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Even a Cuba without Castro would have had to deal with reality, wild swings in the price of sugar, and Latin America's catastrophic "lost decade".

Al Gore Eats Elian Gonzalez

by Chuck 45

FEBRUARY 29, 2000. Astoundingly, the CIA thinks that Castro's government has actually provided Cubans with high levels of healthcare, education and social security.

How that jives with U.S. policy towards Cuba as expressed in the agency's decades-long attempts to poison Castro's cigars or otherwise vaporize him, is not explained in the CIA's dryly accurate The World Factbook 1999, although the frequently invoked specter of national security comes to mind.

The State Department, on the other hand, bowing to Cuban exile orthodoxy, whines that Castro's accomplishments have been blown all out of proportion. It tries to prove this in the pompously entitled Zenith and Eclipse: A Comparative Look at Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro and Present Day Cuba.

By ham-handedly extrapolating 1958 Cuba stats, Z&E conjures up a Castro-less Cuba flying up, up, up and away in an uninterrupted 40-year socio-economic boom.

Unfortunately, State's junior officers in charge of celestial phenomena forget that even a Cuba without Castro would still have had to deal with reality.

Reality, as in the wild swings in the price of sugar (which had been relatively high in the 1950's, thus inflating pre-Castro stats) and Latin America's catastrophic "lost decade" of the 1980's and early 1990's, when the debt crisis, recession, and slash-and-burn austerity swelled the ranks of the poor from an already unsatisfactory 131 million (a mere 44% of the population) in 1980, to a horrifying 270 million (61.8% of the population!) in 1990.

The junior celestials also forget that for Cuba to remain ahead of, say, France, Italy, and Germany in terms of the all important television-sets-per-capita, as it was in 1957, an unnatural 40-year Cuba boom wouldn't have sufficed. A Marshall Plan gone bust would've also been needed, to erase Europe's postwar reconstruction.

Equally fantastic is the celestials' implicit notion that the Cuba cauldron, an explosive mix of nationalism and socio-economic and racial inequities, could have kept its lid on, even without Castro turning up the heat.

That spooks and Foggy Bottom eggheads do not see eye to eye on Cuba is only natural, given the CIA's long and painful list of Cuba reality checks, starting with the Bay of Pigs roast. pig crossing cartoonSuch reality checks seems to have been lost on State, which still ignores the 1998 report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, certifying that Cuba, which is slightly smaller than Pennsylvania, is no threat to the United States. The embargo lobby, a.k.a. the right-wing Cuban American National Foundation and its allies in Congress, tried to suppress the DIA report and managed to delay its release for months.

Shortly thereafter, the Clinton Administration quashed a proposal to set up a bipartisan presidential commission to re-examine the United States' Cuba policy, including the then 37-year-old embargo. The proposal had been made by a bipartisan group of Senators, as well as former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Schulz, and Lawrence Eagleburger.

Few in Washington today believe that the current U.S. policy towards Cuba is good for either country. Many doubt that there's even a U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba. Cuban-American votes in Florida and New Jersey have largely driven U.S. policy towards Cuba in the last two decades, if not longer.

The Elian Gonzalez case provided a golden opportunity for the Clinton Administration to seize control of U.S. policy towards Cuba.

With over 60% of Americans consistently supporting the boy's return to his father in Cuba, a decisive Clinton Administration (an oxymoron, of course) could have done the right and, to boot, popular thing, and simultaneously rescued U.S. Cuba policy on Cuba from the vote-getting morass where it has been rotting for decades.

Typically, the Clinton Administration tried to have it both ways, paying lip service to the boy's return and the rule of law democracies are supposed to prize, but doing nothing about it.

Had Clinton himself been running, he would have done even less, as he suggested to the media back in December when he seemed to side with Elian's dad. But since it was just Al Gore who was running, there was some room for feel-good, thinkin'-bout-my-place-in-history maneuvering.

The results of the maneuvering, as performed by Janet Reno either out of her own native daughter bias (Reno's a Miami Democratic politician), or because she soon gotta go back to the 'hood, is a brainwashed six-year old, a heartbroken father, and more caca slapped on the international face of our good, ole, long-suffering U.S. of A.

Which brings us to Al Gore.

photo gore It was Florida- presidential- vote hungry Gore, and Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida), who pressured an accommodating Clinton to say "no" to the illustrious proponents of the bipartisan commission. Ten months before Elian Gonzalez floated into America's consciousness on an inner tire on November 1999, a major opportunity to set a rational Cuba policy had been cowardly dumped in the can.

The stage was set for the Elian saga and Gore's callous questioning of the INS decision to reunite the boy with his father in Cuba. Although the media dutifully lapped up Gore's bons mots as "Al distances himself from Bill", just as the spin masters intended, the Elian "mots" were in fact part and parcel of the Administration's ongoing duplicitous strategy.

Back in January 99, William Ratliff and Roger Fontaine had marveled in the San Diego Union-Tribune at the low political risk of setting up the bipartisan commission: "Clinton/Gore even had political cover from conservative Republicans, much of the foreign policy establishment, and sky-high approval ratings. All they needed to stand up to were a few loud voices in the Cuban-American community. They didn't ...."

Wayne Smith, the ranking U.S. diplomat in Cuba under Carter and Reagan and a leading critic of the embargo was blunt: "The right-wing exiles raised hell about it and the administration backed down. There isn't much political courage in Washington these days," he told The New York Times.

Sounds like deja-vu all over again.

Which brings us back to Elian Gonzalez.

I propose this for his English primer:

See Al eat Elian.
See Al spit him out after the Florida primaries (or, even the November elections, after the little one eats his second stuffed turkey in the land of the free).
See Al run!

Related links:

For the CIA's dry and fruity The World Factbook 1999: Cuba.

For the State Department's inane Zenith and Eclipse etc.

For a saner U.S. Cuba policy alternative short of the obvious (lifting the embargo), check out , U.S.-Cuba Relations in the 21st Century, a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, a private group.

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