When I first saw the photo of that helmeted federal agent pointing his weapon, eyes fixed on Elian, left arm reaching inside the closet, I was as shocked, angered and saddened as the next fella.
But then I thought about it for a bit. While I would have never predicted such a turn of events, I couldn't help but wonder (with the benefit of limited hind-sight): What else is to be expected in a country where - using Leonard Shlain's penetrating phrase for my own selfish purposes - left-over Cold War ideology is a sacred cow "allowed to roam unimpeded in our culture;" shaping American foreign policy?
I spoke to a Cuban brother the other day. Let's call him "Jose." He was sent to America by his parents when he was 11 to escape the Cuban revolution. He's not "a Fidel Castro fan," to say the least, and he has no illusions about Cuba being some classless utopia.
Does brainwashing happen in Cuba, as pundits and politicians ceaselessly point out? Of course. "But Elian is being brainwashed here. He's being brainwashed with Disney and all those toys. He is being brainwashed with capitalism," he said.
Then "Jose" told me that Elian should be with his father. "Will he (Elian) have a better life in America? That depends on a lot of things. And you have to keep in mind that Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than America and they have a world-class medical training system."
Because of the business propaganda that has been crammed down our throats for our entire lives, there's this widespread illusion that the GDP is the standard by which well-being (and therefore freedom) is measured. There's just no escaping the Madison Avenue thought police - euphemistically referred to as commercial ad execs.
It runs something like this: The American way of life is the best way of life for everyone and it must be spread and defended at any cost. It's us vs. them; the good guys vs. the bad guys; God's people against the "evil empire," to use Reagan's revealing rhetoric.
Now let's get a quick glimpse at that part of the historical record suppressed in the American psyche by U.S. politicians, historians and, unfortunately, many of my colleagues.
Recall that Kennedy administration policy toward Cuba, tactical arguments aside, was one of state-sponsored terrorism, plots of political assassinations aimed at overthrowing an undesirable regime, and economic asphyxiation. This is attested to by what Clinton Administration Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat told the New York Times in 1997 when the European Union issued a WTO challenge to America's embargoes against Cuba.
"Europe is challenging three decades of American Cuba policy that goes back to the Kennedy Administration, and is aimed entirely at forcing a change of government in Havana," he said.
Washington's "hard-line" against Cuba has always been justified on ideological grounds. Cuba poses a "threat," according to official dogma - an absurdity demonstrated by a Mexican diplomat responding to Kennedy's 1961 call to collective action against Cuba. "If we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, 40 million Mexicans will die laughing."
American policy-planners were undeterred. Why? The "liberal" historian and former Kennedy administration official, Arthur Schlesinger, attributes our policy to Cuba's "troublemaking in the hemisphere." The trouble? In the scholarly journal American Republics (not meant for popular consumption) Schlesinger explains the trouble - an example of an alternative society.
"Jose" spoke of Cuba's world-renowned medical establishment. Cuba has 57,000 doctors for its 11 million inhabitants. Besides providing all Cubans with health care services that millions of Americans must do without, these doctors have offered their services, for free in many cases, to ailing nations like South Africa and Algeria. Since this Cuban program was instituted in 1963, Cuba has sent 51,820 doctors, dentists and nurses to the poorest third world nations. This is considered "troublemaking" by even "liberal doves" like Schlesinger. It's downright scandalous to any red-blooded Republican ideologue.
Judging from the huge number of Americans who have told pollsters Elian should be with his father, you can see that even sophisticated business propaganda has its weaknesses. But we can expect many other spirit-poisoning scenarios to continue unabated as long as certain institutional doctrines are in place.
But all is not bad. Elian was smiling in the arms of his father. Kids have much more resilience than we often acknowledge.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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