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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea