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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Analysis: Castro's victory?
Rally in Havana
Cubans rally in Havana for Elian's return
By Tom Gibb in Havana

For Cuban President Fidel Castro the "battle for Elian" has been a win-win situation from the start.

For the past seven months he has used the case to sustain a massive propaganda campaign in Cuba, aimed at winning back the island's youth to patriotic and revolutionary values.

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro's tactics have paid off
At the same time it has given him the perfect platform in the United States to campaign against Cuban American leaders he regards as his real enemies, and try to isolate them from Washington.

He has been able to do all this at minimum risk. As usual, the veteran Cuban leader was careful to pick a battle which he knew he should win.

No-risk strategy

From the start legal experts in the United States said that if Elian's father went to claim his son, there would be little that the Miami relatives could do about it.

The more they move, the deeper they sink in the mud

Fidel Castro
This has been reiterated repeatedly by the US courts which have found in the father's favour.

Fidel Castro has wrong footed his enemies in Miami on every turn.

"They lack brains," he gloated at one point, saying that all their attempts to retain the boy had backfired.

"The more they move, the deeper they sink in the mud."

US-Cuba relations

But while he may have won the battle he is a long way from winning the war to force Washington to lift its four decade old trade embargo against Cuba - which lies behind the dispute.

Anti-Castro demonstration
Cuban Americans have been unable to stop Elian's return
President Castro blames the massive Cuban American influence in US politics for the continuation of the embargo even after the end of the Cold War.

Cuban officials were hoping that by isolating Cuban Americans from wider US public opinion, the Elian case might lead to changes in the embargo.

They have been encouraged by an army of US businessmen who have been visiting Havana over the last six months, prospecting for opportunities should the rules change.

Trade embargo changes

However in the same week that Elian is set to return to Cuba, the Cuban American lobby in Washington showed that it still has plenty of strength.

No private credit
No barter
US purchase of Cuban goods still banned
Law against US citizens visiting Cuba
They were able to water down proposals to allow food and medicine to Cuba to the point that Havana says they are now unworkable.

One Cuban official referred to the proposals as "a great joke against US public opinion which will in practice change nothing."

On paper it is the biggest single change in the US embargo in 40 years, which Havana had been cautiously welcoming.

However the proposals lay down that Cuba will not have access to private or public US credit to make purchases.

Barter, the island's favourite trading method, will not be allowed.

Not only does it not soften the blockade - in some aspects it makes it worse

Ricardo Alarcon
There will be no change in the rule banning ships visiting Cuba from putting into a US port during the following six months - making it hard to see how goods can be cheaply transported.

Most importantly, the proposals specifically ban the US purchase of any Cuban goods. And they would strengthen the ban on US citizens visiting Cuba by turning it from an administrative ruling into law

"Not only does it not soften the blockade," said Cuban National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcon, "in some aspects it makes it worse."

In practice being able to buy US food and medicines would have little impact on the Cuban economy, which is desperately short of hard currency.

Lifting the travel ban, on the other hand, would give a massive boost to tourism - now the island's largest industry.

Conversely a strengthening of the ban could have an immediate negative impact on the Cuban economy, which has seen tens of thousands of Americans illegally visiting the island over the last year.

US ahead in culture battle

In the long term the Cuban leader may also be facing an uphill struggle to combat the influence of US culture and the dollar on the island. The Elian issue has been a windfall for him in attempting to do this.

Elian Gonzalez
The Elian issue has been used in Cuba to denounce American consumerism
At daily "Send Back Elian" rallies, teenagers and small children have got up to denounce the decadent consumerism which they say Elian is a victim of in the United States.

The government campaign comes at a time when teenage culture on the island is dominated by fashions and music from Miami.

The dispute in Elian's family is not typical of relations at family level across the Florida Straits. Many Cuban kids receive all the latest clothes and records from relatives in Florida.

Fidel Castro has constantly complained about this cultural invasion and, even before the Elian case, the government was trying to encourage a return to revolutionary and socialist values.

If the embargo were eased, the authorities would face an ever more uphill struggle trying to stop this invasion.

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See also:

12 Apr 00 | Americas
Elian's home town
09 Apr 00 | Americas
Miami divided over Elian
07 Apr 00 | Americas
Elian's trauma 'to increase'
07 Apr 00 | Americas
In pictures: Father flies in
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