Today's date:
Summer 2000

Elian vs. Fidel

Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the exiled Cuban author, has written such works as Holy Smoke, Mea Cuba and Infante’s Inferno.

London—Every year Santeria, the African-rooted religion popularly practiced in Cuba, publishes its horoscope. The Santeros "toss the coconut shells," in point of fact. Four pieces of a coconut shell are thrown on the ground, and the future is forecast according to their position, whether they fall flesh side up or down. The Santeros are now predicting the future of the Castro regime as it is tied to the fate of Elian Gonzalez, who to them is the reincarnation of the Elegua, a kind of Christ child in Cuba’s mix of Catholic and Santeria-influenced culture.

The position of the coconut shells cast by the Santeros has foreshadowed ills for the "tribe" of Cuba and an even worse fate for the "chief," Fidel Castro.

A little background. The Virgin of Charity of El Cobre is the patron saint of Cuba. Blessed by the Pope when he visited her shrine in El Cobre, near Santiago, just two years ago, she is known familiarly as Cachita. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared to three Cuban fishermen floating on the high seas. This image of the Virgin in multicolored wood is revered by the entire Cuban people. Her equivalent in Santeria is Ochun, half virgin and half whore. "The extremely popular Ochun," as Lydia Cabrera describes her, "...shares dominion over the waters."

Many Catholic believers have no doubt that Elian is the reincarnation of the Christ Child, who, according to Santeria, is one of the 21 forms that the Elegua takes.
As soon as the Santeros learned of Elian’s fate (the boy had been rescued at sea, saved from sharks by the appearance of dolphins, with which he was playing, and after 48 hours in the water under a blazing sun did not show the burns and sores that other fugitives from Castro who are rescued at sea always have), they declared that he was a divine Elegua and that if he remained in Miami—in other words, in exile—Fidel Castro "would fall."
The Elegua, it appears, had to be brough
t back to Cuba for the protection of an atheist dictator who believes all of the Santeros’ prophecies!
Soon after these predictions became known, Castro began his speeches, roaring threateningly, as he always does. Then the marches began, with thousands of little flags suddenly appearing, in addition to (another miracle) identical T-shirts with a likeness of the boy’s face, so that he could appear over every Cuban’s heart (or at least on their shirts). All sorts of Cubans, captive and free, marched. The marches then became more specialized: members of the defense committees, mothers, single mothers. The only thing missing was a march by albinos, as Santeria recommends: blacks who are white.

None of this struck me as anything new because Castro is an expert in organizing voluntary yet compulsory rallies.

The prophecies of the Santeros became increasingly gloomy over the months: without the Child there will be no Castro.

Is anyone surprised that an erstwhile Marxist-Leninist believes in prophecies? Hitler, no less a secularist, believed in the auguries of his personal astrologer. These were not the voices of Germanic mythology but rather the predictions of his horoscope, especially as his ideology, his war and his life collapsed.

FIDEL CASTRO | We must remember that it is Fidel Castro and his squandering of lives and property that has caused millions of Cubans to flee, dividing not only families but also the Cuban people themselves. He did not react this furiously when one of his torpedo boats attacked and sank the tugboat Trece de Marzo just off the Cuban coast. Forty persons drowned in this unnatural disaster, among them 10 children, and the government did not express a single regret over the tragedy.
Why all the noise and all the threats this time over the return of a boy who was saved from drowning? The only explanation is the incoherence of a man who is struggling with the inevitable: his disappearance and the end of his tyranny and his life. After all, the other Cuban dictators, from Gen. Machado to Juan Batista, also turned to acts of sorcery in their hours of need.

I am often asked whether I think that Elian ought to be sent back to Cuba. My reply is always another question. What do you think my answer would be, as an exile who fled from Castro and took his two daughters with him because he did not want them to live in a place where life is brutish and short?

That would be like asking Dante to traverse his Inferno again. Sending Elian back to Castro’s Cuba is to condemn him to having no milk to drink when he turns 7, to turn him into a "little pioneer," a rite of passage, and to force him to learn an alphabet that begins not with the letter A but with F (the first letter in the name of you know who).

He will grow up malnourished, ignorant and with a paranoid fear of the reigning terror under which his behavior will be monitored by a ubiquitous police. Elian’s life in Cuba will be a future without a future.

A cartoon in the New Yorker reflects more than a shadow of a doubt. An elderly man (an exile, no doubt) asks Elian what he would like to be when he grows up, offering these two alternatives: "Gloria Estefan or the Buena Vista Social Club?" It is a joke, of course. But for Elian, an innocent child who could be condemned, it is something more: a terrible and unacceptable proposition.

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