Hard line weakens anti-Castro camp

The saga of Elian Gonzalez, the small boy caught in the middle of a row between Washington and Havana, may seem to demonstrate yet again the strength of America's right-wing Cuban-American lobby. "They have shown enough clout to get the US government to do very difficult things," says Max Castro of the University of Miami.

But many experts in the US also see the battle as evidence both of a strategic miscalculation and of weaknesses. "They have positioned themselves very badly in terms of public opinion," adds Mr Castro. Lisandro Perez, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University (FIU), said: "This is going to be a very costly exercise in the long term."

Above all, by focusing on an issue which most Americans opposed - keeping the boy in the US rather than sending him home to his father - they have frittered away valuable political capital. "They have used so much muscle on this that they are going to lose a lot of sympathy nationally and in south Florida," said Dario Moreno of FIU. "It has created a wedge between Cuban-American and American public opinion."

There are about 800,000 Cuban-Americans in Florida, and a number of groups which include every kind of view on Castro's Cuba. The most prominent, however, are the right-wing organisations which campaign for an end to his dictatorship, some through violence, some through lobbying. The proportion of Cuban-Americans who feel angry and committed enough to act on an issue like Elian is, however, quite small, says Julia Sweig, director of the Council on Foreign Relations' Cuba Programme. "This is a very small and committed group of people. It's probably quite shallow. Opinion on the subject runs very deep in the community, of course, but not everyone is a committed activist."

The main anti-Castro organisation is the Cuban-American National Foundation, a highly effective machine created by Jorge Mas Canosa, a local businessman. He lobbied hard and effectively to maintain the embargo against Cuba and to toughen it. But Mas Canosa died in 1997, and most experts agree that under his son, Jorge Mas Jr, the organisation has got weaker.

"There's a vacuum and a fragmentation," says Mr Castro. "You have different leaders playing different roles." The Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Ballart and Jorge Mas are the movement's official spokesmen and players in Washington. Ramon Saul Sanchez is the leader of the "street protests". Mr Sanchez, leader of the Democracy Movement, is a relatively minor player but has had success with grass-roots issues, and has been prominent every day in the Elian saga, drilling his supporters outside the boy's house. "Sanchez sees his area of opportunity on the street," says Mr Perez. "He has taken advantage."

The case of Elian Gonzalez was first taken up by the CANF, which used the boy's image on posters to campaign against President Fidel Castro's planned appearance at last year's WTO summit in Seattle. Mr Moreno believes that they did not intend it to become an all-encompassing struggle, but had to ride the wave of public opinion. "People here have been surprised by how this became an issue," he says. "Some have painted themselves into a corner."

"It's the emotional sectors that drown out everything else," says Mr Perez. "Some of the leadership who might have second thoughts either get carried along or know that they must ride it, get in front of it even. The emotional sector forces compliance."

The issue has shifted from being America versus Cuba to Little Havana versus the US, something which Mr Mas Canosa tried to avoid. He wanted Cuban-Americans to be seen as patriots and loyal citizens, not sectionalists. But leaders like Sanchez and other street politicians "view this as a cause of justice", says Mr Moreno. "They have always been dubious of the support of the US government," whereas for Jorge Mas Canosa it was essential to use the government rather than oppose it.

Some see grounds for optimism in the Elian case. One analyst says that Jorge Mas Jr would like to shift the organisation towards the centre, away from an extreme, negative position. "He understands that people-to-people exchanges might accomplish his goals. But he's constrained," says one. The failure of the Elian case may weaken the hold of the hardliners and make it easier for a future administration to take on the anti-Castro lobby, some believe. They see a decline in commitment to "La Causa" among the younger generation, a fading of Cold War tensions.

But Miguel Centeno of Princeton University, a member of a moderate Cuban American group, is pessimistic. "They have shored up their percentage. They have given a symbol to Miami, to Tallahassee [the state capital] and to Washington that they need to be taken seriously," he says. Drawing a comparison with Northern Ireland, he says: "I don't see a Trimble. I see a lot of Paisleys," and adds, "It's a perpetual motion machine of political hatred."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape