Elián’s Future in Cuba


Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a loyal Democrat supporting the Reno capturing of Elián, told the April 24 New York Post that attorney general Janet Reno was “clearly dealing with fanatics” in that house.

Through the years, I have followed the cases of a number of Castro’s political prisoners. One, Armando Valladares, spoke in April at Duke University. In prison for 22 years because he refused to place a card on his desk attesting to his fealty to the government, he told the student newspaper, The Chronicle, of “the urine and excrement from other prisoners the guards dumped on his face while he slept . . . and the fungus that grew on his body up to his eyes.” (This was reported in the April 21 Wall Street Journal.)

In the April 16 Miami Herald, Tom Fiedler wrote: “What ultimately will matter is the ultimate fate of this six-year-old boy. I have no doubt the name Elián González will ever loom large.”

But what of the father? The loving father? Democratic Congressman David Bonior of Michigan is an actual liberal. He fought hard against NAFTA and is leading the battle against Clinton’s bill to give China a permanent trade relationship. And he has introduced a bill to overturn an act allowing the use of secret evidence in attempts by Reno’s Justice Department to deport “undesirable” aliens.

Appearing on Chris Matthews’s Hardball (MSNBC-TV), Bonior insisted that Elián must be returned to his father. Matthews asked him if Bonior’s commitment to a father’s rights would extend to a father under the Third Reich who wanted his son back in Germany. Bonior said his position would be the same.

In the continuing debate about the future of this six-year-old, there has been an agreement—among most liberals, many conservatives, editorial writers, and columnists of otherwise diverse views—that bonds of blood must prevail.

Every poll I’ve seen shows that the populace at large feels the same way, particularly black Americans. A Miami Herald/NBC poll in the Miami area reported that 76 percent of white non-Hispanics and 92 percent of black non-Hispanics want the boy to go back to Cuba with his father. Nationally, a great majority approved of the April 22 taking of the boy.

Omitted from most of the discussions I’ve heard—including comments by friends of mine who fiercely opposed Stalin, Franco, and now rail against the butchers of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square—is the ultimate fate of this six-year-old boy.

On April 18, The New York Times reported that Elián would eventually live in a state-owned house which would also function as a school for Elián and “12 classmates, relatives, doctors, and psychologists.” The boy, said a Cuban psychologist, needs time to “readjust.” George Orwell wrote a book about that kind of state-controlled “readjustment.” It’s titled 1984.

But even if Elián were to be placed in a regular Cuban school, he would be under the constant eye of Big Brother. Article 5 of Cuba’s Law No. 16 of the “Children and Youth Code” mandates that “all adults who come in contact with the child set an example and help mold the child’s ‘communist personality.’ ”

Article 8 “protects the child from influences contrary to communist development.”

In his book, Cuba, Mito y Realidad: Testimonios de un Pueblo (Saeta Ediciones 1990), Juan Clark, professor of sociology at the Miami-Dade Community College, describes the cumulative dossier kept on every student in Cuba. Along with the record of the student’s academic, political, and religious development, the dossier focuses on his or her participation in such mass organizations “as the Communist Pioneers, the Union of Communist Youth, and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.”

The last organization consists of block-watch committees. And Tom Fiedler of the Miami Herald tells me, as have others who study Cuba, that students are encouraged to keep an eye on their parents’ deviations from the true faith. The question about returning a child to his father in Germany under the Third Reich is not entirely inapposite.

The child’s school dossier “includes, on an annual basis, in a quantitative form, the level of ‘ideological integration’ of the parents.” The child can contribute to that analysis.

Moreover, as Pascal Fontaine reports in the comprehensively annotated The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press, 1999):

“To control the population, the Dirección Special del Ministerio del Interior (DSMI) recruits chivatos (informers) by the thousand. The DSMI works in three different fields: One section keeps a file on every Cuban citizen; another keeps track of public opinion; the third, in charge of the ‘ideological line,’ keeps an eye on the church and its various congregations through infiltration.”

How come such devoted supporters of returning the boy to his homeland as Charlie Rangel and Senator Patrick Leahy do not mention that iron bars are not always essential to a prison?

Also neglected in this debate is a letter, written by Daniel Shanfield, a staff attorney with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and published in the April 2 New York Times:

“Although Elián’s father has spoken in this case, there will be circumstances in which the child’s right to seek protection in the United States outweighs the wishes of a parent. Around the world, in places where domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, and honor killings persist, there are parents incapable of protecting their young from persecution—or who may in some cases be complicit in the persecution.

“Are we really prepared to send these children back to their countries without an independent adjudication of whether they might face danger back home? To do so would set a dangerous precedent for other refugee children who need and deserve our protection.”

Clinton and his shadow attorney general were in a rush to avoid a careful, independent adjudication of Elián’s fate. Both Reno and Clinton should read the April 18 condemnation of Cuba by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. It cited that nation’s “continued violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

And now, on May 11, thanks to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Elián may finally have his real day in court—and may yet live in freedom, unless sent back by Clinton, Reno, and public opinion.