The seizure of Elián González topped much of the world press this weekend, with most papers leading with the Associated Press photograph of Elián being taken at gunpoint from the bedroom closet. The British press was surprisingly unified in using the case’s latest developments as an opportunity to condemn U.S. policy toward Cuba and the extremism of Miami’s Cuban-American community.
In the Observer, Hugh O’Shaughnessy penned a mash note to the U.S. attorney general that began, “GOD BLESS YOU, Janet Reno.” He described Cuban-American activists as “one of the most unattractive group of voters on the US electoral roll short of the Ku Klux Klan” and said that by teaming up with “nationalist extremists such as Senator Jesse Helms in Congress, the exiles have screamed and shouted and flourished their voting power so that most US politicians have quailed at the thought of crossing them.” Describing himself as “a regular visitor to Cuba,” he added, “I certainly would not want the six-year-old Elian—or indeed any of my own grandchildren—to be constrained to grow up amid the sickening lawlessness of South Florida.” A leader in the same newspaper said, “the US policy of exclusion … is driven by the same minority which grasped the fragile figure of Elian as a weapon in its continuing war with Cuba. If there is any lesson to be learned from the spectacle of the dogfight over Elian, it is that it is long overdue for the US to accept Cuba’s right to autonomy and to renegotiate its relationship with a noisy, but insignificant, minority that has for too long dominated American foreign policy on the issue.” In the Times of London, BBC world affairs editor John Simpson declared that Cuban-Americans “have achieved a good deal, but have helped to rot the fabric of American political culture.”
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mark Steyn said, “Elian’s Miami relatives failed to garner any support outside the Cuban émigrés and the Republican Party. One of those groups is a closed, psychologically isolated ghetto community; the other consists of refugees from [Fidel] Castro’s Cuba.” In one of the cruelest quips on the issue, Steyn said, “Well, he’s alive. That puts little Elian González ahead of the game as far as the actuarial tables of kids who’ve attracted the attention of Janet Reno are concerned.”
An editorial in Spain’s El País said, “The powerful Cuban exile community has chosen [Elián] as patron saint of its propaganda war against Fidel. Nothing could benefit the dictator more. Castro has made Elián the martyr of the cause, and in his name, intense, uninterrupted anti-American agitation has gripped the island in recent times.” Spain’s conservative daily ABC agreed, saying, “This ‘soap opera’ is the result of a script written and directed by Fidel Castro and the family of the little boy, helped by the Cuban exiles in Florida, who led the Clinton government by the hand from the beginning.”
In Cuba, the state-run Granma Internacional Castro praised President Clinton, Janet Reno, and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner. He declared Saturday “a day of truce between the United States and Cuba, perhaps the only such day in the last 41 years.” Castro warned Cubans that the victory is not complete, “because it’s not clear what the counterrevolutionary Miami mafia is capable of doing after losing the boy it had kidnapped.”
The leaders of South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique emerged from a summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, to offer Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe what South Africa’s Cape Argus described as a “face-saving exit from the crisis gripping his country.” (For more background on the situation in Zimbabwe, see earlier “International Papers” columns here and here.) The presidents called on “donor countries,” notably Britain, to honor previous pledges to provide the government with funds to buy white-owned properties so that the Harare government can resettle landless blacks on them. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the Observer that funds were available but that they would not be released until the return of the rule of law. “[N]obody is going to help with the programme of confiscation backed by murder. There must first be an end to the illegal occupations and the violence they have produced.”
Although Cook expressed hope that the dispute over land could be resolved during talks between Britain and Zimbabwe in London this week, several papers were less sanguine. The Financial Times pointed out that the 4,500 white farmers, while less than 1 percent of the population, are responsible for at least 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s GDP, more than one-third of all exports, and a quarter of the nation’s employment. Even if the land held by the white minority were fairly divided among Zimbabwe’s population, it would almost certainly then be used for subsistence farming rather than commercial, export-driven development. The FT concluded, “If Zimbabwe’s economic locomotive is permanently damaged, the prospects for what used to be seen as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s stronger economies appear bleak.” The Japan Times said in an editorial Saturday that Mugabe is “engaged in a cynical political play” with the white farmers as “pawns” and the landless war veterans as the “tools … many of whom are poor … as a result of the economic mismanagement Mr. Mugabe has visited upon the country during his 20 years in power.” The paper called his focus on compensation a “red herring: Land purchases make up only one-quarter of the cost of relocating black farmers. The real expenses follow from the infrastructure developments—roads, water supply, seed, fertilizer—needed to make the farms viable.” It concluded, “For Mr. Mugabe, political survival comes first: before the rule of law, before the fate of the people he claims to rule, and even before his country’s national interests. His gamble must not be allowed to succeed.”
Britain’s Sunday Telegraph carried a dispatch from a new kind of European speakeasy: a clandestine restaurant in the Belleville district of Paris that is the headquarters of “a culinary resistance movement dedicated to flouting [European Union] regulations on food safety in the name of traditional methods and good taste.” Among the forbidden delicacies on the menu are beef on the bone (prohibited because of concerns about “mad cow disease”), Corsican cheese “infested with worms,” wine with no chemical additives, and andouillettes (small pieces of sausage “[f]ull of illegal microbes and all the better for it”). The owner of Le Coin de Verre, Hugues Calliger, would like food to be treated like tobacco, “Risky food should be marked and labeled. The people should be free to eat it if they choose. The food safety legislation coming from Brussels aims at zero risk, but they should remember an old French proverb: Le mieux est l’enemi du bien (’Perfection is the enemy of the good’).”