The Sham And Shame Of The Elian Gonzalez Case

Time was when South Florida’s Cuban exiles and pandering politicians were satisfied with holding veto power over United States’ policy toward Havana. Until Fidel Castro dies off, went their mantra, the embargo lives on. End of discussion — unless anti-embargo voices actually enjoyed the irony of being shouted down by undemocratic demagogues draped in the American flag.

That such lethal leverage, made possible by political expedience and cowardice in Washington, was not in the best interests of the Cuban people or American businesses was incidental. That it was inimical to U.S. foreign-policy credibility was irrelevant. That it was numbskull dumb and perversely unpatriotic was ignored.

The anti-Castro vendetta that masquerades as principled policy toward Cuba, however, has reached a new low with the custody crucible of the shipwrecked Elian Gonzalez. The six year old was found lashed to an inner tube off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale on Thanksgiving morning, after his mother, her boyfriend and nine others had drowned. Now it’s the best interests of a traumatized child that are being sacrificed by the exploitative exile community.

The usual suspects, led by the reactionary likes of South Florida Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, became human velcro in attaching themselves to Elian. They cast him as a victim of Communism in a cold war custody battle between his Miami relatives and his father and two sets of grandparents in Cuba, who have played major roles in his upbringing.

In reality, he was more a victim of reckless endangerment, as his mother’s boyfriend jammed too many smuggled passengers — at $1,000 a pop — into his small aluminum motorboat.

Amid the propaganda firestorm of jingoistic rhetoric and a backdrop of intimidating demonstrations, Judge Rosa Rodriguez of the Miami-Dade Circuit Court has granted temporary custody of Elian to relatives in Miami. Interestingly enough, the consultant who ran her election campaign is also a spokesman for the custody-battling Miami Gonzalezes.

Just days before Judge Rodriguez’s non-conflict-of-interest decision, the Immigration and Naturalization Service had ruled that Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, was the only person it recognized as representing the child’s best interest and should expect him home in Cardenas, Cuba by January 14.

For a state court to blindside the federal government — in the form of an INS order — is a bizarre delaying tactic, likely not legal and a mockery of expeditious justice. But it could work. Although Attorney General Janet Reno says the Rodriguez order has “no force or effect,” the Clinton Administration may, in effect, not want to continue to play the heavy to influential, South Florida fanatics in an election year. A full evidentiary hearing isn’t scheduled until March 6. That’s two more bribery-filled months of ice cream utopia, video games, Nike sportswear, Disney World visits, Universal Studios tours, cell phones, Gap Kids duds and skewed views of daily life in America.

Legally and morally, this is equal parts sham and shame.

Under U.S. law, when one parent dies, custody of a child belongs to the other parent — absent evidence, such as neglect or abuse, that the surviving parent is unfit. Being a card-carrying Communist living in Cuba does not disqualify Juan Miguel Rodriguez from custody of his son. Even if he has a framed glossy of Che and a velvet Fidel in his home. There is no exemption from doing the right thing because Cuba is involved.

What Elian Gonzalez has needed once he had recovered from his ordeal at sea, was the love and security of family members who had raised him — not status as a tug-of-war trophy. He’s at the epicenter of an anti-Castro circus, a pawn between propagandists on both sides of the Florida Straits. He belongs, not to an ideology, but to a family and a father. He is a little boy, not a geopolitical icon.

To date, the irrational, intolerant, Cuban exile community is winning the war of words and warnings. It is inimitably aided by the political ploys of North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, Florida Senator Connie Mack and Indiana Representative Dan Burton. It is further fortified by the anti-Castro forensics of the Republican Six and the laissez faire-weather approach of the Administration and the men who would be the next Democrat elected president.

Oh, and Castro also wins. The Elian affair is propaganda manna for a dictator. He gets another welcome diversion to rally his island against the Yanqui bully that hypocritically equates material goods with family values.

When he was pulled from the sea, Elian had no idea he would later be thrown to the sharks.

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