Leave the Driving to CANF

More recently Elian's cousins and other family members have flown to Washington aboard Mas Santos's jet to meet with members of Congress in an effort to arrange for the boy's citizenship. And during last week's meetings on Capitol Hill, Mas Santos personally escorted two of the cousins to conclaves with more than a dozen senators and congressmen.

It is evident that Mas Santos has decided to tie his political future to the fate of Elian Gonzalez. Given the volatile nature of this affair, that decision can only be seen as an extremely risky move for him and the Cuban American National Foundation. Already it is clear, for example, that while Mas Santos has been using the Elian imbroglio to leverage personal power, he actually has been undermining the pre-eminent goal of the exile community -- wresting control of Cuba from Fidel Castro.

Consider the following: Prior to Elian's arrival in South Florida, the world's attention regarding Cuba was focused on Castro's violations of human rights. The critical tone was set by Pope John Paul II during his visit there in early 1998. It continued last year following Castro's imprisonment of four leading dissidents. In April 1999 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights voted to return Cuba to its list of significant violators.

Their fates now inextricably intertwined, Jorge Mas Santos and Elian will brave the future together
Their fates now inextricably intertwined, Jorge Mas Santos and Elian will brave the future together

This past November, during the Ibero-American Summit in Havana, leaders from Spain, Portugal, and Brazil used the event to call for democratic reforms in Cuba. The president of Mexico, who also attended the summit, broke with his country's four decades of unwavering support for Cuba by speaking out in support of human rights. "There can be no sovereign nations without free men and women [who] can fully exercise their basic freedoms: the freedom to think and opine, the freedom to act and participate, the freedom to dissent, the freedom to choose," declared President Ernesto Zedillo.

Nine days after the summit concluded, Elian landed in the United States. Since then the world has not been discussing the need for change in Cuba but rather the need to return a little boy to his father. The debate today isn't about human rights; it is about parental rights. According to every poll taken, Americans overwhelmingly believe Elian should be returned to Cuba. Incredibly Mas Santos and his Cuban American National Foundation have somehow managed to create a situation in which the American public, indeed the entire world, sides with Fidel Castro, not them.

Jorge Mas Canosa must be spinning in his grave.

Mas Santos is now in uncharted territory, which is why his fixation on Elian Gonzalez is so dangerous. In the old days, he would watch his father fly to Washington and almost always get what he wanted. No more. The fact that Elian was not granted citizenship within a week of Congress returning to Capitol Hill is an indication that big trouble looms ahead.

For weeks Mas Santos, Sen. Connie Mack, and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart were predicting swift passage of the bills that would grant Elian citizenship or legal residency, thereby removing the case from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. There's little doubt that in the old days a bill would have been on the president's desk promptly.

But politicians like polls, and once members of Congress realized the American people strongly believed the boy should be returned to his father, they left Mas Santos and the foundation out in the Washington cold -- a remarkable rebuke of Miami's exile community.

Now Mas Santos must figure out where he goes from here. If he can prevail in keeping Elian in the United States -- through court action or by mounting a new attack on Congress -- he will solidify his role not just as an exile leader but as someone who can get things done. In addition he will have resurrected, at least temporarily, the reputation of his moribund foundation.

If Elian is returned to Cuba, however, Mas Santos could still find a way to benefit. Amid threats of civil unrest, he might take a leadership role in keeping Miami relatively calm. And should he succeed in that, the Clinton administration and others would be indebted to him.

But after all the bombastic rhetoric, much of it uttered by Jorge Mas Santos himself, keeping Miami calm would be nothing short of miraculous.

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