- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2000

New photographs of Elian Gonzalez, in the uniform of Cuba's communist youth Pioneers, taken at Wye Plantation in Maryland in the care of U.S. government chaperones, were cited by Miami exiles yesterday as "further proof" that he is being brainwashed there by "communist propaganda."

A spokesman said the Justice Department was not concerned about it.

But the Cuban-Americans are. "I think it's appalling that this kind of communist propaganda would be allowed under the protection of the U.S. Marshals' Service right here in this country," said Spencer Eig, an attorney hired by Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, to seek political asylum in America for the boy.

Mr. Eig, speaking to reporters in Miami yesterday, said another attorney for the family, Manny Diaz, was working on a letter to be sent to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Granma, Cuba's Communist Party daily, on Monday published five photographs showing Elian in the Pioneers uniform a blue kerchief and white shirt with a logo of Cuban patriot Jose Marti on his breast. Granma said the photographs were taken at the Maryland retreat where Elian has been staying, but did not say when.

Since Elian arrived at Wye Plantation, several of Elian's schoolmates from Cardenas, Cuba, have come to the United States to stay with the boy. Elian's schoolteacher also came to continue the children's lessons, along with a Cuban physician.

"As far as Elian is concerned, he is back in Cuba, pledging allegiance to the 'Maximum Leader,' " said Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba. "He is in a Potemkin village with his teachers and schoolmates, learning to be Fidel's 'New Man,' selfless and obedient in the class struggle. We knew this was going to happen."

The Justice Department said that Elian's clothing did not concern them. "We do not think it is up to us to comment on what Elian wears. He is continuing his education by the arrangement of his government," said Carole Florman, Justice Department spokeswoman. "We do not think there is anything inappropriate about it."

Cuba's Pioneers were created on the model of groups in the former Soviet Union. Children join when they enter school and wear the uniform to school through the 12th grade. Children who refuse to join, for religious or other reasons, are ostracized. So are their parents.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, an anti-Castro group in the United States, says that in Pioneers, children sing songs, take weekend trips and take a pledge saying, "We will be like Che," the guerrilla fighter Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

The foundation has reproduced pages from a Pioneers manual that instructs children, some as young as Elian, in games called "Bridge Attack," "Mine Layers," "Night Infiltration," "Eliminate the Sentry," "Coastal Infiltration," and "Throwing Grenades Through Windows."

Pioneers learn at camp to assemble and disassemble military rifles blindfolded.

The Associated Press reported from Havana that Cuban youths are required to work to earn their "free education." From eighth grade through 10th grade, they spend 21 days a year doing some type of agricultural work planting, picking or cutting crops such as tobacco, citrus, potatoes and tomatoes. In 11th grade and 12th grade, they live at boarding schools in the countryside, and their days are split between studies and farm work.

Ninoska Perez of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) said Pioneers are expected to inform on their parents if they say anything the government construes as critical of Cuba's communist government.

"A student's dossier is kept on the child that reflects not only academic standing, but everything else associated with his social life," wrote Martha Molina Puerto, a Cuban psychologist who fled Cuba in August 1999, in a document published by CANF. "This is one enormous apparatus around the child who lacks any freedom to express himself."

The Clinton administration this year labeled Cuba as one of the world's worst human rights violators and a "terrorist regime." Nevertheless, the INS and the Justice Department insist that Elian's father should be allowed to take him back to Cuba. Elian's mother drowned trying to reach America with him, and he was rescued off Florida after floating on an inner tube for two days after their boat sank.

Elian and the Gonzalez family have been staying at Wye Plantation on Maryland's Eastern Shore, while legal appeals make their way through the U.S. courts.

The INS, like the Justice Department, said yesterday it had no interest in what Elian wears.

"What Elian wears on a day-to-day basis is up to his father, Juan Miguel," said Maria Cardona, spokeswoman for the INS. "It is not something the U.S. government monitors." She did not address the question of whether propaganda sessions were appropriate under U.S. supervision.

But Mr. Eig rejected that position. "For INS officials to disingenuously say, 'Oh, it's just a school uniform,' when the meaning of the particular uniform is clear as an agent of revolution, of communist propaganda I just think it's a horrifying thing," he said.

Cuban-American exiles reacted to the photographs with anger.

"This is an 'in your face,' by Fidel Castro," said Jose Cardenas of CANF. "Fidel is saying, 'Not only do I have the boy back, but even in the United States I get to dress him up in a Pioneers uniform.' "

Cuban diplomats scoffed at the accusations that Elian is being brainwashed. They said the scarf is part of his school uniform.

"Children go to school in uniform just the way they do at private schools in the United States. I don't see what the problem is," said Luis Fernandez, spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Elian's Miami relatives filed a 25-page document in response to a motion filed by Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who wants to replace them as his son's representative.

"Irrespective of [his father's] wishes, Elian will be doing agricultural work such as cutting sugar cane in the fields, to further indoctrinate him and separate him … for extended periods to break down the bond between parent and child and cement the bond between child and state," the lawyers wrote.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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