January 26, 2000
The mother of six-year-old Elian Gonzalez sacrificed her life so
that her son could grow up in America. Her dying wish, according to a
Cuban man who survived for two days on an inner tube, was that Elian
could reach the United States and freedom.
A reporter for the socialist Madrid newspaper El Pais investigated
and learned that Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, had wanted Elian
to go to America. Elian's relatives in Florida know very well that
Elian is far better off in free America than in Communist Cuba where
people are denied the everyday liberties we take for granted, including
freedoms of speech, travel, and education.
One person, however, disagrees: Fidel Castro, whose
apparatchiks no doubt "persuaded" Mr. Gonzalez to change his story.
Elian's escape, like all defections, is an acute embarrassment to
Communist suppression of the right to travel has long demonstrated
the inhumanity of its system. The Berlin Wall, guarded by
sharpshooters ordered to kill anyone who attempted to escape,
symbolized the terror of Communism for an entire generation.
Flight that risks death constitutes the ultimate repudiation of
Communist regimes and is often followed by vindictive attempts at
retaliation by the humiliated dictator. KGB files newly opened to the
West are full of examples.
When the famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev defected from the
Soviet Union, the KGB's reaction was similar to Castro's. On the night
of Nureyev's first major performance in the West, the KGB arranged for
the delivery of emotional letters to him from his parents and his
former ballet teacher urging him not to betray his homeland.
Then, according to Nureyev, "some Communists were trying to
sabotage the performance" by shouting, whistling, and throwing what
looked like glass onto the stage during his dance. KGB files include
schemes to break one or both of Nureyev's legs.
History repeats itself in Castro's vicious campaign against
freedom for Elian Gonzalez. As in other high-profile escapes from
Communism, the dictatorship brutally exerts control over whomever it
can in an attempt to minimize the dictator's own embarrassment.
The appearance by Elian's father on ABC's Nightline didn't help
Castro because it reminded us of the show trials used by the Soviet
bloc against dissidents. The history of Communism has taught us that,
after weeks of intimidation or worse, even the most courageous
resisters can be cowed into confessing "crimes" against the state.
Such "confessions" are inadmissible in U.S. judicial proceedings
and are no more credible than statements made by a prisoner of war.
Due process requires, at a minimum, reliance only on sworn testimony
freely provided in open court and subjected to the scrutiny of cross-
Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Rosa Rodriguez ruled properly in
scheduling a hearing at which Elian's father could and should appear in
what is really a custody contest. In a free society, competing claims
are adjudicated with due process, regardless of the potential
embarrassment to anyone.
Of course, Castro doesn't want Elian's father to appear in a
Florida court. After all, he might defect, too. Or at the least, he
might change his testimony.
Like all dictators, Castro is used to getting his way. He
deliberately raised the political stakes of this controversy to the
point where Elian Gonzalez is unlikely to have a normal life if he were
returned to Cuba.
The arguments about father's rights and family unity are phony
when it comes to Elian's predicament. If U.S. authorities send Elian
back to Cuba, it won't be to Elian's father; it will mean sending him
back to be paraded around as a Castro trophy and raised, perhaps in a
daycare center, to be a good Communist.
The only persons the United States has forcibly returned to Cuba
are criminals, and Elian surely is not a criminal. Does anyone believe
that, if Elian's mother had died in the act of throwing her son over
the Berlin Wall that we would have forcibly returned her boy to East
The mystery is why Clinton has sided with Castro. Perhaps his
corporate friends are salivating over the potential for investments in
tourism, gambling and other industries in Cuba where forty years of
Communism have depressed the economy to the point where the ultimate
luxury is a 1956 Chevrolet.
Perhaps the Clinton Administration considers deporting Elian as
necessary to appease Castro and facilitate open trade relations. Based
on Clinton's policies toward Communist China, "follow the money" is
usually a good explanation of his foreign policy.
Congress should proceed with plans to pass legislation granting
U.S. citizenship to Elian.