April 14, 2000

Castro Revels in America's

By George Melloan. Wall Street Journal. April 11, 2000

Al Gore got a left-handed compliment from his mentor Bill Clinton last week. The president told CBS that he thinks Mr. Gore "actually believes" what he has said about the Elian Gonzalez case, which just happens to be contrary to what Mr. Clinton espouses. Mr. Gore wants to let Elian stay in the U.S. The president wants to ship him back to Fidel Castro, who claims that the little boy, like all Cuban citizens, is his personal possession.

Mr. Clinton's suggestion of wonderment that his vice president might be saying something he "actually believes" doesn't do much for Mr. Gore's already tarnished credibility. But then it must be very hard for Mr. Clinton to feel that anything he hears, or says himself, has been uttered by someone who "actually believes" it out of an inherent intellectual honesty. His administration has given the word "spin" the most exercise it has had since the days when housewives made their own yarn.

Of course, Mr. Gore is not altogether undeserving of the slight. Surely he cannot have "actually believed" the wild jeremiads he once wrote forecasting the death of our planet. Wasn't he only playing up to the radical constituency that wants to scrap such 20th century inventions as automobiles, airplanes and electric lights to end man-made pollution? His claims that "global warming" is a threat to human survival are just politics, aren't they?

But it seems plausible that Mr. Gore really does believe that Miami is a better place than Castro's Cuba for little Elian. It doesn't seem likely that he is risking his shot at the White House next November by making this view known. Mr. Gore, a politician of some skill, apparently doesn't trust the polls that claim a majority of Americans think Elian should return home with his father. He and his Republican competitor, George W. Bush, clearly think that returning a child to a communist dictatorship is not good politics in America. Unlike Mr. Clinton, they have a big incentive to get the politics right. Mr. Gore, especially, doesn't want to find himself running on a Communist Party ticket next fall. Distancing himself from the soiled Clinton regime isn't such a bad idea either.

We don't have to speculate about Fidel Castro's motives. His cunning has allowed him to survive the shambles he has made of Cuba. The aging tyrant saw the Elian case as a chance to once again rattle the cage of the hated Yankees, something that has grown harder to do in the post-Cold War era. Faced with louder murmurs from dissenters -- some of whom he has recently sent to join the other political prisoners in his jails -- he needed to once more give Cuban nationalism a dose of amphetamine. So he turned out the party cadres and his pitiful little Young Pioneers to march in Havana with placards demanding that Elian be returned to his island prison. Elisabeth Brotons, the mother who drowned in her attempt to get herself and her small son to America, must not be allowed to prevail.

Fidel's timing could hardly have been better. Congress is dappled with Republicans who think granting sanctuary to a tiny waif will unleash a tide of unwashed immigrants into the U.S. The American left also is active again. Fighting what it describes as "globalization," it managed to scuttle a World Trade Organization conference in Seattle last year and is now marshaling its urban guerrillas in Washington to assault the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings next weekend. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Clinton takes the same laissez faire approach that he took in Seattle.

America also still harbors some folks who formed romantic impressions of Castro when he was being lionized by the press in the 1950s. Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.), a leading soft-liner toward Castro's efforts in the early 1980s to take over Central America, was again on the dictator's side on TV's "Meet the Press" Sunday. The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church was once more heard from, allowing itself to be a conduit for "private" contributions to pay Gregory Craig, one of Mr. Clinton's impeachment lawyers, to represent Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, in the effort to regain custody of Elian. Also appearing on "Meet the Press," the usually suave Mr. Craig let slip the interesting news that the Cuban government was consulted in drafting the statement Mr. Gonzalez made upon his arrival in America. That gave credence to the widely shared view that Juan Miguel is merely Castro's pawn.

Then, of course, there is Mr. Clinton himself, the man who once marched in London as part of the "antiwar movement" of Vietnam days. Such demonstrations, promoted by the Soviet Union, helped turn public opinion in the U.S. against the war and delivered Vietnam to a communist fate that has kept its people in poverty for over a quarter century. Mr. Clinton seems to have had a blind spot through much of his career for the evils of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.

Opinion polls reflect the sincere belief of many Americans that a father deserves custody of his own son. Sen. Dodd was on more solid ground when he argued that the U.S. trade embargo hasn't toppled Fidel and may well have helped him stay in power by allowing him to portray the U.S. as an implacable and dangerous enemy. Indeed, there is little merit in trade embargoes, by and large. But neither of these arguments excuse Castro for his cynicism in politicizing the plight of a little boy to shore up his unpopular regime.

Yet he certainly must be given high marks for the skill he has employed in this sleazy endeavor. Few issues of recent years have so dominated the airwaves or polarized the American people. The old dictator has managed to use his claim to little Elian to provoke Americans into a debate reminiscent of those that raged during the Cold War. Those who lost that war intellectually when the Soviet Union collapsed have returned to fight again, claiming that Cuba "isn't as bad" as those rabid Cuban emigres in Miami make it out to be. Their romantic images of Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and their other heroes of the Cold War die hard. The irrefutable answer to their claims, from those who have been there, is that Cuba is, if anything, worse than ever. Why else would a young mother risk her life, and her son's, to flee?

Al Gore's inner thoughts are unknowable, but one thing is certain. If Mr. Clinton and Janet Reno's Justice Department ultimately send little Elian back to Cuba, his vice president will not have to bear the resulting obloquy. Both presidential candidates will be able to assure themselves and their followers that they were on the side of a higher morality. Castro's cynicism and Clinton's blithe amorality will both deserve public contempt.



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