Mixed Reaction over Elián from Cubans in Puerto Rico
By RAFAEL FRANCO STEEVES
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, May 03, 2000
Although sympathetic to Elián González and his possible return to
communist Cuba, news of the boy being forcibly reunited with his
father Juan Miguel by federal authorities was taken in stride by the
Cuban community in Puerto Rico.
"The exile community here has always been different than the one
in Miami," says Raul Alzaga, co- founder of Viajes Varadero travel
agency. "Cubans have become integrated to society here and
assumed many Puerto Rican characteristics."
The 51-year-old Alzaga, who left Cuba at age 11 and has helped
exiled Cubans arrange trips back to Cuba for more than 20 years,
says only the "recalcitrant anti-Castro minority" has openly and
publicly supported the protests and demonstrations launched by
their Miami counterparts on the heels of the federal operative to
reunite the boy with his father.
"For the most part, the exile community here was in favor of
reuniting them," Alzaga says.
Even dissidents within Fidel Castro's Cuba support the father's
claim to custody, adds Angel Padilla, founder and director of
Disidente, an anti-communist journal with circulation in Puerto Rico,
Miami and Cuba.
"Elizardo Sanchez, who is a dissident inside Cuba, asked that Elián
be turned over to his father, as have done the majority of
dissidents in Cuba," Padilla says.
And although the majority of Cubans in exile agree with Sanchez,
Padilla says, they still feel an immense sympathy for the 6-year-old
child who was rescued off the coast of Florida in November after
his mother and a group of Cubans drowned as they attempted to
reach U.S. soil on a raft.
"We have all been persecuted by Castro, so naturally we feel a
tremendous sympathy for the kid, who lost his mother on the way,"
Still, emotions run deep and many local Cubans express a desire for
the boy to stay in the United States.
"Only the communist [sympathizers] want the boy reunited with his
father in Cuba," says 66-year-old Manuel Martorell, proprietor of La
Estrella, a popular eatery and landmark meeting place for the exile
community in San Juan. "Maybe they needed to use that type of
force, but it was a disaster for federal authorities. In the end it is
the boy who will suffer the negative consequences."
Martorell's older brother Francisco, 71, would like to see the boy
stay, but says he cannot ignore the father's plight.
"The father has a very strong argument. After all, he is the father,"
Francisco says as he shakes his head. "What can you do?"
Regardless of whether they believe Elián should stay or go back
Cuba with his father, members of the exile community in Puerto
Rico agree the matter was too heavily politicized.
Padilla, who is also a delegate for the Human Rights and National
Reconciliation Commission, flat out dismissed the case as anything
to do with Cuba's freedom, or lack thereof.
"This has nothing to do with freedom for Cuba or with the political
battle against Castro," Padilla says. "The same Cubans who want
Elián to stay are the ones who support the embargo."
For Padilla, the whole Elián controversy provided Castro with an
effective way of deviating attention away from the demand that he
respect human rights made by several Ibero-American heads of
state during a conference in Cuba back in November.
In addition, Alzaga believes the intransigence shown by Elián's
Miami relatives will only serve to accelerate the loss of political
influence, which the exile community has held traditionally in
"In Puerto Rico too, when they come asking for support they will
find a lukewarm reception," he says. "It's starting to happen
Alzaga was referring to a call made by Miami Cubans for Puerto
Ricans and other Latinos to show their solidarity by holding public
demonstrations on April 25. News reports from Miami estimated
some 800 Cubans demonstrated on that date out of a total of
800,000 living in the Miami area.
"It didn't work in Miami and it didn't work here. The recalcitrant
minority represents only about 300 of a total 18,000 Cubans living
in Puerto Rico," Alzaga maintains.
But what worries most Cubans here, Padilla adds, is the excessive
politics and media attention bestowed on the Elián.
"The kid was subjected to too much publicity, he was exposed to
too many demonstrations," he says. "The exile community here
reacted with more composure."