Friday, May 5, 2000

Secret deal made to hand over Elian?


Castro reportedly believes Elian must return or he will fall from power

By David M. Bresnahan

© 2000

Was atheist Cuban dictator Fidel Castro inspired to make a secret deal to repatriate 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez based on a fanatical belief in a Santeria prophecy?

That's the story being told by WorldNetDaily sources including a foreign intelligence analyst and a respected syndicated columnist.

When word of Elian's rescue was first made known in Cuba, it spread quickly among the Santeros -- followers of the polytheistic African-based religion Santeria popularly practiced in Cuba and the Caribbean. The story that was being told was so frightening to Castro that he reportedly became obsessed with his quest to bring Elian back to Cuba.

The Santeros told a story about a young boy who survived alone in the ocean for 48 hours, was not sunburned by the ordeal, and was saved from sharks by dolphins that played with him.

Surely this must be the prophesied reincarnation of the El Egua, went the cry throughout the Catholic and Santeros communities.

The Santeria religion quickly issued the prediction that Elian was the divine El Egua -- one of a number of forms of the Christ child. The prophecy claimed that if El Egua remained in exile, Castro would fall from power, but if El Egua returned to Cuba, Castro would continue to rule.

Cuban Catholics are often influenced by the prophecies of Santeria. Indeed, the two groups share common beliefs about visions of the Virgin Mary and other miracles. A wave of excitement spread through the population, and Castro quickly took notice.

Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a Cuban author living in exile in London, is a respected columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. In a recent column, he confirmed that Castro is obsessed with bringing Elian back to Cuba because of the predictions of the Santeria.

"Soon after these predictions became known, Mr. Castro began his speeches, roaring threateningly, as he always does," said Infante. He made it clear that, for Castro, the "prophecies of the Santeros are becoming increasingly gloomy: Without the Child, there will be no Castro."

Whether he is El Egua or just Elian Gonzalez, it was indeed a miracle he was found alive. Strapped to an inner tube by his mother before she gave her life in the effort to find freedom, little Elian became a threat, perceived or real, to a powerful communist dictator.

Within days of Elian's rescue, Castro was making demands for his return and canceled an historic visit to give a speech at the University of Washington during the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle.

Elian celebrated his sixth birthday Dec. 6, 1999, in Miami and the day before Castro issued an angry ultimatum demanding the boy's return within 72 hours. He promised a "battle for world opinion" in his efforts to bring Elian back to communist Cuba.

"He's a fanatical, superstitious, mentally unstable dictator who always gets what he wants like a spoiled child," said a foreign intelligence specialist who spoke with WorldNetDaily on condition of anonymity.

Castro immediately began to call for large mass demonstrations in the streets of Cuba.

"At first they had no choice," explained the intelligence source. "The demonstrations were contrived by the government, and even though the people are initially forced to go, they come back time after time because of all the government propaganda. It doesn't take long for the people to believe it all." He added, "Castro is very good at what he does."

Demonstrators have been supplied with flags, T-shirts and signs by the Cuban government, according to numerous press reports of the events.

Castro had been looking forward to attending the World Trade Organization and speaking at the University of Washington, according to the source. Plans for the beginning of a new era of trade with the U.S. and other countries were near fruition when Elian focused attention on a Cuba that Castro was trying to get the world to forget.

"Elian really messed up his plans, and the plans of some top U.S. businesses that have a stake in commercial growth planned for Cuba," said the source. "They were literally on the eve of a plan to bring Cuba out of darkness. Elian ruined everything -- at first, but in reality he's helping them make Cuba look like the good guys by the way they frame this whole thing."

Less than two weeks after the rescue of Elian at sea, a different group of Cubans began causing trouble for the Clinton administration, and the door was opened for a secret deal between Washington and Havana.

Seven Cuban prisoners being held in a Louisiana jail took hostages and issued demands. They had control of over 90 prisoners, as well as the warden and some guards. They controlled the entire second floor of the three-story St. Martin Parish jail.

Thousands of Cuban detainees have been held in U.S. jails and prisons indefinitely because Immigration and Naturalization Service agents consider them to be dangerous. Castro has refused to accept the return of any Cubans for 41 years, so INS keeps them in jail.

Such uprisings are not uncommon. In 1987 over 1,000 Cuban refugee prisoners burned down a detention center in Oakdale, Louisiana. Other uprisings have taken place in several locations. Prisoners and their families have complained to the press that they are not given due process of law.

The INS and FBI were immediately called in to negotiate with the Cubans for a peaceful resolution. A local radio station carried a phone interview with one of the prisoners, who said their only demand was to be taken out of the U.S. and returned to Cuba.

FBI spokeswoman Kris Fortunato confirmed to reporters at the time that Cubans controlled a large portion of the jail and were demanding that they be taken out of the country. She said some hostage prisoners had been released and that over 90 were being held, but she would not tell reporters any details about the negotiations.

A week after the uprising began, it was over. A Department of Justice plane was used to fly six of the Cubans to Havana, with the blessing of Castro -- something he had said previously that he would never do.

"He has never, ever been willing to accept anyone back. He has made a very strong point of not being willing to even discuss it -- until now that is," explained the intelligence source. "That should tell you something about how motivated he is to get Elian. He made a deal with Reno. He takes the Cuban prisoners off their hands and they return Elian. Why? So they can get back to bringing the new era of commercial growth to Cuba that he was counting on -- and that friends of Bill want."

WND's source said there are some intelligence people with whom he works who believe it is critical for Castro to stay in power. If Castro falls, many Cubans may see it as an opportunity to flee to Florida. Therefore, the new strategy being pursued by some is to find a way to improve the Cuban economy to help keep Cubans in Cuba.

Castro told the press he accepted the prisoners back to Cuba because "a bloody outcome must be avoided," and made it clear that he considered this a one-time deal, granted as an exception to his policy purely for humanitarian reasons. In the same speech, he renewed his demand for the return of Elian, and called for more protests in the streets.

The opposition to efforts to return Elian to Cuba was just starting to grow beyond the Cuban community. Republican Party Chairman Jim Nicholson offered to personally pay for Elian's entire family to fly from Cuba to the U.S. And Republican Senators Connie Mack and majority leader Trent Lott led a team of senators who signed a letter to President Clinton asking him to grant Elian citizenship.

The fate of the prisoners returned to Cuba is unknown. The Immigration and Naturalization Service identified the six Cubans as Lazaro Orta Elisalte, 48; Juan Miranda Salot, 45; Jonne Ponte Landrian, 28; Jorge Ramirez Acosta, 45; Mario Mora Medina, 32; and Gerardo Santana Morales, 26. A seventh Cuban, Roberto Villar Grana, 31, was not returned to Cuba because he was the subject of another investigation, according to INS.

James Foley, State Department spokesman, said the government was happy the standoff was ended peacefully.

"We believe this resolution is in the best interest of the United States," Foley said.

Cuban Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez told the press at the time the prisoners were repatriated that the deal had nothing to do with the dispute over Elian.

"These people were immediately interrogated while a careful investigation is carried out based on information from U.S. authorities and the characteristics of these citizens. Once this analysis is finished, the most fair and logical decision will be taken in each case," Gonzalez told Reuters. There has been no further comment from Cuba about the status of the prisoners.

Castro delivered on his end of the deal, says WND's intelligence source, and he expected the U.S. to do the same.

"He really thought it would only be a matter of days before Elian would be back. The delays literally turned him into a raving maniac," said the source.

Castro stepped up the protests and his public relations tactics to win the sympathy of the world for a boy separated from his father.

The Department of Justice used federal agents to forcibly remove Elian at gunpoint from the Miami home of his great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez on April 22, after pressure was placed on Reno to bring the impasse to an end.

"Castro and Clinton made a new deal to bring the boy to a tightly secured facility where he could be treated with drugs and reconditioned before being seen in court or by the public," said the source. "Cuban officials would be given complete control of the situation at the Aspen Institute, which is an ideal location. It was the next best thing to bringing him directly to Cuba, and it would actually make the court process much easier to get through, because Castro would just lose it if the court didn't agree to send him home to Cuba. It's all over now, except for the formalities and procedures."

Related stories:

Donato: 'They never knocked'

Castro calls Cuban Americans 'terrorist mob'

Castro praises U.S. media

Doctors question Elian's well-being

David M. Bresnahan is an investigative journalist for