Thursday, December 24, 2009

Brazilian custody case triggers memories of Elian

Cuban children march along the Malecon

A 9-year-old boy was reunited with his American father Thursday in Rio de Janiero, ending a five-year-long international custody battle, the New York Times reported. The story brought back memories of the Elian Gonzalez affair.

Elian's mother and 10 other people were killed at sea trying to reach Florida in November 1999. Fishermen rescued Elian. He was a few weeks shy of his seventh birthday.

Family members in Florida took in the boy, saying he'd be better off growing up in the U.S. than returning to his father in Cuba. That triggered a custody battle that ignited passions on both sides of the Florida Straits in 2000.

Fidel Castro turned Elian's custody battle into a national crusade in Cuba. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans took to the streets in rally after rally.

My theory, unproven, is that Castro figured all along that the boy would be returned. He had faith in America's judicial system. And the law was on his side. Any parent, unless unfit, has primary custody of his or her children. It's black and white.

Castro knew the boy would be sent back to Cuba eventually. So he staged huge rallies and marches demanding the child's return. That way, he could claim victory once the inevitable happened.

It was a masterful play. People rallied around the socialist government once again. And when Elian was returned in June 2000, they could feel proud of their nation and their ideals.

Castro tried a similar strategy with the Cuban Five, the spies sentenced to prison terms in the U.S. He turned their case into a national cause. The names of the spies - Gerardo, Rene, Antonio, Ramon and Fernando - became household names in Cuba.

But it's not a black-and-white case. It's full of grays. The Cuban agents were caught and convicted. I would argue that their punishment was too severe and their trial unfair. That said, they were caught. They are from a country the U.S. government regards as a "state sponsor of terrorism." No American president is going to intervene, give them a pardon and whisk them back to Cuba.

All this makes it much difficult for Castro to claim victory.

Along the Malecon's Pro-government marches & rallies page
10-year anniversary of rescue of Elian Gonzalez

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