Fabiola Santiago

Some Cuban Americans still hold Elián González raid against the Clintons

In this April 22, 2000, file photo, Elian Gonzalez is taken by U.S. law enforcement from the Little Havana home of uncle Lazaro Gonzalez.
In this April 22, 2000, file photo, Elian Gonzalez is taken by U.S. law enforcement from the Little Havana home of uncle Lazaro Gonzalez. AP

Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate, is a bitter pill for some Cuban Americans to swallow — and there’s a fundamental reason for the dislike.

It’s all in a name: Elián González.

Her husband’s administration — more specifically, his Attorney General, Janet Reno, a Miamian — blew it big in 2000 when she ordered the 6-year-old boy removed in a middle-of-the-night raid on the Little Havana home of relatives who wanted him to live in a free country.

Authorities didn’t just pick up Elián or deliver him to his father after a courtroom hearing. They plucked him at machine gun-point in a swift operation more apt for the Middle East than emotional Miami. The Pulitzer-Prize winning picture of a terrified Elián by AP photographer Alan Diaz is hard to forget.

The saga hangs in history like a dark cloud — even if you believe that this boy, miraculously rescued at sea after a shipwreck on Thanksgiving, belonged with his father, who wanted him back in Cuba. Sixteen years later, all that the Cuban community feared has come to pass: His father, a faithful servant in Communist Cuba, turned Elián over to be paraded like a puppet, used as a Cold War tool, and allowed him to be indoctrinated into Fidel Castro idolatry.

Still, the boy belonged with his father; we get that now.

But the violent seizure was too much and carried out without exhausting other avenues — an affront to the freedom-loving, loyal Cuban-American community.

Vice President Al Gore, in his bid for the presidency against George W. Bush, paid Reno’s and Bill Clinton’s bill. Many Cuban-American independents and Democrats voted against Gore just to get back at the Clintons — and in the tight race, our votes put the Bush-Cheney ticket in the White House.

El voto del castigo, ours was called. The punishment vote.

I lived to regret it a million times. Another name arose, a larger issue: Iraq, my children’s war.

I forever swore off Cuba-issue voting after the best friend of one of my daughters called our house just before deployment to Iraq with his one-minute, last phone call. He asked her: “Quickly, tell me. What do I do? Do I shoot them or not?” And my daughter turned to me for an answer.

I had none; only horror and heartache.

When this boy-turned-soldier came home, we already suspected there was no Iraq involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, no weapons of mass destruction. He looked stocky and hardened, but still the innocent. In the middle of our conversation, I realized he had no idea that the reasons he was fighting that war were no longer real. I didn’t want to be the one to break his heroic heart.

I walked away in shame.

So many years later, the first woman with a real shot at the presidency, Hillary Clinton, has a lingering Cuban-American problem, despite strong support for her in South Florida. A newly released poll shows that Clinton would trounce Donald Trump 52-25 percent in Miami-Dade, a Democratic stronghold. But the poll by Bendixen & Amandi International for the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald, WLRN and Univision 23, also shows that Trump leads in the Cuban-American vote, 41-29 percent.

Trump’s lead, however small it may seem, is odd at a moment when high-profile Republicans are supporting her candidacy and after some 50 percent of Cuban Americans twice voted for Barack Obama — and another recent poll shows Cuban Americans are warming up to relations with Cuba in larger numbers. Clinton has pledged to continue the engagement policy.

There may be simply partisanship alliances for that relatively small but significant Cuban-American vote for Trump.

One of them is the lingering shadow of a boy named Elián, a young man who calls Fidel Castro his father.

But let’s not ever — and certainly, not now — bring him into American politics again.

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