New energy, and more unity, for Cubans in US
Elian Gonzalez is undeniably the talk of the nation, but the boy's future is the one thing George Vazquez of Miami does not discuss with his own father.Skip to next paragraph
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Suffice it to say that Mr. Vazquez, who grew up here in the nation's largest Cuban-American enclave, and his father, an anti-Castro Cuban exile, do not see eye to eye.
"You want to know if I think [Elian] should go back?" Vazquez asks, looking around apprehensively. "Probably," he says softly. Then, more forcefully: "Yeah, I do. If his father is ... fit, he should go back."
That's an unorthodox position here, but Vasquez's daring to be different underscores a values shift among a new generation of US-born Cuban-Americans. Moderate, more in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba, these young people don't necessarily see the battle against Fidel Castro as theirs to fight.
Of course, the case of a little boy lost at sea appears to be reuniting two generations that have been drifting apart politically - at least in the short term.
"The Elian incident comes at a time when the hard-line right was losing support among younger Cubans," says Dario Moreno, a political scientist at Florida International University here. "Now it is no longer viewed as a dinosaur, but as a leader of the community."
Indeed, Elian's case has regalvanized Cuban-Americans, brought nearly 2 million of them together again for one cause. A recent poll shows that 86 percent of Cuban-Americans in Miami think Elian should be allowed to stay with relatives in the US, rather than be returned to communist Cuba to live with his father. Yesterday's announcement by Attorney General Janet Reno reiterating the US position that Elian should go back is only likely to further stir the community.
For Cuban-American hard-liners who've struggled for years to woo the younger generation, the case of Elian Gonzalez comes in the nick of time.
"He is the Messiah," says Jos Basulto over lunch of fish, rice, and sweet plantains at a restaurant in Little Havana. "He has become a catalyst for the Cuban community. His mystique is like that of a newborn child, if you will."
Mr. Basulto is president of Brothers to the Rescue, a group that helps private pilots fly over the Straits of Florida to look for refugees fleeing the communist island nation. He represents a brand of vocal exiles who have been fighting President Castro since he took power in 1959.
But after more than 40 years, the fight's appeal was fading, especially among Cuban-Americans born in the US, and the community was in danger of losing some of its considerable political clout. Indeed, political allegiances were even beginning to shift from solidly Republican to a bit more Democratic - a development that may now halt, says Mr. Moreno.
Through the years, Cuban-Americans amassed huge political influence for their numbers, and they are an effective ethnic lobbying group in the US, second perhaps only to the Jewish community. Almost 90 percent of the 2 million Cuban-Americans live in Florida and New Jersey - two key swing states in presidential elections.