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It's About The Kid, Not Cuba

Not many six-year-old children find their way into foreign policy debates. But Elian Gonzalez is not your ordinary six-year-old.

Because Elian is a Cuban citizen and his father still lives in Cuba and wants him returned, this child custody case, perhaps like no other, has touched almost every area of concern between the U.S. and Cuba.

While the Justice Department and its Immigration and Naturalization Service are pulling legal levers in one direction (return Elian to the custody of his father), the boy's Miami family and the Cuban-American community in Miami push the opposite way (keep him in the U.S. any way possible).

Members of Congress want to make Elian an American citizen. Presidential candidates Bush and Gore have spoken out, the vice president even breaking with administration policy over the case.

And as the cameras have followed Elian's every trip down the slide in the backyard in Miami, Cubans in Havana have periodically held demonstrations for his return, and the Cuban government has gathered a 31-person entourage to go to the U.S. and see him.

A 40-Year Spat
The tense relationship between the U.S. and Cuba dates back virtually to the Jan. 1, 1959 Cuban revolution.

While the U.S. initially recognized the new government, according to the State Department, "bilateral relations deteriorated rapidly as the regime expropriated U.S. properties and moved towards adoption of a one-party Marxist-Leninist system."

The U.S. declared an embargo on Cuba in October 1960 that has existed ever since.

In April 1961, the U.S tried to overthrow Castro by backing the failed "Bay of Pigs" invasion.

In 1962, the U.S. almost went to nuclear war when it learned the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba.

The two countries did set up "interests sections" in each other's capitals in 1977.

However, the 1980 Mariel boatlift and Cuba's 1996 downing of U.S.-registered civil aircraft—allegedly over international waters—continued to strain relations.

According to the State Department, "The fundamental goal of United States policy toward Cuba is to promote a peaceful transition to a stable, democratic form of government and respect for human rights."

(Source: State. Dept., Information Please)

"I think this little boy can't carry the whoe of the U.S.-Cuba relationship on his little shoulders," said the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell of the National Council of Churches in January, "and that's what we're asking."

Could the case perhaps be an opening, a reporter asked at the daily State Department briefing, for some other kind of relationship between the U.S. and Cuba than has existed since Fidel Castro took power more than four decades ago?

"No," replied spokesman James Foley. The United States for a long time has been willing to have a better relationship with Cuba, "...namely, with a Cuba that has embarked on the road to political reform—to democratic reform," said Foley.

Another reporter tried a different approach. Could this case "galvanize in some way a more realistic approach to Cuba?"

Again, Foley said the answer was "basically no." Then he amended his answer to say: "we are open to working with a Cuba that is changing, that is embarking on democratic reforms. But we don't see that."

A final try to see if somehow the case of Elian Gonzalez could loosen a long-standing diplomatic knot.

Foley was firm. "...In no way, shape or form is the U.S. government's treatment of this issue connected with any larger political intention, vis-a-vis Cuba, nor is it really, I think, realistic to speculate that there could be such a movement or shift in the absence of fundamental changes in Cuba."

Policy change, it seems, will have to wait for another day—preferably one which is not on an election-year calendar.


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