Elian Gonzalez was fished out of the ocean where his mother, step-father and several other people died trying to escape to freedom. He is now living with relatives in Florida who are doing their best to dazzle him with things we take for granted, like visits to Disneyland, clean shirts and paved streets. Cuban American groups are rallying around the boy, but, remarkably, some boneheads think it's best to return him to Cuba.
Castro, who was born pissed off, is really angry with us now and demands that we return the kid. If we don't, he'll, well, demand it again. Many Cuban people, happy to finally have something fun to do and delighted for an opportunity to let off steam without landing in jail, are having a grand time protesting.
The US has sent INS people to the island on a fact-finding mission. They set a date to announce their decision, then almost immediately announced that they might make the decision before then, or after then, or whenever they feel like it. They claim objectivity, but we can only hope their goal is to find some reason, nitpicky or not, for leaving the kid where he belongs.
He belongs in a free country. Barring that, let him stay in America. His father's wishes are not as important as his mother's. Freedom was so important to her she risked her life for it, and lost. Returning Elian would be writing off her life as worthless and her death as meaningless.
We're not discussing returning him to a tropical paradise, or even a middle class, middle of the road place. Cuba's communist government has turned the once beautiful island into a dump, a third world rat-hole full of poverty and hopelessness. Unemployment is extraordinarily high, the economy is a shambles, and doing, saying, reading or thinking anything "subversive" results in a twenty-year prison sentence. The two primary industries are prostitution and begging US dollars from tourists. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom to choose your own political beliefs and most importantly, no freedom to better yourself. As long as the people of Cuba tolerate their government, everything else on the island will remain intolerable. This is a hell we wouldn't wish on many people, and it's certainly no place to send a six-year-old boy.
It's unlikely any of the boneheads who favor sending him back would be as anxious to send him to an American slum where unemployment was too high to measure and calling his prospects "bleak" would be considered wildly optimistic. Yet the slum would offer him something Cuba never will - a reasonable hope of escape to a better life. If he is returned he won't be allowed to take many boat rides again. He's already escaped once - sending him back would make us as despicable as the nuns in Papillon.
One of the dumbest arguments for returning him is fear of setting a bad precedent. Boneheads worry that international custody battles might degenerate into fights over which culture is more suitable. (Many boneheads believe there is no such thing as an inferior culture.) Should we allow little Francis to stay with his mother in New York, or with his dad in the semi-civilized country of France? What if mom is living in Arkansas? But as rare as international custody battles are, lone six year old Cuban refugees bobbing off the cost of Florida are even rarer. The number of times it has happened before is exactly none. When we start getting flooded with lone youngsters floating in on the tide we can start worrying about putting an official policy in place. Until then, dealing with this as a unique case is the only reasonable approach.
If the INS doesn't determine he should stay, and if the US is gutless enough to try sending him back, there is one last option that could save him. Make it a custody battle and bring it to any typically incompetent family court judge. They are usually hell-bent to give custody to the mother, regardless of the circumstances. The judge is likely to conclude that, even though the mother is dead she should get custody anyway. That should be all Elian needs for his American family to enforce his mothers wishes, wishes that she was willing to die for.
© 1999 Dave Hitt
| Home Page | Table of Contents |