Elian Gonzalez and the Hand of God

Whatever else they disagree on when it comes to the controversy surrounding Elian Gonzalez, pundits left and right all nod their heads sagely whenever someone says that this is a great “tragedy” and offers up the bromide that “no one is a winner” in this case. This is incomprehensible to most Cuban-Americans, and no doubt to most Cubans, who fully realize what a triumph it is for anyone to escape the totalitarian hell of Castro’s workers paradise. But ideology aside for the moment, there is something else going on here, a divide that has more to do with religion than with politics. Let’s look at what actually happened to little Elian and see if we can understand why Americans, (including the Attorney General and the President of the United States) could have come to believe that it is better to send the boy back.AN HONOR GUARD

To the supporters of Elian and his Miami relatives, the rescue at sea was a “miracle,” a phrase that the “send-him-back” brigade steadfastly avoids. Not only did Elian manage to cling to an inner tube for 48 hours, but he was saved from sharks by the appearance of dolphins who formed a kind of honor guard, ringing the boy and guiding him to the fishermen who saved his life. Two days under a blazing sun did not produce the burns and sores that afflict virtually all shipwreck survivors. It is not just politics that superheats the fervor of Miami’s Cuban-Americans on behalf of Elian, but the influence of religion, and specifically Santeria, an Africanized Catholicism with pagan elements prevalent in the Caribbean region. Devotees see the boy as the reincarnation of Elegua, the Santeria equivalent of the Christ child. That Elian was rescued from the sea is also significant, in religious terms, as the sea is the dominion of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre – Cuba’s patron saint, popularly known as Cachita. The legend that the Virgin appeared to three Cuban fishermen lost at sea has resonance here. The Virgin Mary’s Santeria equivalent, Ochun, characterized as half virgin half whore, also counts the ocean as her realm. To Cuban-Americans – and that small part of the native American population not completely secularized and viscerally hostile to all manifestations of faith in anything but science – what happened that day off the Florida coast was clearly divine intervention on the child’s behalf. The child is here, and should stay here, because it was meant to be.


This is what divides the devoutly religious Cuban American community from the great majority of Americans who, according to the omniscient polls, want the boy to go back with his father. It is the miraculous view of life versus the secular-bureaucratic, the claim of a higher law versus Janet Reno. If the courts hand down their decision today, April 19th, authorizing Reno to go in there like gangbusters and seize the child, it is unlikely that she will take action on this particular day – the anniversary of the Waco massacre, in which over 80 children and their parents were incinerated by Reno and her fiendish feds. Such a brash act would only serve to underscore the sinister aspects of this peculiar battle, which pits an apparently willful and increasingly defiant six-year-old boy and his American relatives against the power and majesty of the federal government.


Ask yourself: why is the Attorney General of the United States so concerned with “upholding the law” in the single case of Elian Gonzalez, when illegal immigrants have practically taken over several states in the American Southwest? For god’s sakes, they’re voting in San Francisco elections, where the police are officially constrained by city government from cooperating with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in deporting known criminals to their country of origin (usually Mexico or somewhere in Central America). If Janet Reno wants to enforce the law, why doesn’t she go down to Army Street and start forcibly deporting the hundreds of illegal immigrants who line the streets, waiting to get picked up for temporary construction and gardening work by cruising employers? Why doesn’t she go to New York City, where she could clean out whole neighborhoods in an effort to “enforce the law,” specifically the immigration laws? Why pick on a six-year-old refugee from one of the last remaining Communist dictatorships on earth?


I will never forget hearing Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ answer to the question put to her by Larry King: “Would you send him back to Stalin’s Russia [or] Hitler’s Germany?” Waters replied: “Yes, of course.” Of course? Watching these born-again liberal champions of parental rights and family values is good for a few laughs. But there is something distinctly sinister about it, too. The real agenda of the Clintonians who want to put Elian on the next plane to Havana was revealed by columnist Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group, when she blurted out in the heat of the debate: “I’d rather be a poor child in Cuba than a poor child in New York City.” This was startling, not because it is all that rare an attitude, but because it is rarely so openly expressed. Here is the evidence, if any were needed, that the Left’s newfound devotion to the cause of father’s rights is just window-dressing for the same old fellow-traveling National Council of Churches line: don’t they have universal health care in the Cuban Gulag? Don’t all the little kiddies get their teeth cleaned twice a year? Don’t the Young Pioneers have nice clean uniforms to wear as they march down Havana’s streets demanding the return of their “kidnapped” little brother? The American Left hasn’t cared a rat’s ass about civil liberties since the halcyon days of the Vietnam war era – and then only when their civil liberties were under attack. The view of Ms. Clift, the archetypal Clintonian, is not that much different from that of the boy’s Commie father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who was asked in a fawning softball interview with Dan Rather if Elian would lose his freedom if forced to return to Cuba. Gonzalez replied:

“I ask you what’s freedom? Freedom is, for example, in Cuba, where education and health care are free. Or is it the way it is here? Which of the two is freedom? For example, here when parents send their children to school they have to worry about violence. A child could be shot at school. In Cuba, things like that don’t happen. So you can go to work and not worry,” said Gonzalez, who is fighting to get the boy back from relatives in Miami. Which of the two is freedom?”


The generation that grew up with posters of Che Guevara tacked to the walls of their college dorms is now occupying the seats of power, in government and the media: in their view, Fidel is a flawed but heroic figure who improved the lot of the average Cuban, a lovable Stalinist with panache and style. Like the Bush administration, which was afraid of the anti-Communist rebellions that rocked the Soviet Empire in Germany, and initially tried to undercut and downplay the rising tide in Eastern Europe, the Clintonians have always feared the consequences of a successful anti-Communist uprising in Cuba in the wake of Castro’s death. It is not hard to imagine the panic of our foreign policy bureaucrats as they project the “destabilization” of the region in the wake of a revolution in Cuba – one that could precede the Cuban caudillo‘s death if the boy winds up staying in Miami. This possibility is raised in a fascinating article in Monday’s Miami Herald [April 17, 2000], by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, in which he sketches in the all-important religious context of the Elian controversy:

“As soon as the Santeros learned of Elian’s fate . . . 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 had to be returned 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.

“As time goes by, the prophecies of the Santeros are becoming increasingly gloomy: 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.”


To Janet Reno, and this Caligulan Administration, the miraculous element of Elian’s odyssey is all the more reason to end it. While they may scoff at the very idea that Elian might be the reincarnation of some mythical figure out of Caribbean lore, they know that myths have the power to move nations – and make revolutions. The longer Elian stays in this country, the more opportunity there is for a blowup in Havana – and this in an election year. The threat of a destabilized Cuba accounts not only for Castro’s insistence on the return of the child, but also the US Justice Department’s alliance with the Cuban dictator in this affair. Reno’s only problem is that, instead of picking on a small and isolated community of religious eccentrics on the fringes of American society, such as Koresh and his followers, they suddenly find themselves up against the population of a major American city. Incredibly, they are coldly contemplating the logistics of the coming showdown, making plans for a sudden forcible entry, a military-style operation eerily reminiscent of what happened on this day in a tiny Texas town called Waco.


Not only that, but in preparing public opinion for a show of force, they are putting out a wacko pediatrician, one Dr. Irwin Redlener, who, from his vantage point in the Bronx, has determined that “Elian Gonzalez is now in a state of imminent danger to his physical and emotional well-being in a home that I consider to be psychologically abusive.” This is what Redlener wrote in a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno and INS commissar Doris Meissner, after seeing the video of Elian recently released by his Miami relatives: in Redlener’s phrase, it resembled a “hostage video.” Just as Reno hauled out her government-approved “experts” to “prove” that David Koresh was “abusing” the children of Waco, so the Justice Department is sending out Redlener to explain that, whatever violence occurs as the result of the government’s actions in Miami, they’re doing it because, as Redlener said on the Today Show, “This child needs to be rescued.” Can the tanks be far behind?


The government-appointed experts detect signs of “dysfunction” and even “Stockholm syndrome” in the remarkable video of Elian stating his wishes, misdiagnosing his behavior as “finger-wagging” disrespect to his father. Compared to the relatively placid and passive demeanor of the typical American white kid – their own kids – Elian seems super-animated, his gestures suspiciously emphatic. Maybe he needs a good dose of Ritalin. But then again, everything in Elian’s culture is emphatic: the gestures, the language, the passion that permeates the Cuban soul – and represents a continuing threat to Castro’s hold on the country. The most striking aspect of that video was how remarkably coherent and adult young Elian Gonzalez seemed, how like a Latinized version of those Tibetan child lamas believed to be reincarnated Buddhas. His voice, rather than childish and quavering, was serenely self-confident and ringing with real conviction, and here is what he said:

“Dad, I do not want to go to Cuba. If you want to, stay here. I am not going to Cuba. Dad, you saw that older woman that came to the Sister’s house. She wants to see me back in Cuba. I tell them – I am telling you – you are saying that I want to return to Cuba. But I am telling you now that I do not want to go to Cuba. If you would like, stay here. But I do not want to go to Cuba.”


What could be clearer than that? This kid doesn’t want to go to Cuba – he wants to go to Hollywood. That video, with little Elian auditioning for the part of Elegua, was the first starring role of a phenomenon that could be bigger than Ricky Martin. And who begrudges him his meteoric rise to superstardom, aside from the dour Janet Reno and a cabal of Cuba-loving Commies?


In addition to Reno and liberals of the Eleanor Clift persuasion, the continuing defiance of Elian and his Miami relatives enrages a small but vocal minority of “family values” conservatives, who claim that the father’s wishes must be given priority over all else. But is a family only the father? Don’t grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers and cousins count for something? To say that Elian must be deported to a country where the official ideology calls for the abolition of the family – in the fame of family values, no less – is a contradiction of such stunning clumsiness that one is almost embarrassed to have to point it out. Far from returning to his father’s supposedly loving home, on his return Elian will be transported to a “transitional environment,” i.e. a mini-Gulag complete with swimming pool and enough room for “counselors” and a dozen “classmates,” as well as his father’s family members, who will “re-integrate” (i.e. re-indoctrinate) Elian back into the Cuban workers’ paradise.


And what about Elian – does his age deprive him of any and all say in what is to be his fate? I refer back to the video that the psychologists and psychiatrists are descrying as evidence of “exploitation” and “brainwashing.” While his gestures are childish, this is clearly no longer a mere child, but one who has been transformed, through his ordeal, into something more. Does anyone imagine that he is unaware of what is going on around him, or that he doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of the cultural and religious context in which his odyssey has taken place? He is Cuban, after all, and a child. Cachita, Elegua, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre: they populate his dreams, waking and sleeping – and they are Castro’s worst nightmares. The child could become the center of a political and religious phenomenon that may herald the the end of Cuban communism. This is what the Cuban dictator and his American fellow travelers fear above all – and in this task of preventing such a development the US government is, for some reason, their dogged instrument.


In the coming showdown between Elian’s supporters and the Justice Department, all the most ominous signs of a pre-Waco situation seem prominently in place: the “experts,” the threats, the deadlines, the stubborn refusal of the Justice Department to recognize the religious significance or meaning of the events and their unwillingness and inability to negotiate or compromise. But the murderous rage of Reno and her minions, as we have learned, can only be contained for so long. God help the people of Miami, Elian’s family, and Elian himself, for the Satanic evil that animates the US Justice Department is about done baring its fangs. There is every indication that Reno is getting ready to strike. And when she does, we can only hope that the same benevolent force that saved Elian from the jaws of sharks will keep him out of Reno’s (and Castro’s) clutches. Coming from a lifelong atheist, that hope doesn’t mean much – but even this dyed-in-the-wool rationalist is moved to ask: how many shipwreck victims are guided to safety by dolphins, I wonder: what’s up with that? At the start of all this brouhaha, I wondered: Why is Castro scared shitless of this little boy? Now I get it. . . .

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].