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Cuba united against U.S. over Elian

Lucia Newman

By Lucia Newman
CNN Havana Bureau Chief

January 28, 2000
Web posted at: 10:33 a.m. EST (1533 GMT)

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

Cuba sign
Cubans want Elian returned to his father  

In this story:

Genuine frustration, even confusion

Mum's the word from Castro

HAVANA (CNN) -- In the United States, there is often the perception that the public outcry in Cuba against the continued separation of little Elian Gonzalez from his Cuban father is micromanaged down to the last detail by the Cuban government.

It is quite accurate to say that the daily, mass demonstrations to demand the child's return to Cuba are organized by the communist state or entities such as the Federation of Students that ultimately answer to the government. The flags, posters and T-shirts that read "Free Elian" are all paid for by the state.

But it is equally true that 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.

Elian's story is front-page news in Cuba  

Genuine frustration, even confusion

At first, many Cubans resigned themselves to, or even rejected, the highly politicized, saturation-level coverage of Elian Gonzalez on television's only two channels, both run by the state.

But since the boy's grandmothers went to the United States on January 21 to make the Cuban family's case, ordinary Cubans have been following this real-life drama step by step, blow by blow.

Surprisingly, state television has been broadcasting almost everything that's happening in the United States with far less spin control than usual. The reason? It's probably not necessary. Most Cubans, from the government's point of view, are sufficiently convinced of who is in the right.

When they see the pictures of Elian Gonzalez showing the "V for victory" sign over and over again, many shake their heads. "My God, they have him trained like a monkey," said one woman.

"Disgustingly Infamous" read Thursday's front-page headline in Granma, the Communist Party daily -- a reference to the conditions under which Elian's grandmothers met the boy in Miami the day before.

What most infuriated the family, the government, and indeed many ordinary people in Cuba was the confiscation of a cell phone from the grandmothers during their meeting with Elian. The grandmothers were reported to be talking with his father.

Elian's grandmothers
Elian's grandmothers -- Mariela Quintana, left, and Raquel Rodriguez -- make their plea to reporters in Washington for the return of their grandson to Cuba  

"How much longer will they continue to humiliate and torture that family?" said one woman, in a typical response.

"They" used to refer to the boy's relatives in Miami and the most anti-Castro wing of the Cuban-American exile community in Florida.

But as this drama drags on, many people here are openly blaming the United States government for what appears to be its inability to carry out its own laws and decisions.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ruled in early January that Elian should be returned to his father. That order has been stayed while the boy's Miami family appeals in federal court. Congress, meantime, has been talking about making Elian a U.S. citizen to take the case out of INS hands.

U.S. President Bill Clinton has said Elian should be returned to his father. That the White House has not simply carried out the INS decision is hard to understand in a country where the president's authority has not been effectively questioned for 40 years.

Mum's the word from Castro

It's notable that throughout this dispute, Cuban President Fidel Castro, who has always been known for having a lot to say, has hardly said a word, at least in public, on Elian's case.

Elian playing Thursday in the yard at the house of his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez  

Although he is present at many of the protest meetings to demand the boy's return, Castro's uncharacteristic quiet seems like a clear attempt not to confuse the issue of Elian and family rights with the decades-long dispute between the United States and Cuba's bearded leader, who enjoys little sympathy in the United States.

Indeed, many analysts suggest that if Castro had planned it, he could not have organized a better issue to bring Cubans together.

With every new stumbling block and delay in the boy's return, the sense of communal pain for the Gonzalez family increases, along with anger directed at the United States.

Even the communist government's staunchest opponents are rallying behind the cause, including Hector Palacios, a well-known dissident who has been imprisoned or detained numerous times, most recently for a brief time this week.

"The boy's family is here in Cuba, and this is where he belongs," says Palacios. "To delay this further will only deepen the conflict between the United States and Cuba, as well as worsen the conflict between the government and the internal opposition, because right now we are defenseless. The smoke screen is Elian, and no one sees anything else."

With Elian Gonzalez having become a national fixation in this country, his story is likely to continue dominating the hearts and minds of Cubans until this big dispute over a little 6-year-old boy is resolved.

CNN Interactive: Analysis

  • y: why it matters archives -- The Americas

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Cuban American National Foundation
Granma Internacional Digital, Cuba
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
U.S. State Department
U.S. Department of Justice
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service

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