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Thursday, June 1, 2000

The continuing relevance of the Elian case

 "In Dr. Fleming's rush to expose the shortcomings of American domestic and foreign policy, he has committed the error of whitewashing the last Stalinist dictatorship in the Western hemisphere."

On Elian

Thomas Fleming is wrong when he writes (Cultural Revolutions, April) that, by Cuban law, Elian Gonzalez belongs to his next-of-kin, his father. According to Cuban law (specifically the Codigo de Familia Ley, No. 1289), parental authority is subordinated to "inculcating" the "internationalist spirit and socialist morality." According to Article 95, section three, of this so-called family code, government tribunals can "deprive both parents, or one of them, parental authority," when both parents fail to indoctrinate their children in communist morality. Under Cuban law, Elian has one "father" who ultimately decides what value system he will be raised in, and his name is Fidel Castro.

Secondly, Dr. Fleming is guilty of an Orwellian use of the English language. He stated that Elian's mother "died in an illegal attempt to enter the United States." One may agree or disagree with current U.S. immigration policy, but one cannot dispute that, under Lyndon Johnson's 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, Elian's mother is given automatic residency upon reaching U.S. soil. How can her attempt to enter the United States be illegal if, upon entering, she would be granted residency a year and a day later? The Clinton administration's 1995 circumvention of the spirit of this law, without repealing it, in a migration agreement with the Castro regime is just another example of the lawlessness of the Clinton administration, not of Elian's mother. The claim that "by American law, the boy is simply an illegal alien who can either be returned to Cuba or stuck in a concentration camp" is just wrong. Under U.S. law, the child was granted humanitarian parole and was on his way to receiving residency a year and a day later before Castro's tantrum led to the INS reversing its decision.

Dr. Fleming cites the American abortion rate, declaring "it is hard to believe [Cuba] begins to approach the American level." Pax Christi sent a delegation to Cuba back in 1998 and was profoundly disturbed to report that, according to the Cuban minister of health, there is one abortion to every birth in Cuba. Pax Christi claimed that, at a "rather large nearby hospital, that we visit often, approximately thirty abortions take place daily. It is not unusual for women to be forced to have abortions. To rebel against the practice is futile."

Dr. Fleming's observation that "recent visitors to Cuba have not returned with stories of massive oppression and executions" should be placed in a larger historical context. I'd recommend that he obtain a transcript of Daniel Wolfs BBC2 documentaries. Tourists of the Revolution. It's amazing how visitors to some of the most brutal and murderous tyrannies of this century failed to mention mass murder and wholesale oppression. George Bernard Shaw visited the Soviet Union in 1931 and returned with stories of "an atmosphere of hope and security as has never before been seen in a civilized country on earth." Another visitor to the "worker's paradise" built by that wonderful humanitarian Stalin, Barbara Castle, then a journalist, reported "no atmosphere of repression" in pre-war Moscow, only glorious opportunities for women. Meanwhile, millions were being starved, massacred, and banished to gulags in Siberia.

There is a paradox at work in Cuba. The more foreign investment in joint partnerships with the regime, the greater the shrinkage in the Cuban private sector. Reuters reported in 1998 that "current and former members of the private sector blame the falloff on excessive state controls and taxes imposed after the introduction of some market-oriented features in 1993." This clampdown on the private sector coincided with the arrival of hard currency from European and Canadian investors. This hard currency has been used to sustain the Cuban police state. Dropping sanctions and providing U.S. credits and hard currency to prop up the regime will only earn the enmity of the Cuban people.
Reports of massive repression in Cuba have appeared in the Economist, in which Pedro Betancur reported on the brutal January 22 beating of human-rights activists by a government mob. Sixty-eight-year-old Gloria Gonzalez described the attack: "They hit one of my sons on the head with a stick, cutting him badly. They broke another's rib. They kicked me hard and knocked me over." Seven of the victims of the beating were arrested. According to the independent Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission in Havana, almost 600 people have been temporarily detained since November, and the commission has documented 350 political prisoners. They call it the worst crackdown in a decade.

Dr. Oscar Elias Bisect, a medical doctor, was fired from his job after protesting late-term abortions at a government hospital where he worked and continued to enrage the dictatorship by carrying protest signs charging the regime with being "child murderers." Dr. Biscet was sentenced to a three-year prison term for his activism. This culture of death was manifested on July 13, 1994, when agents of the regime massacred 41 men, women, and children whose sole crime was trying to flee the island. Whole families were murdered. Agents of the Castro regime destroyed the parental rights of the fathers and mothers along with their lives, and the lives of their children, without mercy. In Dr. Fleming's rush to expose the shortcomings of American domestic and foreign policy, he has committed the error of whitewashing the last Stalinist dictatorship in the Western hemisphere.

        - John J. Suarez
          Coordinator Free Cuba Foundation
          Miami, FL

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Elian Strike Closes Little Havana ( FCF organized 30 block march on Miami Beach)

 Elian Strike Closes Little Havana

By Martha Irvine
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, April 25, 2000; 9:34 p.m. EDT

A group of demonstrators dressed in black marched through Miami Beach to express their pain.
MIAMI –– Workers stayed home, students skipped school and businesses closed Tuesday as Cuban-Americans called a general strike that shut down Little Havana but barely slowed the rest of the city.

The protest over the Elian Gonzalez case brought honking cars and Cuban flags to the same streets where fires and violence broke out Saturday after armed federal agents grabbed the 6-year-old Cuban boy in a pre-dawn raid.

Except for a few coffee stands, the neighborhood's vibrant business community shut down on a hot, sunny day, while hundreds of protesters gathered on street corners or drove their cars in long, honking caravans through the streets.

"We are in mourning," said Angelo Gutierrez, 70. "I will buy nothing today."

The rest of the Miami metropolitan area went on with its day. Scattered businesses closed their doors and the morning traffic in the city was lighter than usual. The airport and Port of Miami suffered no difficulties, officials said.

Only two airport porters didn't show for work Tuesday, said supervisor Ileana Casasola. "I'm Cuban," she said. "I'd love to go support my people, but the problem is the airport is a busy place."

Many tourists didn't know of the strike. "They're causing more problems than they're solving," said Cleveland tourist Jackie Miller, breakfasting on South Beach. "Frankly, I'm a little tired of hearing about it."

Police said protests stayed peaceful, though two people were arrested for disorderly conduct. "We're hoping that ... this indeed is a day of reflection and contemplation and mourning as the Cuban exiles have called for," said Lt. Bill Schwartz.

Big businesses like American Airlines, which has 9,000 Miami-based employees, reported no staff shortages. At The Miami Herald, no reporters took the day off, though several support staff took vacation days at the paper and its Spanish-language daily, El Nuevo Herald, said Robin Reiter, vice president of human resources.

Larger corporations closed some operations – seven Publix supermarkets shut their doors, and a McDonald's in Little Havana closed, leaving its flag at half-staff.

Sony canceled its "Evening of Showcases," which featured singer Gloria Estefan, who supported Elian's Miami relatives, and other Latin music stars. The event was part of the festivities surrounding the Billboard Latin Music Conference and Awards that kicked off Tuesday in Miami.

Baseball players and coaches around the major leagues skipped games Tuesday night in protest. Tampa Bay's Jose Canseco was the most prominent player to sit out, joining six Florida Marlins, two San Francisco Giants and New York Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez. Several coaches joined them.

Florida third baseman Mike Lowell, pitchers Alex Fernandez and Vladimir Nunez – all of Cuban descent – decided to sit out. Dominican teammates Antonio Alfonseca, Jesus Sanchez and Danny Bautista joined them in a show of support.

Scattered effects of the strike could be felt throughout the county. The predominantly Hispanic city of Sweetwater kept going on a skeleton staff of mostly department heads, said Mayor Jose "Pepe" Diaz.

"We have to keep the city open for the public, but I do believe in the cause and I do stand with them," Diaz said.

In Hialeah, a city with a big Cuban population, the shopping district bustled.

However, one impromptu street protest protest several miles southwest of Little Havana grew to 300 by midday. A caravan of cars numbered at least 100. Spanish-language radio announced the names of businesses that closed and those that stayed open.

By early evening, about 130 protesters gathered outside the Freedom Tower, a former Customs building in downtown Miami where many Cubans entered the United States in the 1960s. They waved flags and signs and chanted "Libertad" as basketball fans streamed into the American Airlines Arena for a Miami Heat playoff game.

Across Biscayne Bay in Miami Beach, tourists lined up with cameras as about a thousand people – many of them wearing black clothing and electrical tape over their mouths – quietly walked 30 blocks from the trendy South Beach area to the city's Holocaust museum and back.

"We want international tourists to see what we are feeling," said John Suarez, a Florida International University student who helped organize the procession.

School officials said they had no information on attendance by students of teachers. But bank teller Dora Irizarry, whose bank shut down, took her two boys out of school, and they said many other students did the same.

She brought them to the home of Elian's Miami relatives for the first time. The Cuban-American community held months of protests outside the house in hopes of keeping the boy here.

"This is horrible, horrible. I don't have words," she said. "It's important for them to see this. It's important for them to know what freedom is about."

Down the street at the closed Zagami's Market, a Cuban flag hung over the store sign. Below hung a handwritten sign that read: "Clinton a traitor. Shame on you."


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