami Herald opinion piece, Hidden Support for a Father, "The biggest room in Miami is not the new basketball arena. It's the political closet. I have known for a long time about closet opponents of the embargo, silent dissenters from the hard-line consensus and the official exile story. I hadn't known how many there were...

"The denizens of the political closet are celebrities, civic leaders, developers, stockbrokers, lawyers and entrepreneurs. They are not, by any stretch of the imagination, sympathetic to the Cuban regime. They support democracy for Cuba, and wish it were practiced more consistently in Miami. Many can no longer believe the fable that an economic war waged on an entire country can target the government and spare the people. Most think sanctions give Fidel Castro his best weapon in a dwindling arsenal."

Why the silence? Max Castro explains that "most fear economic retribution, adverse professional consequences, social ostracism and scathing attacks in the exile media. Most are not swayed by cowardice, but are reluctant to upset an aged parent or grandparent traumatized by exile."

Still, behind closed doors, increasingly in front of them, a surprising number concede that, "yes, despite oppressive economic and political conditions in Cuba, the best for a bereaved child is to be reunited with his parents and grandparents who raised him."

Related links:

Lucia Newman's Cuba United Against U.S. Over Elian from CNN.com.

For Karen Branch's Exile Group Forges Ironic Alliances or Max Castro's Hidden Support For a Father search the Miami Herald's thorough but pay-per-view archive.

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