Many dictators, as well as perfectly respectable independence leaders, have been known as the “fathers” of their countries. It is supposed to denote the caring of the good father, along with the leadership and husbanding vision of the good family man.
Fidel Castro is no exception. Since he took over the island in 1959 as “the” revolutionary hero of Cuban history, he has played the father role with undiminished passion. And now he is playing it again in a classic case of “caudilloismo” that looks simple but is not.
At the moment, the case of little Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy found at sea off Miami after losing his mother in their escape from Mr. Castro’s Cuba on Thanksgiving Day, has been put off until Jan. 21. But even as everybody awaits some outcome, the case continues in ways not always immediately discernible.
First, let us look at Fidel as father, for it is he who is insisting that Elian be sent back to Cuba (his mother country) and to his natural father (Latin fathers, of course, usually have primary rights). And Fidel certainly knows a lot about fatherhood.
In 1956, when he was organizing the revolution in Mexico and he was told of the death of his own father, a rough man from the north of Spain named Angel Castro, his face did not change in the slightest at the news. All he said was, “Don’t tell my sisters yet,” and then he went on with his work for “The Revolution.”
Later, he would have his own natural children. His first, by his only wife, Mirta, was ironically called Fidelito. Mr. Castro’s lifelong neglect of the boy was presaged in the boy’s babyhood when his father would come home with tens of thousands of dollars in his pocket to buy arms and refuse to buy the baby milk.
A daughter, Alina Fernandez, born of Mr. Castro’s notorious and beautiful lover, Naty Revuelta, came to hate her father so much that, when she fled the country several years ago, she poured out her story of abuse. And it is also worth noting that, of four sons of Mr. Castro’s born to another woman, three of them have Mr. Castro’s code name during the revolution, “Alejandro,” somewhere in their names.
Such a touch of “sentimentality” should not, however, lead one to the conclusion Mr. Castro pays any more attention to them than to any of the others.
Still, none of these observations of Fidel’s personal fatherliness should stand in the way of judging his revolutionary fatherhood. After all, the personal is such a limited venue for any real revolutionary. This is not a man who wastes his time dribbling milk to a baby. This is a man who exults in sending the sons of his nation to fight in Africa for the Revolution, who plays the Great Geneticist in experiments in the countryside and who never lets the Cuban people in on the secret of his own banal fathership of real children. It would only take away from the far more ethereal mystique of his national fatherhood.
But back to Elian Gonzalez:
President Castro, you see, immediately grasped the potential power for the troubled Cuban family of the pensive boy. Lost his mother at sea? Fidel could make it seem to the Cuban people that the boy had lost his country as well, and that the big, bad United States was “kidnapping” (the actual word he uses) a true little son of the Revolution.
That is why, with the impasse of Elian’s stay in the United States continuing, Mr. Castro immediately was mobilizing demonstrations by young Cuban boys and girls around the American Interests Section in Havana demanding the release of dear “Brother Elian.”
But as with most things about the Machiavellian Castro, the situation surrounding the boy was never exactly as he would have the world believe.
Christmas Week, for instance, when the “Cause Celebre Elian” was at its height, before the Immigration and Naturalization Service postponed the hearing on the case, a reporter for Madrid’s socialist newspaper, El Pais, traveled to the city of Cardenas in Cuba to interview Elian’s father. Mr. Castro had until then made it seem to the world that the father wanted the boy back at all costs to be raised in revolutionary Cuba.
But reporter Mauricio Vincent found, in talking to the family’s friends and neighbors, that the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, had wanted the boy to go to America. He had publicly come out with the opposite story only when extreme pressures were exerted upon him by the government.
As of this writing, Mr. Castro has pulled back tactically on some fronts. He apparently realized that his early claim that Elian should be acclaimed publicly as a “Son of The Revolution” could be taken amiss by some observers who might remember that his mother died trying to escape Mr. Castro’s regime. Now, Mr. Castro has promised that there will be “no parades” when Elian is returned.
The claims of fatherhood for Elian, then, remain multiple, only to be solved sometime in the future through a very unlikely meeting of the minds of American justice and Fidelista cunning. Is Elian really only the son of Juan Miguel Gonzalez? Is he perhaps also a son of the Revolution and, thus, of the “Maximum Leader” himself? Or is he a child who deserves the future his mother sacrificed her life for, who now deserves the opportunity of being raised in a free society?
Only Father Fidel knows.
Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.