By Néstor Carbonell

  (Author of "And the Russians Stayed,"
William Morrow, 1989, and other
publications on Cuba)

The brutal taking of Elián González has been portrayed by the Clinton Administration and a number of opinion leaders as simply the appropriate enforcement of the law to allow a father to be reunited with his son. Sadly, that is just a façade. Behind the father's custodial claim lies a veiled refugee threat to the U.S. posed by a callous manipulator: Fidel Castro.

Inspite of this or, most likely, because of it, the Attorney General summarily denied Elián political asylum, revoked the temporary custody granted to his great-uncle, Lázaro, and ordered the forcible removal of the boy from his house in Miami in a pre-dawn, storm-trooper-type raid reminiscent of a police State.

Leaving aside the shocking and unnecessary abuse of power at the house to "subdue" unarmed relatives and mediators who were at that very moment negotiating in good faith with the Attorney General, there are a number of unanswered questions surrounding this case which point to a deal with Castro. Why did the Justice Department change the INS's December position that Elián's interests would be best served in a family court -- the appropriate forum to air custody issues? Why did Janet Reno rely on a cursory INS investigation conducted in Cuba and on a brief meeting with Elián's father, Juan Miguel, at her office to conclude that he was a free agent not coerced by Castro? Why did she disregard or ignore sworn testimonies that Juan Miguel had called relatives in Miami to apprise them that Elián was on his way to Florida and to ask them to take good care of him? (There seems to be a Sprint phone bill confirming the collect call.)

Moreover, how could the Justice Department have determined that Elián's health and well-being were at risk in Miami based on the report of a government-appointed pediatrician who did not even interview the child? Finally, why didn't the President and the Attorney General wait for the impending decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and avoid a potential traumatic showdown if Elián is granted the right to request asylum in the United States?

These questions reflect a skewed pattern of conduct on the part of the Clinton Administration -- one that has clearly tilted in favor of Juan Miguel; not, alas, as a father with full custodial rights over his son, but as the hapless puppet of Cuba's Maximum Puppeteer.

After all, who, if not Castro, turned a family tragedy, which his oppressive regime created, into a huge political tug-of-war? Who, if not Castro, stonewalled Juan Miguel's trip to the U.S. for four months, and then laid down the conditions for him to come, including the statement he had to read on arrival, the house where he had to stay, and the protective shadows he had to carry? Who, if not Castro, has already decided the "de-programming" that Elián needs and the Miramar residence in Havana where it will be conducted?

This should not surprise those who remember the brainwashing techniques of totalitarian governments and how they mold the minds of children, particularly those with potential for leadership. In Cuba, this practice has been codified (not that Castro needs any enabling legislation). The Cuban Code for Children and Youths stipulates that "the Communist formation of the new generations is an important aspiration of the State," and that "the State will undertake to protect the youths from any influences contrary to Communist practice…". As to parental rights, they exist "only so long as they don't contravene the political objectives of the State."

This verbiage, which in a post-Cold War era sounds anachronistic, still has real, ominous meaning inside Cuba. It translates into atheism and the cult of Castro's personality, starting in the early grades. It calls for young Communist Pioneers to chant "we shall be like Ché" and disengage from traditional family ties. At age 11, kids are removed from their homes for extended periods and sent to work without pay at government camps in the field, where promiscuity corrodes moral values and venereal diseases run rampant. Opportunities for higher education depend on each student's "cumulative dossier" showing level of compliance with the dictates of the Castro regime.

That's precisely what Elián's mother was trying to avoid. She knew of the depravities of tyranny and died so that her son could be free. How sad if her last will were crushed by sending him back to the very captive island whence they escaped! The true custodian of her beloved Elián would not be his father, more of a hostage now than in the past. The guardian of this adorable child would be Fidel Castro. He would display him with glee at a time when he needs a trophy to revamp his discredited image and distract the restless population. The ultimate irony is that Castro would receive this reward shortly after having been condemned by the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in Geneva for continuous violations of all basic freedoms.

The big question is, why is the U.S. Government intent on doing this, from the President to the Attorney General? Not because they are naïve as to who controls Elián's father. Not because they like Castro (although absolute rulers often exert a lingering fascination), but because they fear him. It's perhaps hard to imagine how the failed dictator of a small, impoverished island could force the Attorney General of the most powerful nation on earth to drop all other issues for weeks and buckle under his December ultimatum: "return Elián or else...". Well, he seems to have done it with the veiled threat of using again a most lethal weapon in an election year: reopening the floodgates of refugees from Cuba. To show that he meant business, he allowed for a while a sharp increase in the number of rafters.

Castro's real or potential threat of migratory warfare appears to have politicized this family saga, prompting the Clinton Administration to cut a deal with him. If true, as it seems, blackmail prevailed over the rule of law. Let us hope that the U.S. courts will redress the situation, considering all relevant legal and human factors in this case, and prevent the Executive Branch from sacrificing young Elián on the shameful altar of appeasement.


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