- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2000

Andy Morales could be the next Elian Gonzalez. In the coming months, the baseball star might not generate quite as much press attention as the young castaway, but like Elian, he will likely play an important role in reorienting the debate about Cuba and U.S. policy towards the island.

Not long after Elian arrived on U.S. shores in November, and his father launched his campaign to have his son returned to Cuba, public opinion towards the country's Cuba policy began to change. Many Americans were outraged that opposition to Cuba's dictatorial regime could prevent a father-son reunion, and called for a relaxation of the embargo against Cuba. This change in the public mood underpinned legislation, passed Thursday by the House and Senate, allowing the sale of food and medicine to Cuba.

Now that it has become clear how personalities can mold U.S. public opinion towards a foreign policy, the impact of Andy Morales' entry into the United States shouldn't be underestimated. The baseball player was found by the Border Patrol on an island near Key West. Since he reached U.S. soil on Wednesday, he will be allowed to apply for, and most likely be given, U.S. residency.

Although Morales lacks Elian's remarkable survivor credentials, he is already a star to baseball fans. Morales hit a home run last year that helped Cuba's national team triumph over the Orioles in Baltimore. "All the home run did was bring me bad luck," said Morales, according to a July 4 New York Post interview. "I was marked after that, there was no possibility of doing anything else." For example, the Cuban baseball commission decided Morales was ineligible to play in last year's Pan-American Games, which were held in Canada.

Morales then decided to make a break for freedom. He boarded a boat to escape Cuba in June, only to be intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. He spent four days aboard a Coast Guard vessel, the U.S. government decided to send him back to Cuba, claiming he had no credible reason to fear persecution.

But the Cuban government's long-held practice of blackballing Cubans who have tried to leave the island, often by restricting their livelihoods, has been well-documented. "Those who attempt to leave the country illegally … and are subsequently repatriated often encounter problems trying to find employment," reported Amnesty International earlier this year. This presents a grave problem, since all jobs on the island are provided by the state.

After Morales was sent back to Cuba, the government began following him aggressively. "If a miracle doesn't occur, my son's baseball career is over," Morales' father told the New York Post. "He has no future. He is dead. I am dead."

Fortunately, a miracle did occur. Morales made it to the United States, and he has a tale to tell. His account will likely change perceptions regarding Fidel Castro, life in Cuba and the administration's policy of turning away Cubans found at sea. Two Cuban defectors who had been imprisoned in Zimbabwe and have been given U.S. asylum will also have some interesting anecdotes to share. Hopefully, these individuals will help temper Fidel's post-Elian PR victory.

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