April 5, 2000

A Son of the Revolution

By Jorge Masetti. The Washington Post. Wednesday, April 5, 2000; Page A19

I was born in Argentina. I arrived in Cuba when I was 3 years old. It was Jan. 8, 1959, the very day that Fidel Castro, surrounded by his bearded army, by rifles and by promises of freedom, was entering Havana. They were days of mobilization and victory--days of revolution. The euphoria of the triumph must have impressed me. I don't remember.

What I cannot forget is the day in 1965 on which a chilly bureaucratic voice informed me that my father, a passionate believer in Castro's cause, had died in Argentina at the head of one of the guerrilla columns Cuba had dispatched to battle the governments of Latin America. I had already been told that, in a revolution, one triumphs or one dies. And in the same fashion, I learned, as a consolation, that I should not worry because I was a son of the Revolution.

By then the beards had been shaved, the promises of liberty transformed into a dictatorship of the proletariat. Of the days of euphoria, all that remained were Fidel and the rifles, rifles whose barrels never ceased smoking in the firing squads.

And me? I was a son of the Revolution, without a homeland and without emotional support, but a son of the Revolution nonetheless. It was not to be long before I followed in my father's footsteps, fighting in Fidel's battles, overt and covert, from the Southern Cone to the shores of Lake Nicaragua--a desperate and violent career that I now regret.

"Pioneers for Communism, we shall be like Che," is the battle cry that Cuban children must repeat each day before entering their classrooms. It's been the same chant for four decades. Communist education is the only kind Cuba permits, facilitates and requires.

It was precisely because of a desire to give her child a different upbringing that Elian Gonzalez's mother embarked on the adventure in which she lost her life. Elian survived, but the comandante does not like it when his cubs escape, much less that they should become symbols.

And Elian has become a symbol--a symbol of all the Cuban kids who could not make it to Miami. A symbol, for example, of the children who were killed on July 13, 1994, when a ferry boat filled with families trying to flee the country was ordered sunk by the Cuban authorities--or, more precisely, by the only authority in Cuba, Fidel Castro. Elian is a symbol of all those who have lost their lives escaping from a regime that is growing steadily more authoritarian and irrational.

I cannot contradict those who support the overwhelmingly logical proposition that, when one parent dies a child should live with the surviving biological parent. I would only ask them to remember that Elian will not return to a normal country, and to understand he will not return to his father. He will return to the Revolution.

How many times have we seen the old and ridiculous leader of this Revolution appear before the television cameras to announce, as if he were giving military briefings, that Elian will return to Cuba no matter what the cost--thus transforming an ordinary legal case into a political battle?

As you think about the future of this 6-year-old, remember that Elian's mother died trying to keep him from having to live under the boot of this man. And now he poses as Elian's protector. This means that in Cuba, Elian will lose his soul, because to survive, he will have to venerate the person who, in the final analysis, caused the death of his mother.

It takes a lot of naivete--or cynicism--not to recognize that the intentions of Fidel Castro toward Elian Gonzalez have nothing to do with either humanitarianism or justice. Given the failures of his rule and the loss of credibility he is experiencing within his country, Castro needs to show that Cuba is still capable of forcing the "imperialists" to give in.

Within Cuba-- and this is the crucial point--the return of Elian will not be seen as an act of justice by the U.S. government but rather as yet another victory for the bully-boy tactics of Fidel Castro. This is why the dictator is trying to recover Elian, to convert him into a different kind of symbol--a symbol of the Revolution, even though for that to happen, Elian would have to renounce his mother, the family in Miami that took care of him and even, in fact, his father, Juan Miguel. Because upon returning to Cuba, he will not belong to his family. He will be another son of the Revolution.

The writer, a former agent of Cuba's Americas Department, is working on a book about Cuban political prisoners. He lives in Paris.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company



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