Montréal, 8 juillet 2000  /  No 64
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David MacRae is a software consultant who works out of his home in St. Laurent, Quebec.
by David MacRae
          After seven months of the greatest media circus since O.J. Simpson, little Elián Gonzalez has finally returned to his home and his family. And so ends one of the most shameful episodes in the history of libertarian and conservative politics: a period in which both kinds of right-wingers abandoned their principles in a shoddy attempt to score points against a tired old tyrant who is soon to take his rightful place in the dustbin of history. 
          Reason, the Libertarian magazine, has portrayed the photos of the smiling Elián playing with his father as a propaganda exercise. Of course they were, exactly like the earlier photos of the boy at Disneyworld. This does not mean they were fakes.  
          National Review did even worse: slandering Elián's father with one of the dirtiest put-downs that feminists use to denigrate men – sperm donor. This is a particularly unjust characterization of a man who, by all accounts, is a fine and devoted father. It's a shameful display at that. If there is anything that conservatism is about, it is surely about respect for the family. 
          Libertarians have their own form of hypocrisy. They bleat in unison about all the ways that government interferes with their private lives and denies them the right to manage their affairs as they see fit. In the next breath they refuse to accord this very same right to Juan Miguel Gonzalez. 
Getting your priorities straight 
          In many ways, the Elián episode has had a positive impact. The Miami Cuban refugee stranglehold over Cuban-American relations has been broken. Cracks are appearing in the American trade blockade. Most importantly, the child has been returned to his father. Yet the people who should have been fighting for all this have instead been on the other side.  
          Consequently, they deserve exactly what they got out of this affair: a great propaganda triumph for the old commie dictator. 
          At the heart of this travesty is a failure to get your priorities straight. Somehow these people have the idea that one right trumps another: Elián's right to grow up in freedom justifies stripping Juan Miguel of his right to manage his own affairs and that of his family.  
          You would hope that every child had the right to freedom instead of tyranny. Well I hate to burst your bubble but there is not one child on this planet who is truly able to exercise that right. On the other hand, most children do live in places where they can grow up without living in constant fear of the knock in the night. They can even live without much fear of the four horsemen who have dogged mankind from time immemorial (this fact is surely the greatest triumph of the free enterprise system). Both American children and Cuban children live in this middling condition: reasonably safe, reasonably healthy, reasonably well fed, neither wholly free nor living in chains. 
          Between the two, Americans are certainly richer than Cubans and do have the benefits, such as they are, of democracy. But still… the US is far from being free and, whatever some may like to think, Cuba is far from being an enormous prison. In fact, communists might actually have a few things to teach the country which likes to pose as the Land of the Free about how to treat its citizens. Americans have moved a long way from that noble ideal in these days where rights depend increasingly on accidents of birth and group affiliations instead of any abstract concept like « freedom » or « justice ». 
A family matter 
          Since this particular saga is about families, you might consider the experience of Mihai Meuset. In 1982 he was arrested for displaying a protest banner in his native Romania. Seventeen years later he again had occasion to come into contact with the law, this time in New York's family courts. As he says, « Romania sentenced me to two months in prison but at least I got to appear in court and talk to the judge. That's more than I got in Family Court ». To be more specific, the New York court expelled him from his home and family without so much bothering to tell him that he was on trial. This is how fathers are treated in today's America. It may not be surprising to find out that Meuset, despite his first-hand knowledge of communist Gulags, believes that it was right to return Elián to Cuba.  
     « Libertarians bleat in unison about all the ways that government denies them the right to manage their affairs as they see fit. In the next breath they refuse to accord this very same right to Juan Miguel Gonzalez. » 
          But the question of which country is freer is quite simply irrelevant. The issue is Juan Miguel's right to balance the relative freedom (or un-freedom) of the two countries against other factors which he thinks important. It is quite possible that we are not even aware the most crucial considerations. A basic tenet of information theory is that the person with the most knowledge about a particular problem should always be the one who takes the decision. Can anyone really be so arrogant as to believe he has more information about this particular decision than Juan Gonzalez? Or more right to make it? 
          Equally moot is whether the child would be better treated in Cuba or the United States. After the publicity of the past seven months, you can be assured that he will do just fine in either country. We really should ask which is worse: to grow up in a Cuban Potemkin village or in an American media fishbowl? Well, I don't know the answer to that question and I do not care what it is. One thing counts and one thing alone: Juan Miguel Gonzalez has the right to decide for himself what is best for him and his family. Mr. Gonzalez has clearly decided that his son should return with him to Cuba. What's more, he has made this decision of his own volition without (much) coercion from Castro. 
          Certainly the old dictator doesn't trust him very much. Gonzalez' refusal first to go to the US and later to go to Miami has the tyrant's fingerprints all over. But the bottom line is that Gonzalez had two months in which to ask for asylum, together with his new wife and his two children. He opted not to do so, choosing instead to return home as soon as he could. Castro probably had heavy influence over the exact sequence in which these events occurred but Gonzalez and his wife made the crucial decision – to return to Cuba. The rest just followed. 
          Did Gonzalez make this decision because he is afraid of reprisals against his friends and relatives? I doubt Castro would dare; even a dictator has to worry about public opinion and the entire world would be watching. Still Gonzalez may not agree with me about this so, for the sake of argument let's assume that he was indeed worried about the effects on his loved ones. If so, he has clearly decided that their needs are greater than his own. I can only congratulate him on his courage and sense of honour – his willingness to sacrifice himself and his family for the greater good of those around him. If Juan Miguel did make such a decision, it was his and his alone to make. 
This simple truth 
          Did Gonzalez want his son to go with his mother to Miami or was he kidnaped? This would have been an important question if the mother had survived (although it would never even have been asked – the American courts would have simply ignored the wishes of the father). But she didn't survive so this is another moot point. Juan Miguel may have known she was taking Elián to the States. He may have agreed with her decision to do so, given into it, or simply guessed what she did after the fact. I don't know and I do not care. I do know that Elián's only surviving parent has today decided that he belongs with the rest of his family in his native country. This is sufficient. 
          Did Juan Gonzalez make this decision because he is a commie bastard who wants his son to join the Young Pioneers and follow in the great leader's footsteps, treading with him on the backs of the oppressed Cuban people? Or maybe it's the exact opposite. Could Juan Miguel believe that the boy in the fishbowl will one day liberate Cuba from the dead hand of communism? I don't know and I do not care. Like any normal father, Gonzalez probably does have aspirations for his son. I hope they are a little nobler than to join the Pioneers but this is not for me to judge. In any case, Fidel Castro is now 74 years old. The odds are good that the boy will long outlast the dictator. 
          Actually, it would appear that politics is not really very important to Mr. Gonzalez at all. Whenever anyone asked him why he wanted to take his son back to Cuba, he invariably responded by taking a picture of his family out of his pocket. I believe him when he says that this is what is important to him. There are worse priorities to have. Whatever. It makes very little difference what I think. What counts is his judgement and his right to manage his own affairs and those of his family. 
          Why is it that libertarians, of all people, have such difficulty seeing this simple truth?  
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