A Role for Little Elian
Jude Wanniski
April 3, 2000


To: Mike Kramer, New York Daily News
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Mas Canosa Rules from the Grave

Great column, Mike. You are exactly right.... It is Jorge Mas Canosa, who for four decades led the Cuban exile community from his base in Florida, who continues from his grave to keep Elian Gonzalez from being repatriated at all costs. There are 700,000 Cubans in Miami, perhaps 1.5 million in all. Probably not more than 25,000 are still around who were adults when Castro came to power. The vast majority have no first-hand knowledge of life in Cuba or even an understanding of the origins of the 1959 revolution. As their patron, Mas Canosa taught his flock to hate and that's what drives them now. He is the mirror image of Castro.

Just as you learned of Mas Canosa's pure hatred of Castro when you met him as a journalist 20 years ago, I had a somewhat similar experience. Back in 1993, Rep. Charlie Rangel, the Harlem Democrat and an old friend, talked me into helping the Cuban government fix its economy and perhaps help bring about a reconciliation with the Florida Cubans. Charlie knew I had done all I could to help Russia and China convert to a market economy, and that I was then advising Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, who was close to Mas Canosa. I spent two years in a fruitless attempt to get things worked out, but it was clear the Florida Cubans were not interested. I'd become persuaded that Castro might be willing to negotiate a graceful exit -- what I called a "Mao solution" -- where the Communists take the capitalist road, but continue to allow Mao's picture to be displayed at Tiananmen Square. Mas Canosa, though, insisted that Castro must be dead... or live in exile somewhere else...before he would permit negotiations. Jesse Helms took that position publicly. I wrote a long essay after my trip to Havana, which still holds up. If you would like to see a copy, let me know. By the way, Rangel, the Black Caucus, and black leaders almost unanimously support the return of Elian because Fidel made life better for black Cubans. The white exiles, who were part of Fulgencio Battista's power structure that Castro overturned, had treated Cuban blacks the way Southern whites did in the 1950's. Mas Canosa wanted the status quo ante.

The Cuban economy did pick up in the last few years and the standard of living has improved as well. The embargo, also dictated by Mas Canosa from his grave, has played a large part in keeping Cubans from experiencing a better life. It was clear to me during my visit that the Cuban population shared equally in the poverty of the island. There is no racial discrimination as there was under Battista and there is genuine support in the population for Fidel, imperfect though he has been in remaining true to the principles of the revolution he led.

I'd come to think of the division between Castro and Mas Canosa as the equivalent of a family divorce, with the father leaving home and starting a new life in Florida, the mother staying home with the brood. The struggle over Elian is a metaphor for the continuing bitter conflict. We stand aside and watch as the two parties tear at the little boy; a clear majority of Americans say they believe he should be returned to his father. Maybe he was saved at sea because he is still young enough to survive the ordeal without scars (beyond the tragedy at sea), in the process serving a most important role -- if as a result of the controversy surrounding him there could be a beginning of reconciliation.