By GILBERTO FIRMAT
ATLANTA-Almost five months after he was found adrift on the high seas near Florida, six-year-old Elian Gonzalez has been reunited with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, at a resort near Washington, D.C. But he is not yet home in Cuba.
In what is surely one of the most bizarre judicial rulings ever, a three-judge panel of the Federal Appeals Court for the Southeastern United States granted Elian an injunction forbidding him from leaving the country, or even visiting his own country’s diplomats in Washington.
The boy was rescued in a dramatic pre-dawn action April 22 that was televised live internationally. Federal government officers raided the Little Havana house where the child was being held and, with a display of force, were able to extract him. Apart from a couple of bruises to right-wing exiles who tried to get in the way of the federal officers, there were no injuries.
Cuban President Fidel Castro hailed the raid in a speech to a previously scheduled rally in Cuba Saturday night. The rally, held to commemorate the 39th anniversary of the victory over the U.S.-organized Bay of Pigs invasion, was held at the sugar mill that served as Cuba’s field headquarters during that fight. Some 45,000 people had been expected at the event, but with the day’s news the crowd swelled, and was estimated at between 200,000 and 400,000 people.
In his speech, the Cuban leader declared a symbolic 24-hour truce in the revolution’s battle against the United States, and he praised the efficacy of the federal officers involved in the action.
At the same time, Castro gave a detailed account of the negotiations leading up to the raid that made clear why, after nearly five months of stalling, the U.S. authorities felt they now had no choice but to act.
Castro revealed that the boy’s father, who had come to the United States two weeks earlier on the basis of U.S. government representations that the child would be immediately restored to him, had decided to act on his own to end the intolerable abuse his son was being subjected to.
As the Justice Department was continuing to play along with right-wing exile groups with one round of fruitless negotiations after another, Gonzalez told Reno hours before the raid that if he did not have his son back in his arms on Saturday, he would be on a plane to Miami on Sunday to retrieve him.
Although both the government and at least one major news organization (CNN) knew about the father’s ultimatum, it has been left out of virtually all accounts of the raid.
The host of the CNN program “Crossfire,” Bill Press, got the story first-hand from Juan Miguel Gonzalez himself hours before the raid, but if the information was passed on to journalists preparing the on-air reports in Atlanta, they sure kept quiet about it.
According to Bill Press’s account, which was released 24 hours late and buried in the CNN “allpolitics” web site as if it were an election campaign story, Juan Miguel’s plan was to hold a news conference prior to departing Washington urging Americans to join him in confronting his kidnapping uncle the next day.
Instead of presenting a true account of the circumstances surrounding the raid, from the first moments the capitalist press focused on whether the raid had been “violent” and the use of force “excessive.”
An AP photographer who supported the Miami relatives was inside the house to “document” Elian’s capture. The Associated Press chose one misleading frame to flash around the world to make it seem as if the federal officers had terrorized the boy.
The entire sequence of seven AP photographs makes clear, however, that the boy was traumatized by the efforts of an American supporter of the relatives (who portrayed himself falsely as a “fisherman” who had “saved” Elian at sea) to hide him in a closet; that the federal officer did not threaten the boy nor anyone else with his weapon; and that the American accomplice, contrary to his claims that the child was “ripped out” of his arms, in fact handed the child over to a woman immigration service agent.
Elian’s rescue clearly caught the Miami relatives and the right-wing Cuban exile groups completely by surprise. Attorney General Janet Reno had shown such extraordinary forbearance, even after the relatives openly defied an order to return the child, and dared the government to try to take him “by force,” that they could not believe the administration had finally come up with the political will to end the kidnapping.
Of course, what the gusanos could not take into account was the impact of Cuba’s international campaign to free the child, and how it was forcing Reno’s hand.
When the child was first found last November, the administration’s initial response was to give the Miami relatives and their right-wing allies a green light to keep Elian, saying this was a custody dispute that belonged before the elected judges of the Miami family courts.
But after Cuba launched a massive campaign to demand the child be restored to his family, and protests started pouring in from all over the world, the federal government thought better of it. It discovered that the boy’s immigration status was still pending, and thus his fate was in the hands of federal authorities.
They also tried to blame Juan Miguel Gonzalez for the delay in sorting out the case, claiming he’d been reticent to meet with U.S. officials in Cuba.
That marked the beginning of an extraordinary four-month spectacle during which the federal government, although officially claiming to recognize the rights of the boy’s father, did not lift a finger to reunite the boy with his family. Instead, the father was subjected to extensive questioning in Cuba, as if he were the kidnapper, and the Miami relatives were courteously encouraged by Reno to tie her up in court.
And even after the relatives had lost in court, for weeks Reno engaged in fruitless “negotiations” over the boy’s return with the Miami relatives. The reason for the ruling class’s reticence is that they wanted to find a face-saving way out for the right-wing counterrevolutionary groups that Cuban revolutionaries call the “Miami Mafia.”
These groups form an essential prop and valuable tool in the American ruling class’s continuing war against the Cuban revolution; they help set the terms and limits of discussions about Cuba in the U.S. press and academia; and they serve as a convenient pretext for politicians to hide behind in carrying out new aggressions against Cuba. Thus the rulers wanted to find a solution that did not damage this valuable imperialist asset.
Contrary to the arguments of liberal commentators, these groups do not control or dictate U.S. policy towards Cuba; they do not keep alive the hostile policy; it is the policy-and millions of dollars voted every year by Congress-that keeps these outfits on life support.
But this does not mean that these groups are simply puppets. They have a logic of their own, mostly dictated by the kind of hysterical anti-communism that has been necessary to keep them together through four decades of uninterrupted impotence and defeat.
That visceral hatred of Cuba is what led to the Miami relatives and exile groups trying to keep Elian from his father to begin with, and what prevented them from listening to Clinton’s and Reno’s repeated entreaties to climb down from the untenable position they had taken.
But the fact that Reno and Clinton (finally!) acted to bring the gusano kidnapping to an end does not mean that they’ve changed course on Cuba.
As if to underscore the point, Assistant Secretary of State Peter Romero, who is in charge of Latin America policy, denounced Fidel Castro, saying his handling of the Elian Gonzalez case had been “absolutely deplorable.” The AP reports further: “He said the administration intends to retain economic sanctions and other kinds of instruments to isolate the Cuban regime, which he described as ‘renegade’ and ‘undemocratic.'”
It was only the powerful protests of working people in Cuba and the world over, together with Juan Miguel Gonzalez’s extraordinary courage, that finally forced the Clinton administration to rescue Elian.
And still more protests and pressure will be needed to convince the U.S. authorities to complete their break with the kidnapping and allow Elian and his family to go home.