U.S.-Cuba Relations -- After Elian

Iraqis pelt a burning British military SUV after being hit by a rocket propelled grenade in Basra, Iraq, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Monday Oct. 16, 2006. One soldier was wounded in the attack. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)
AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani
"There is no diplomatic impact. I don’t see anything good coming out of it" for U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations, says one senior administration official, speaking of the Elian Gonzalez case.

Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez arrived in America last November under precarious and tragic conditions. Found floating in an inner tube by fishermen off the coast of Florida, Elian lost his mother, who died trying to bring her son to the United States.

Seven months later, after enough legal, political and diplomatic maneuvering to fill volumes, Elian is returning to his home in Cuba with his father.

What impact will this case have on diplomatic ties between the two countries? "It’s probably not going to have any direct impact on the diplomatic relations between the two countries," says Professor William LeoGrande of American University . LeoGrande says the Cuban government’s main goal is to see the U.S. embargo lifted: "They want economic normalcy. They care less about normal diplomatic relations."

Legislation now pending on Capitol Hill to allow food and medicine to be shipped to Cuba for the first time in 40 years may help ease tensions, but it is not clear that President Clinton will sign the version of the law which finally emerges.

President Clinton, speaking at a press conference after the Supreme Court failed to intervene in the Gonzalez case, made it clear there were still problems between the U.S. and Cuba which stemmed from Cuba’s shooting down two civilian airplanes in 1996, causing the death of four U.S. citizens.

Clinton said he would be inclined to sign a bill to permit food and drug sales to Cuba if he is persuaded it will work and will not intrude on other policy aims. But he said he would not support the easing now of broader trade sanctions against Fidel Castro's regime.

Informed sources point out that future relations between the two countries could be adversely affected, at least in the short term, as developments unfold on a number of pending issues:

  • The outcome of an investigation by the D.C. police department and the U.S. attorney’s office into an incident in front of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, during which a number of Cuban diplomats were involved in attacking demonstrators outside the Interest Section’s offices. If indictments are involved, the State Department will likely declare those indicted as persona non grata and they will be forced to leave the United States
  • The trade legislation now pending in Congress
  • U.S.-Cuban migration talks which are now suspended
  • The upcoming sentencing of Mariano Fahet, a Cuban-American who worked for the INS and was found guilty of selling secrets to Cuba.
Finally, it is a presidential election year and campaign rhetoric can easily inflame people with strong feelings on both sides.

U.S. diplomats played their role during the Elian Gonzalez case, issuing visas and negotiating diplomatc details with Cuban officials, but this case was largely driven by the Justice Department and U.S. immigration law.

As young Elian and his family headed for Washington’s Dulles airport, the senior administration official said: "The law has been upheld….We have done the right thing. But there is no joy in Mudville," the official said, explaining, "wouldn’t it have been nice if the kid could have grown up in America."