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There Is No Shortage of Hypocrites

Cuba: The brouhaha over Elian Gonzalez provides a mirror for our across-the-board absurdity regarding the island.

January 25, 2000|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer is a contributing editor to The Times

By now everyone must know that 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez is being used as a pawn in a political maneuver so callously hypocritical as to bring shame to a U.S.-Cuba policy that had already reached the nadir of disgrace.

Immigrant kids are routinely arrested on the streets of Miami and Los Angeles and returned to Mexico or China, whether their families back home want them or not. It is morally unconscionable and a blatant violation of international law as well as our own to refuse the return of a child to his surviving parent. We are setting a dangerous precedent for U.S. government-condoned kidnapping, which will come back to haunt us when a U.S. citizen child is nabbed by some distant relative elsewhere in the world.

This is not a battle about human rights but rather about the ability of a desperate faction of Cuban refugees to hold on to a world that has passed them by. The bipartisan kowtowing to the Cuban emigre old guard in Miami that intimidates its own people is a national embarrassment.

The Clinton administration has an obligation to quickly end this charade and return the boy to his father. But this is an election year, and while U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno has stated the law quite clearly, her tepid actions belie the resolve she has so often shown in other areas where votes are not at stake.

And then there are the so-called "family values" Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who, contrary to their usual stance, are invoking the power of big government as a higher moral authority than the expressed wishes of the child's surviving parent and both grandmothers.

When it comes to Cuba, the U.S. has always had bloody hands. We created Fidel Castro's revolution on the island by enthusiastically backing the joint venture of U.S.-owned sugar, telephone and nickel interests, joined with the Mafia's immense gambling, drug and prostitution operation. Our front man in this operation to keep Cuba safe as a perverse mixture of a plantation and whorehouse economy was Fulgencio Batista, a dictator as brutal as he was corrupt.

Just for the record, it should be noted that the Cuban Communist Party supported Batista and opposed Castro until six months before the revolution succeeded. So we really didn't have the excuse of the Cold War. Castro, whose education was Catholic and not Marxist, only turned to the Soviets for support after we placed an embargo on his country beginning in October 1960.

All one needs to know about the true motives of U.S.-Cuba policy in those early years is that both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations sponsored Mafia assassination attempts on the life of Castro. And those attempts were planned from the first days of the Cuban revolution, when Castro was clearly the most popular figure in the Southern Hemisphere. The history of that terrorist campaign conducted by the U.S. against Cuba was well documented by the CIA's own internal "Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro," a 133-page CIA memorandum prepared in 1967 for then-Director Richard Helms.

In addition to using the Mafia in assassination attempts, the CIA conducted a vast campaign of terror against Cuba under the code name "Operation Mongoose," which, according to former CIA Director William Colby, included the "sabotage of Cuban factories and rail lines" as well as "spreading nonlethal chemicals in sugar fields to sicken cane cutters." Efforts to kill Castro with poisoned cigars, infected saccharine pills and explosives were routine.

It is absurd to suggest that either national security or the issue of human rights is the motivation for continuing the embargo. We actually have very effective--and greater--cooperation with Cuba on such matters as the return of hijackers, the control of drug trafficking and orderly immigration than we do with many other countries with which we trade. Nor can one argue logically that the state of religious or other freedoms is worse in Cuba than in, say, China or Saudi Arabia. Or that Cuba poses a modern military challenge of the order of our longtime friends in India and Pakistan, with their developing nuclear arsenals.

There's no justification for our irrational Cuba policy other than the shrill insistence of an emigre Cuban leadership that intimidates those it claims to speak for, not to mention, U.S. politicians.

It's time to end the embargo and let those with proper visas from both countries visit freely. Young Elian will then have plenty of opportunity to visit relatives on both sides of the 90-mile divide.

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