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Elian, Fidel, And Cuba's Future

by Randolph T. Holhut

The marvelous ability of Castro to drive his opponents nuts
(AR) -- What is it about Cuba and Fidel Castro that turns otherwise rational people into raving fools?

It is because he has survived 41 years of assassination attempts, economic embargoes, an attempted invasion and assorted other meddling by the U.S. government and has outlasted virtually every other leader in the hemisphere despite the obsessive hostility of the U.S?

Castro has fed off the bluster of the Cuban exiles in southern Florida and their allies in the U.S. Congress for years. One could easily argue that Castro would have been removed from office years ago if it wasn't for the hard-liners in this country that still fuss over him.

That's why Castro is enjoying the spectacle being made over the fate of Elian Gonzalez in Miami's Little Havana. The longer that the Cuban exiles and Cuban-Americans rant about the evil of Castro, the longer Castro will stay in power.

The fact is that the Cuban Revolution has done much for the average Cuban. They have universal health care, low-cost housing, free public education and one of the highest rates of literacy and one of the lowest rates of child mortality in the world. The standard of living is much better in Cuba than most so-called Third World countries.

This is not to say Cuba is paradise. Food is rationed. There are shortages of medical supplies. The national economy is stagnant. And many Cubans are sick of the stale "Socialism or Death!" rhetoric from Castro, sick of the human rights violations, sick of the privileges given to Communist Party members, sick of the limited opportunities that now exist in their country.

This desire for change was the force that drove the "Velvet Revolution" in Eastern Europe in 1989. Then, citizens that were sick of communism and saw the opening that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gave them when he told the Warsaw Pact nations that Moscow was not going to prop them up any longer. People bravely demanded change, and armed with nothing except the courage of their convictions, they won.

The current Cuban situation is different than that of East Germany or Czechoslovakia in 1989. Thanks to the heavy-handed tactics of the anti-Castro forces in the U.S., Castro can argue that he is the only thing that's keeping Cuba from returning to being a colony of the U.S. Nationalism, not communism, is what keeps Castro in power.

The restrictions on trade, travel and information imposed by the U.S. all help to reinforce Castro. The rest of the world is smarter. Tourists from around the world are flocking to Cuba. European and Latin American countries are investing in Cuba, because they know Castro isn't going to be around forever and they are happy to pick up the slack left by the U.S. embargoes.

The Cuban Revolution may not survive Castro's eventual death, but Cuba is not going to return to the days of American-backed dictators such as Gerardo Machado and Fulgenico Bastista. Cubans aren't about to return to the days when the nation was exploited by a wealthy oligarchy. The pride Cubans have in the accomplishments of the past four decades is too great for that to happen.

The best hope for Cuba's future is for a fusion of the best aspects of the revolution with the best aspects of democracy. Whether that will happen will depend a lot upon the Cubans in Miami. And judging by their behavior over Elian, it probably won't happen.

The mobs that have surrounded the house of Lazaro Gonzalez have behaved much as everyone says Castro behaves. They've bullied their opponents into silence and disregarding the rule of law to make political points at the expense of a child who watched his mother die at sea and is being forcibly kept away from his father by hysterical haters. Only mob force and the craven behavior of Janet Reno, Bill Clinton and the slimy pols who suck up to the Cuban exiles kept this case from being resolved long ago.

But that's the Cuba effect at work, and the marvelous ability of Castro to drive his opponents nuts. This effect can clearly be seen in the way the U.S. government has handled the matter of who gets custody of Elian. If Elian was Haitian or Chinese, he would've been sent home months ago. Only Cubans get special treatment from the U.S. when they flee their homeland, and that's because of Castro.

The Elian Gonzalez circus in Miami is but a sideshow to the real debate of the future of Cuba after Fidel Castro. But Castro ought to be smiling. He's now in yet another situation where he appears calm and reasonable while his foes look like fools. And that's how you stay in power for 41 years.

Randolph T. Holhut is Editor of the Claremont (N.H.) Eagle Times. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books)

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Albion Monitor April 24, 2000 (

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