saving elian
the exiles' castro obsession

francisco aruca francisco aruca
A political commentator and a moderate on the Cuba issue

[Castro]'s going to be their eternal enemy until they die. That's the way they see it, no doubt about it. Back in 1978, Fidel Castro even tried for the first time to change policy in relations to Cubans in the United States, and he carried out what was known as the dialogue sessions. He invited Cubans from the United States to come and dialogue and find a solution, for example, to release political prisoners, or to allow Cubans from the United States to travel to Cuba. Immediately, all those who, one way or the other, thought that that was an answer were called traitors in Miami. I was in Miami at the time, and the businesses were bombed, people lost their jobs. Professional people who were established in very prosperous businesses lost those opportunities because of the social pressures.
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Lisandro Perez Lisandro Perez
Professor at Florida International University, where he founded the Cuban Research Institute.

...This is a highly personalized sort of conflict. If you talk to Cuban exiles about Cuba, instead of using terms like "the communist system" or "the government" or anything like, that they're more likely to say "Fidel Castro," It's a very personalized conflict that even finds its way into the laws that the US has written and enacted, which have in part been written by Cuban exiles. The Helms-Burton bill actually says that a precondition for improving US relations with Cuba is that Fidel Castro and Raoul Castro, by first name and last names, have to be out of there.. . . Emotion is, in many ways, a driving force. It sometimes keeps people--as the Elián case pointed out--from seeing things rationally, or pragmatically. You could make the argument to many people here in Miami that the embargo is helpful to Fidel Castro. It keeps him isolated. It enables him to blame others for his troubles. But people here wouldn't be interested in that. The embargo cannot be understood as a rational, pragmatic measure to overthrow the Cuban government. It has to be understood in emotional terms. If you lift the embargo, for many Cuban exiles, it means Fidel will have won. read the full interview

Elena Freyre Elena Freyre
Executive director of the Cuban Committee for Democracy

I think it's because he is the charismatic leader that they feel took the country away from them. He made it impossible for them to live in their own country and he's still alive. So while he's alive, you focus everything on that one man. Never mind that there are 11 million other people there. And never mind that things have changed, especially in the last ten years. We still think that if Fidel rules everything and Fidel took our country away from us, now we need to hate Fidel. And if we hate Fidel, we have to make sure that Fidel gets nothing.

There is a saying that I'm going to translate very loosely: "Give nothing to the bloody dictator." So that plays into that. "Do not give Elián to Fidel. Let's keep little Elián away from Fidel." They think this man is going to live forever. You have to take into account that Elián is six years old. Whatever possesses them to think that when Elián is 22 or 23, Castro is still going to be alive and the country is still going to be the same? I'm a lot more of an optimist than they are, I think.
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Sylvia Iriondo Pedro Freyre
Director of Mothers Against Repression, and a hard liner

Yes, of course [I saw Castro's hand in this]. This is not a normal custody case, because Cuba is not a normal country. I still have yet to find someone willing to assert that Cuba is not under the yoke of a totalitarian dictator who controls every aspect of a Cuban's life, including children. In our opinion, the father could not speak for the child, because Castro was speaking for the father.
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