Issue No. 1364

Monday, April 10, 2000

Copyright 2000 The Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

Elian the human missile - almost

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 Cuba.

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 backyard.

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 that.

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 waters.

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!

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