Protests demand Elian be returned home
Protests occurred across Australia on February 17 to demand that the United States government allow six-year-old Elian Gonzalez to return to his family in Cuba. The protests were sponsored nationally by the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), Resistance and the Committees in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean (CISLAC).
Elian has been held by distant relatives in Miami, who are right-wing opponents of Cuba's socialist government, since his mother drowned while trying to reach the US in November. Elian's father, his grandparents, and the government and people of Cuba have all called for his return. While US courts have ruled that Elian should be returned, the US government has so far refused to do so.
In Canberra, Lara Pullin reports, a passionate demonstration was held outside the US embassy. Protesters waved the Cuban flag, held up placards and chanted before sending a representative into the embassy to present their demand.
James Vassilopoulos, the DSP's Canberra secretary, told the rally, "We have organised this protest to highlight the US's outdated Cold War policies towards Cuba, now escalating through the inhumane manipulation of a six-year-old boy. We will stand strongly beside the Cuban people, the majority of US people and overwhelming international support in demanding the return of Elian to Cuba now."
Resistance activist Ruth Ratcliffe condemned the "kidnapping" of Elian, but said that Australia's treatment of young people was little better, pointing to the death in custody of a 15-year-old Aboriginal boy in Darwin two weeks ago.
The protesters' letter, which was signed by the rally organisers, long-time Spanish community leader Claudio Villegas and Labor MLA Wayne Berry, blamed US immigration policy for Elian's plight. It said that the detention of a child by right-wing expatriates anywhere else in the world would be considered an act of terrorism. "There would simply be no issue about Elian's fate were it not for the fact that he is Cuban", the letter said.
From Hobart, Russell Pickering reports that a street theatre performance of Uncle Sam searching out Cuban children to kidnap was the feature of that city's action.
A steady flow of lunchtime shoppers, including US tourists, showed their support for Elian's return by signing petitions and taking information, despite Uncle Sam's assertions that Elian is now living a life of "freedom and democracy".
In Brisbane, 30 people attended a picket in King George Square. Lynda Hansen describes how workers on their way home stopped to look at colourful banners adorned with Che Guevara's image and a full-size Cuban flag being waved in protest at US government treatment of the Cuban people.
Speakers included Lachlan Hurst from the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society, Jim McIlroy from the DSP and Mike Byrne from Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor. Chanting "Cuba si, Yanqui No! End the blockade now!", the protesters vowed to take more actions in defence of Cuba. A man who identified himself as a representative of the US State Department said he was sent from Sydney to observe the proceedings.
In Sydney, 30 people picketed the US consulate in Martin Place. The picketers heard speakers from the DSP, CISLAC and the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society denounce the US economic blockade of Cuba and demand Elian's immediate return to his family.