Elian the human missile -
CUBAN/USA relations are again being stretched and strained to a point
of open conflagration. At the centre of the controversy this time is a
little boy, Elian, age six, rather than the "strategic defensive" missiles
of the '60s, yet all the emotive symbolisms of "freedom", "patriotism" and
"nationalism" are again central to the issue.
The Americans, with their view of the world moulded by the tenets
of the Munroe Doctrine and the Helms-Burton Pact, are yet to come to terms
with what they consider to be the aberration of an independent, unaligned
"Socialist" Cuba, a mere 90 miles away, literally in their backyard.
As early as April 1961, a mere two years after Castro and the July
26 Movement overthrew the Batista regime, a motley amalgamation of Cuban
exiles, American ultra-right militarists and some Mafia operatives, who
had lost their Cuban underworld business interests, invaded Cuba from
Florida and were slaughtered en masse on the beaches at La Playa de Giron.
The Cuban people, insisting that Castro take to the hills to
guarantee his personal safety, stood firm in defence of their
self-determination as a nation and repelled the attack. The band of
invaders had hoped to get air cover from the Kennedy administration but
that was not to be as it is alleged that President Kennedy at the last
minute reneged on the promise.
It is the view of many that Kennedy's eventual assassination in
November 1963 had much to do with this fiasco and that Cuban exiles and
Mafia operatives were directly involved.
This failed attack on Cuba in addition to the US economic blockade
pushed the Cubans in their foreign policy away from the ideals of
non-alignment and into the embrace, or was it "bear-hug", of Russian
economic and political hegemony, much to the chagrin of independent minded
people like Che Guevara, Carlos Franqui, etc.
Not surprisingly, it was the Russians, in fact Nikita Khrushchev
himself, who informed the Cubans in September 1962 that, based on
intelligence reports, the Americans were preparing another invasion of
To date this has not been substantiated but it was in this context
that the Cubans allowed the installing of Russian missiles on their soil.
American U-2 spy planes picked up the presence of the missiles and
the fact that others were on their way by ship. The world was taken to the
brink of a nuclear war. Kennedy gave the Russians and Cubans an ultimatum:
remove the missiles and turn back the ships or face the might of the USA.
Sparrow sang then: Kennedy is de man fuh we. The tension build for days.
Robert Anderson, an American pilot of a U-2 spy plane, was blown
out of the skies over Cuba by a Russian rocket. It was alleged that Fidel
pressed the button himself in an attempt to call the Americans' bluff. The
Cuban people prepared themselves to fight to the very last man and woman.
Then suddenly it was over. Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missiles
and turn back the ships. He claimed moral victory on the grounds that he
spared the world a nuclear war, and he sought to expose American double
standards since Russia was surrounded by American missiles in her own
The Cuban people felt relieved but betrayed. According to Carlos
Franqui, they took to the streets singing: "Nikita, Nikita, Indian giver/
You don't take back what you once deliver/ Fidel, go ahead/ Bop the
Yankees on the head..." They would have faced the US alone if it came to
No one on either side of the divide has forgotten. It is the
economic blockade that hurts the most and forces people like Elian's
mother to flee Cuba for the dream that America is supposed to be.
She did not make it, and Elian was plucked out of the water off Florida
in November last year to be claimed by her Miami relatives as a symbol of
all for which they as Cuban exiles stand. Innocent as he is, he has now
become almost a human missile that can be the catalyst to trigger off
again tensions similar to the '60s.
The Cuban exile community, based in Florida, after some three
decades of poorly-organised, ill-conceived invasion excursions, terrorist
actions, sabotage, subterfuge, assassination conspiracies, costly
propaganda campaigns of well-placed lies and political rumours, had just
about come to the end of their tether until Elian was plucked out of the
This innocent child refugee has given their cause a new breath of
life and hope. They shall exploit this accident of fate to the fullest.
They shall do everything possible, legally or extra-legally, to keep Elian
in the "land of the brave and free" and away from the "evil empire" 90
miles across the sea, despite the court decision that the boy be returned
to his home and to his father.
The traumatic, psychological destruction of a child in the interest
of their politics bothers them not. Now that Elian's father has gone to
the US for his son, we can expect the Cuban exiles to intensify their
efforts. Already they are offering to help him defect.
Certainly, tonnes of money shall be offered to him as they have
been known to offer Cuban athletes such as the heavyweight boxer,
Stevenson and the noted high jumper, Sotomayor. Expect them to barricade
themselves outside the house in which Elian is now being kept. They may
even attempt to hide Elian.
But in the end they shall fail as in the past and then surely as
night follows day we can expect another series of "invasions". The
commandantes in the streets of Cuba shall have the last say when they meet
on the beaches.
For us here we must be mindful always that Cuba is a Caribbean
nation. We must push to bring them into the folds of Caricom despite any
attempts by the US to beat us with the big stick and threaten our banana
producers. We must never trade our integrity as a regional whole. Lloyd
Best's piece on cricket interest in Cuba should be a revelation to our
policy-makers and framers. Enough!
Back to Commentary