As America waits for Elian's father, Little Havana simmers

The moment of truth is approaching for Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old boy who has come to symbolise the tensions between Cuba and the United States. The boy survived when his mother fled to America; she did not. With 10 others, she drowned. Now, Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, is coming to America, and he wants to return with his son.

They are preparing for that eventuality in front of the beige bungalow in Little Havana where the boy lives with his uncles, aunts and cousins. Like Elian's mother, most of the crowd fled from Cuba, and they will not let him go back.

Most are in their fifties or sixties. They are dressed in T-shirts, jeans and trainers, and wearing baseball caps or battered straw hats, but the man who drills them, Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracy Movement, is in an elegant dark suit and polished black brogues. He gives his orders through a megaphone, taking them through the manoeuvres that they will execute when and if the authorities come for the boy. They stamp their feet, then march forward five paces. They sit, arms linked, in a "democracy chain". They stand (with difficulty in some cases).

The Immigration and Naturalisation Service has made clear that when Juan Miguel comes - perhaps today - the boy must go to him. That helped to heat the already agitated crowd in Little Havana to boiling point yesterday. "Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus? Support this kid and save him from the Dictator!" shouts Elias Hernandez, wagging his finger for emphasis as the cameras watch. As the day winds on, a hundred or so more gather in the street, and a motorcade drives down Flagler Street, horns blaring.

In between the manoeuvres, there is plenty of lecturing through the public address system that has been rigged up, the loudspeaker perched on (and later in) a dustbin. One after another, people step up to excoriate Cuba's President Fidel Castro, the US attorney general, Janet Reno, Fidel Castro, President Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro again.

The Hispanic population of Miami-Dade County has gone up from single figures 40 years ago to more than 50 per cent today, largely because of the arrival of the Cuban exiles.

Voting here tends to be polarised on ethnic lines. The Cuban-American community, still a relative newcomer to America, has its own institutions, restaurants, neighbourhoods and political identity, like many others. But it also has a political cause that still unites at least the older generation.

The street is warm and dusty, crowded with about 50 protesters crammed into a small area. Beyond the metal barrier there is a long stretch of empty street in front of the bungalow where the camera crews await the moment. Not much has happened here for several days. The action is elsewhere - at the attorney general's office downtown, in Washington at the Justice Department and the Cuban interests section, and in Havana.

Miami is growing restive at all the attention, most of it negative. In a testy editorial, The Miami Herald yesterday addressed the reporters who have descended on the city. "In recent memory, Miami has been described as Paradise Lost, America's Cocaine Capital and Riot Central - a place where vice, drugs, corruption and illegal immigrants commingle in an overheated stew," it says. "Some of it, of course, is true, just as a caricature holds some truth. But as with a caricature, the truth can be lost in the exaggeration." The city should be seen as a successful example of modern America, not a crucible of molten racial tension, it says.

Americans were shocked when the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Alex Penelas, said that local police would not help take Elian away. The parallel was drawn by many people between his defiance and the local officials in the 1960s who said they would not help to desegregate schools.

That was a message which shocked many in America's black community, which has often found itself in conflict with the Cuban-Americans. "When riots erupted in Miami's black communities several times in the 1970s and 1980s, allegations by blacks of mistreatment by Cubans were usually raised as underlying factors," wrote the Hispanic journalist Juan Gonzalez in his book Harvest of Empire.

Many Floridians were shocked too: that is not the city they see. The Herald's letters pages have been riven by dissenting arguments over the Elian saga; most of those advocating that the boy remain in America have Hispanic names, while the other side has mostly Anglo names. The Herald has cut back the number of letters in the past few days.

There is a sense of frustration and embarrassment in the city and people are not keen to talk about it. "I just can't believe this is still going on," said a woman in a record shop in Miami Beach, who preferred not to be named. "This is just crazy. They should let the boy go. Now."

Most of America thinks the same, according to opinion polls. All of the polls show that a majority believe Elian belongs with his father in Cuba, and that belief does not vary significantly by party political affiliation. But in some ways, it is precisely that sense of isolation - of being misunderstood, fighting for justice on their own - which drives the crowd in Little Havana. Like many such communities, the sense of exile forges their conviction.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links