April 17, 2000

Santeros link Castro's future to Elian

Guillermo Cabrera Infante. Published Monday, April 17, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Guillermo Cabrera Infante is a Cuban exile and author of Holy Smoke, Mea Cuba and Infante's Inferno.

LONDON -- Every year Santeria, the African-rooted religion popularly practiced in Cuba, publishes a horoscope. The Santeros ``toss the coconut shells'' and forecast the future according to whether the shells fall flesh-side up or down. The Santeros have tied the future of the Castro regime to the fate of the Elian Gonzalez, who is to them the reincarnation of Elegua, a kind of Christ child. The position of the coconut shells foreshadows ills for the ``tribe'' of Cuba and a worse fate for the ``chief,'' Fidel Castro.

A little background: The Virgin of Charity of El Cobre is Cuba's patron saint, known familiarly as Cachita. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared to three Cuban fishermen floating on the high seas. This image is revered by the Cuban people. Her equivalent in Santeria is Ochun, half virgin and half whore. ``The extremely popular Ochun,'' as Lydia Cabrera describes her, ``. . . who shares dominion over the waters.''

Many Catholic believers have no doubt that Elian is the reincarnation of the Christ child, who, according to Santeria, is one of the 21 forms that the Elegua takes.

As soon as the Santeros learned of Elian's fate (the boy had been rescued at sea, saved from sharks by the appearance of dolphins and after 48 hours in the water under a blazing sun did not show the burns and sores typical of those rescued at sea), they declared that he was a divine Elegua and that if he remained in Miami -- in other words, in exile -- Fidel Castro ``would fall.''

The Elegua had to be returned to Cuba for the protection of an atheist dictator who believes all of the Santeros' prophecies.

Soon after these predictions became known, Castro began his speeches, roaring threateningly, as he always does. Then the marches began, with thousands of little flags suddenly appearing, in addition to (another miracle) identical T-shirts with a likeness of the boy's face, so that he could appear over every Cuban's heart (or at least on their shirts). All sorts of Cubans, captive and free, marched.

As time goes by, the prophecies of the Santeros are becoming increasingly gloomy: Without the child there will be no Castro. Is anyone surprised that an erstwhile Marxist-Leninist believes in prophecies? Hitler, no less a secularist, believed in the auguries of his personal astrologer.

We must remember that it is Fidel Castro and his squandering of lives and property that has caused millions of Cubans to flee, dividing not only families but also the Cuban people. He did not react this furiously when one of his torpedo boats attacked and sank the tugboat Trece de Marzo just off the Cuban coast. Forty persons drowned in this unnatural disaster, among them 10 children. The government has not expressed a single regret over the tragedy.

Why all the noise and all the threats this time, over the return of a boy who was saved from drowning? The only explanation is the incoherence of a man who is struggling with the inevitable: his disappearance and the end of his tyranny and his life. After all, other Cuban dictators, from Gen. Gerardo Machado to Juan Batista, also turned to acts of sorcery in their hours of need.

I am asked whether I think that Elian ought to be sent back to Cuba. My reply is another question: What do you think my answer would be, as an exile who fled Castro and took his two daughters with him because he did not want them to live in a place where life is brutish and short?

Sending Elian back to Castro's Cuba is to condemn him to having no milk to drink when he turns 7, to turn him into a ``little pioneer,'' a rite of passage and to force him to learn an alphabet that begins not with the letter A but with F (the first letter in the name of you know who).

He will grow up malnourished, ignorant and with a paranoid fear of the reigning terror under which his behavior will be monitored by a ubiquitous police. Elian's life in Cuba will be a future without a future.

A New Yorker cartoon an elderly man (an exile, no doubt) asks Elian what he would like to be when he grows up, offering these two alternatives: ``Gloria Estefan or the Buena Vista Social Club?'' It is a joke, of course. But for Elian, an innocent child who could be condemned, it is something more: a terrible and unacceptable proposition.

©2000 Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald



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