Montréal, 29 avril 2000  /  No 61
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          The treatment accorded the unfortunate Elián Gonzalez reflects little or no credit on any of the participants in this appalling display of self-serving politics at work, statements of sympathy for the plight of the child notwithstanding. 
          The way this young boy arrived in the United States was a further reminder of the conditions existing in Cuba, a state run by an ageing megalomaniacal Marxist who has learned nothing beyond how to repress those unfortunate to be still residents of his island prison. An island whose past is chequered by a series of oppressors beginning in 1511, when the Spanish soldier Diego Velazquez established the town of Baracoa and began the extermination of the native Ciboney tribe. Repressive acts which continue to this day.
          Fidel Castro runs the country tolerating no opposition, no free press and no criticism and he has imprisoned or executed (some 15 000 at last count) all who oppose, or threaten to oppose, him. His tyrannical rule makes emigration illegal and the only way its residents may leave is in the manner in which Elián and his mother tried, in some kind of vessel. A method of emigration which has cost many lives, to which now have now been added the mother and step-father of the luckless Elián. 
          So, given the appalling conditions extant in Cuba, few would support sending anyone back to this island prison, least of all a small child. However, his natural father lives there and he is this boy's nearest relative, nearer than his uncle and nearer than his cousin, and is thus the most logical person to whom custody should be awarded. We cannot know with any degree of certainty just what his father's reasons for continuing to live under this totalitarian regime really are. If the father expresses even the slightest of doubts about the system openly, he will presumably join all those others imprisoned for expressing their dissent. Several reports from Cuba indicated that the mother and step-child of Juan Miguel Gonzalez are being lodged in a Cuban government compound, presumably as insurance against their son's return. So the father remains silent, expressing only a wish to be reunited with his son.  
An unfolding soap opera 
          In the early days of this ongoing soap opera, there were claims that the father was an unfit parent, but no proof was ever offered to support this view. All he seems to have asked for is that his son be returned to him in Cuba. Certainly the initial non-appearance of the father to claim his son might have given some the impression that he did not care for his son very much. However, we should not forget that he may well have been prevented from coming by the state, or may really have preferred his son to stay in Florida; we will never know. However, once Castro had concluded that there might be political benefits in it for him if the father was allowed to leave Cuba for the US, then the father was sent to Washington and given shelter in the home of some Cuban apparatchik. 
          One vitally important question is who is the person best fitted to have legal custody of the child, the natural father living in a pariah state or a relative living in a freer and richer society? This matter was decided by the alleged politically minded Immigration and Naturalisation Service, who said, in fact, that he should be returned to Cuba to his natural father and set January 14th as the date for the transfer. An announcement that was greeted by accusations that the Clinton administration was more interested in improving relations with Cuba than in the freedom of a six years old child. 
          Then politics began to take a role in the unfolding drama. The Republican, Dan Burton, subpoenaed the boy to appear before Congress and two other Republican Senators began sponsoring legislation to make the boy a US citizen. The current and quite unusual US policy being to return to Cuba any refugees it finds at sea, and to grant asylum to those who make it to shore; although no child of six has yet done so. The whole process has been allowed to drag on for much too long and the matter could and should have been settled a great deal earlier with a custody suit before a judge attended by the boy's father, grandmothers and the other relatives. This hearing could have concluded quickly who was the person most suitable to have custody of the child and avoided all the political chicanery which has since resulted. 
     « Upon reflection, the supporters and relatives of young Elián should perhaps be thankful that they were not treated in the same manner as the residents of Waco. Many of whom, it will be recalled, were burned alive... » 
          The Judge in the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on April 20th  that Elián Gonzalez himself may have the right to seek political asylum in the United States, even against his father's wishes. That court also castigated the Clinton Administration for ignoring Elián's desires. The Court wrote that; « According to the record, plaintiff – although a young child – has expressed a wish that he not be returned to Cuba. » The Court adding that, « It appears that never have INS officials attempted to interview plaintiff about his wishes. » and « It is not clear that the INS, in finding plaintiff's father to be the only proper representative, considered all of the relevant factors – particularly the child's separate and independent interests in seeking asylum. »  
          If the boy asks for and is granted asylum but his father is then given custody then there would be nothing to prevent the father from taking his son back to Cuba. This is the crux of the problem, custody and asylum are not synonymous. Even though the father is the legal guardian of the boy, once they return to Cuba it will be the State that will become the real custodian. Indeed, they have already set up a « re-education » compound for him. It is hard to imagine a six-year-old boy not having been greatly influenced by his short stay in Florida. Re-educating him should prove no problem with the use of their electric shock treatments and mind-altering drugs.  
          A few days before the raid, the Justice Department released a letter from one Dr. Irwin Redlener claiming that « Elián Gonzalez is now in a state of imminent danger to his physical and emotional well-being in a home that I consider to be psychologically abusive. » Elián presumably found a large gun in his face quite calming, psychologically that is. It later transpired that the good Dr. Redlener is a pediatrician and not a psychologist and had never actually spoken with the boy. He did however serve on Hillary Clinton's health care task force in 1993. As someone wrote, rather dismissively, « An Administration flack with a stethoscope. » 
          President Clinton's former attorney, Greg Craig, represents the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez; an assignment due perhaps to his intimate knowledge of the uses to which Cuban cigars may be put. 
Unnecessary violence 
          In what may have been the beginning of the end game, now imprinted upon our minds by the picture of a terrified little boy staring down the muzzle of a Heckler & Koch, MP-5, they have secluded the boy with his father at some US government hideaway and let some children come from Cuba. After alleging later, although they were still in telephone contact, that discussions had broken down, and in spite of her promise not to snatch Elián in the night, Janet Reno again indulged her increasing passion for armed intervention and violence and ordered a team of 130 odd heavily armed agents to seize the boy.  
          The team of agents could not have known for certain just what kind of resistance they might meet outside the home. But there seems to have been no evidence to suggest, except perhaps in the paranoid minds of the INS thugs, that the inside of the house was peopled by armed resisters. The damage to the home caused by the agents also appeared to be out of proportion to that required to snatch a small-unarmed six year old boy. Striking an NBC sound man with a rifle butt and kicking a cameramen shows the respect for the press and the rights of the innocent that have come to be indicators of Ms Reno's administration of US justice.  
          Upon reflection, the supporters and relatives of young Elián should perhaps be thankful that they were not treated in the same manner as the residents of Waco. Many of whom, it will be recalled, were burned alive; at least those who were not shot first in an operation whose objective was again alleged to be the separation of children from their parents. 
          Following the seizure of the distraught boy in the early hours of Saturday morning, the Sunday TV talk shows resounded with the politically charged statements of the Republicans who bandied words such as; « outraged », « sickened » and « ashamed ». On Tuesday last, a bipartisan group of Senators asked questions of Ms Reno, some of which were not answered satisfactorily according to their spokesman who promised further hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee. 
          Many questions are being asked, not the least of which why a warrant to search the house was issued but not a warrant to seize the child. Sounds like semantics all over again and one remembers the duplicity that Ms Reno's boss displayed during the Paula Jones case. It must depend upon what you mean by the word « search ». Elián wasn't lost, everyone knew where he was. 
          A number of conspiracy theories are circulating. One such sees Castro threatening to dump another 125 000 criminals and mentally deranged persons on the shores of Florida unless Clinton returns Elián. Others involve convoluted schemes to blackmail Clinton into doing something that will cause Al Gore to lose the election and let George W. Bush win. Others say Castro is blackmailing the Republicans by threatening to disclose information about George Bush Sr. and his involvement with Oliver North in protecting narcotics trafficking.  
          As young Elián said when he faced the muzzle of the MP-5, « Que esta pasando? » Like Elián, there are many others that would like to know what is happening. 
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