Castro whips up Cuban fury over tug-of-war boy

FURIOUS anti-American dem- onstrations continued in Cuba yesterday as the deadline set by the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, for the return of six-year- old Elian Gonzalez to his homeland approached.

Tensions between the US and Cuba over the custody of the boy mounted after Havana also demanded the return of six Cubans said to have hijacked a boat to Florida. Washington insists the fate of the boy should be left to the courts - US courts. The row now threatens the most bitter political crisis in US-Cuban relations for a decade.

Elian was rescued by US coastguards off southern Florida on 25 November, and was entrusted to relatives in Miami. He had been found clinging to an inner tube, after his mother and stepfather drowned when their refugee boat capsized in a storm. They were trying to escape to America.

The timing of the rescue, on Thanksgiving Day, and the child's winning looks combined with the constant tensions in the US-Cuba relationship to propel him to celebrity status in Florida's Cuban emigre community. There, his fate is seen as a symbol for the right of Cubans to free themselves from Fidel Castro's communist regime. With presidential and congressional elections only a year away, no politician can ignore the growing political clout of the state's Hispanic voters.

But the boy, who celebrated his sixth birthday in Miami on Monday, immediately became a symbol in Cuba, too, for the lengths to which US "imperialism" is prepared to go to impose its ideology and values on others.

Elian's natural father and both sets of grandparents launched pleas - relayed on Cuban television - for his immediate return to the land of his birth. His father accused his ex-wife of taking the child out of the country illegally; the Cuban authorities accused the United States of "kidnapping".

On Monday, as Elian was feted by his relatives in Miami - most of them recent emigres from Cuba - Mr Castro visited the boy's school in the town of Cardenas. His teachers had organised another birthday party so his classmates could lament his absence and demand his return.

Mr Castro promised them: "Little Elian will get back his country, his family, his school, his schoolmates, his school desk." The child was designated a "boy hero of Cuba" and his picture was plastered in the school and on the streets.

Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and other relatives were shown on television calling Elian by phone to wish him a happy birthday. "Are you coming back soon," his father asked. "Yes," said a timid voice from afar. "Tell my classmates to take care of my things."

In Miami, Elian had a birthday cake topped with a toy helicopter and two miniature fighter planes. His presents included a red bicycle, and accoutrements for the emigre passion - a baseball, a baseball glove and a bat.

In Washington, US officials have taken an increasingly firm line on Elian's case. After remaining mute for days, in the apparent hope that the case would be settled without overt official intervention, the State Department and the White House issued statements on Monday with statements insisting that Elian would not be sent back against his will. They rejected Fidel Castro's ultimatum and said the boy's future should be determined first by the immigration service, and then, if necessary, by the courts.

They also reminded the Cuban authorities that they had a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of the 50 or so US diplomats stationed in Havana. Impassioned demonstrations have been staged outside the mission and at the father's home in Cardenas.

The militantly anti-Castro Cuban emigre community in Miami is adamant that the boy should not be returned, but American opinion seems divided between those who think family ties are paramount and those who believe the "miracle boy' survivor should be able to benefit from his good fortune in surviving the shipwreck.

There is also division in US official circles between those who believe a low-key approach would bring the best results, and those who see the child's fate as a test of US determination to stand up for principle.

Some believe the Cuban authorities deliberately escalated the dispute to balance what was seen as an insult to Fidel Castro, who had wanted to attend the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle last week, but was strongly discouraged by the US.

With formal talks on ensuring the orderly flow of migrants from Cuba just a week away, Cuba also has an interest in taking a firm line. Mr Castro has already threatened to cancel the talks because of Elian, a move that could precipitate another mass exodus from Cuba of just the sort the current emigration rules are designed to pre-empt.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
News
i100
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

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teacher require...

KS1 Teacher

£21500 - £31500 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work...

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style