Elián Amid the Sharks

Revolutionary Worker #1051 April 23, 2000

Last November, five-year-old Elián González was found drifting at sea on an inner tube and taken to Florida by fishermen. His mother and ten other people died when a boat of immigrants sank after leaving Cuba. The U.S. attorney general's office turned Elián over to his granduncle Lázaro González, a right-wing Cuban emigre. Ever since then, this boy has been surrounded by sharks gnashing their teeth and leaping into full view all around him.

Miami's Cuban exile community seized on Elián to express their hatred of Cuba's leader Fidel Castro and their hatred of anyone who wants the slightest normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. They have sworn to stop any attempt to return Elián to his family in Cuba. They have grabbed airtime to rant about Cuba's government. They claim that Elián's inner tube was sent to Florida by angels and divine dolphins to energize their anti-Castro cause.

Slowly circling this circus scene, waiting for its moment to move, has been the Great White Shark from Washington--Attorney General Janet Reno herself-- who is carrying out the geopolitical stratagems of the federal government.

The case of Elián is not complicated for most people. Juan Miguel González, Elián's father, is eager to have him back . And many people recognize that growing up as a political cause célčbre for the howling reactionary exiles is not healthy for children and other living things.

But the complicating factor for the U.S. government is that Juan González lives in Cuba. Returning this boy to Cuba means dealing with Cuba in a way the U.S. has refused to do for 40 years. Elián has become a pawn in a huge tug-of-war over what U.S. policy will be toward Cuba.

There is blood in the water and the sharks are in a frenzy.

The Campaign of Invasion, Embargo and Covert Action

The U.S. first conquered Cuba in 1898 and dominated the island's people for 60 years. In 1959, a popular uprising, led by Fidel Castro, chased out a pro-U.S. dictator and Cuba slipped out of U.S. control. U.S. holdings were nationalized. Gangsters and pimps were run out of Havana.

The U.S. ruling class, which views all Latin America as its "backyard," was determined to retake the island. It has tried to punish Cuba publicly, as an example to the rest of the world. For 40 years, the U.S. government has carried out non-stop attacks on Cuba. They unleashed a 1961 CIA invasion that failed. They have launched hundreds of covert operations, including bombings, sabotage, germ warfare and assassination attempts.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has tried to strangle Cuba economically--by cutting it off from U.S. products and markets. This embargo has been unjust and caused immense suffering among Cuba's people.

The U.S. needed operatives for its covert war and so it welcomed the right-wing Cubans who are known as gusanos (Spanish for "worms"). Miami's Cuban exile community became the base where U.S. intelligence services recruited, trained and unleashed a vicious movement of death squads and commandos. Their networks of death squads have threatened (and even bombed) anyone who speaks out against them in Miami, New York and elsewhere.

Cuban gusanos rant about "dictatorship in Havana"--but can you imagine living in Cuba if they were running things?

Gusanos Demand No Normalization

The Justice Department decision to return Elian to his father ignited a conflict between the Clinton administration and organized Cuban reactionaries in Miami. It is a fight over whether the U.S. will have any contact with the current Cuban government--and over what kind of government the U.S. will eventually try to impose on Cuba.

Miami's gusanos want any new post-Castro government to emerge from their exile circles--not from inside Cuba and especially not from within its current ruling military and party circles. They are determined to have the full restoration of their property rights and privilege in (and over) the island. And they want all-out hostility toward Cuba, until Fidel Castro's government is completely overthrown--no contact, no recognition, no normalization with Cuba of any kind. Not even the return of a young boy to his father.

At the same time, it is less obvious to most people what the U.S. government is up to in pressing for the return of Elián.

U.S. Interests, Castro's Road and This Moment

Soon after the Cuban Revolution, Castro's government decided not to dismantle the one-crop sugar economy or carry out a thoroughgoing agrarian revolution in the countryside. They broke key ties to the U.S., but did not break capitalist economic relations characteristic of colonialism. Instead, Castro moved Cuba into a new relationship of dependence--with a new foreign imperialist master, the Soviet Union (which had restored capitalism in the mid-1950s).

As the Maoists predicted at the time, this non-revolutionary road had many negative consequences for the Cuban people and for the revolutionary movements of Latin America.

These problems with the "Cuban Road" became acute in a whole new way when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. Cuba's government found itself desperate and fishing around for new imperialist trading partners and investors. Fidel Castro has been quite eager to have foreign capitalists exploit labor and resources in Cuba. He has opened key parts of the economy to foreign exploitation. And Cuba's government has energetically reopened the tourist trade--with all the oppressive social effects this brings to the people.

Cuba's government has also been eager to have the U.S. imperialists lift its unjust embargo and re-enter Cuba's economy.

The U.S. has been single-minded for 40 years--they consider Cuba theirs, and they want it back. They want future relations on their terms. And they don't want to share the island (or any other part of Latin America) with other imperialists. As a result, the U.S. places heavy demands on Cuba--as a condition for any real normalization. The U.S. demands the return of nationalized U.S. interests on the island. And the U.S. has insisted on the overthrow of the Castro government.

The Clinton administration has been as merciless on these points as previous U.S. administrations. They have supported and enforced the embargo.

But even as the U.S. hammers Cuba, its policymakers are also trying to refine their "end game strategy" for retaking the island. After complex deliberations and maneuverings, the Clinton administration decided that Elián would be turned over to his father and allowed to return to Cuba. This stand was immediately interpreted (in Miami and elsewhere) as a sign that some kind of "normalization" might be possible with Fidel Castro or other elements within his government.

The Miami gusanos are furiously opposed to such moves. For months they have held onto Elián--defying the federal government and even hinting they will resist any federal attempts to take the boy. And they have gotten support within sections of the U.S. ruling class--from some Republican leaders but also Miami's Democratic mayor and (at least momentarily) from Vice President Al Gore, who supported rewriting U.S. law to give Elián and his father permanent residency in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the federal government has handled the Miami gusanos with kid gloves. And the whole affair is a slap in the face to all the immigrants from Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean who are being subjected to deportations, denial of rights and murderous conditions at the border.

The Clinton administration intends to carry out their policy of returning Elián--despite what the gusanos want. The tail does not wag the dog. But they also want to avoid using force against the Miami gusanos. Much money and time has been spent pampering and training these reactionaries, and U.S. imperialism intends to use them to batter and restructure Cuba at some time in the future.

The Clinton administration plan to return Elián is not a "softening" of imperialist intentions. It is a case of "All the better to eat you, my dear." One Clinton supporter argued that unrelieved hostility from the U.S. was helping Castro rally internal support, while some kinds of ties with Cuba would speed up the consolidation of U.S. inroads there.

Some sharks bite little boys at sea. Some sharks eat whole countries.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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