Cuban emotion directed to reviled U.S. policies

Castro seeks to sustain support generated over return of Elian Gonzalez


MANZANILLO, Cuba - After the return of Elian Gonzalez, President Fidel Castro vowed yesterday to pursue efforts to change U.S. policy toward Cuba but suggested he did not expect immediate success with either of the candidates to succeed Bill Clinton.

"Neither of them inspires any confidence whatsoever," Castro said in a written message that was read at the first government-organized rally since Elian returned home Wednesday. "Whoever is the next president of the United States should know that here is Cuba with its ideas, its example and the rebelliousness of its people; that all aggression and all attempts to asphyxiate us or put us on our knees will be defeated."

A crowd estimated by officials at 300,000 packed the plaza of this town on the southern shore of the island to hear a succession of speakers criticize the U.S. trade embargo and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants asylum to Cubans who reach American soil.

The audience was urged to channel the energy used in the past seven months to support Elian's return into a renewed fight against U.S. policies. Speakers said those policies have weakened Cuba's economy and led people like Elian's mother to take to the sea in risky attempts to flee.

"Now begins the second stage that will also be triumphant," said Raul Castro, Fidel Castro's brother and minister of the armed forces, in a rare 15-minute news conference after the rally. "What other solution do we have? What other solution do the Americans have? Invade us? I would not like to see that because we would pay a terrible price. But they would pay as terrible a price as we have."

He also insisted that there would be no change in Cuba's political system despite speculation about what might happen when the 72-year-old Cuban president dies.

"Now they talk about the famous transition," Castro said. "I have read hundreds of articles about that famous transition. Who will come after Castro? Will his brother be able to control the situation? Here, anybody can control the situation. You cannot cover the sun with your finger."

That theme has been sounded often during the past seven months, as the Cuban government found, for the first time in many years, that it had the overwhelming support of its people on the emotional issue of uniting a motherless boy with his father.

Most of the people attending the rally bore tiny pictures of Elian in the arms of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Behind the crowd, a billboard of the two featured a quotation from Jose Marti, the poet and nationalist leader of the 19th century.

"I am son of my son," read the passage. "In him I am reborn."

Through the Gonzalez family, officials apparently hope to ensure the future of the revolution. In recent years, many people have chafed under hard-line policies and the sense of an uncertain future.

Gonzalez was said to be in a seaside Havana home where his son and several friends are adjusting to life back in Cuba.

Cuban government officials have insisted that they will not use Elian in any public appearances. But they have invoked the family often.

"Those who thought we would get tired have learned the reality," said Felipe Perez Roque, the foreign minister, addressing the rally.

"On a day like today, we affectionately congratulate Juan Miguel Gonzalez, an exemplary father and son of a people who struggled for a noble cause, not just for his son, but for the fact that you cannot use a child for political manipulation."

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