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Jewish World Review April 3, 2000 /27 Adar II, 5760 , 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Elian's fate --
THE SPECTACLE of the federal government of the United States giving a 6-year-old child the bum's rush toward the door is shameful and cruel.

Since every one of Bill Clinton's decisions is motivated by political interest, one must ask why, in the midst of an election year, this administration would risk alienating the Cuban-American community, a key to victory in at least two important states, Florida and New Jersey.

Mark Falcoff, writing in the April edition of Commentary magazine, offers one explanation. President Clinton recalls 1980, when Fidel Castro unleashed the Mariel boat lift on the United States. Thousands upon thousands of Cubans, many floating only on rafts, made the journey across the Florida Strait. Castro opened his jails and sent common criminals along with the refugees -- his special calling card. President Carter was damaged by the resulting turmoil.

If handing back one kid is the price Castro is exacting to keep the peace between now and November, President Clinton is more than willing to pay it.

It is remarkable that so many continue to see this case as a straight "international custody battle," as the press is always characterizing it. It is nothing of the kind. This is not a contest between two parents in different countries where jurisdiction is the issue. Nor does it appear that the wishes of the father and mother in this case differed.

The mother, as we know, gave her life to see to it that Elian would know freedom. His father, from all accounts, knew that his former wife and son were attempting the voyage to Florida and was glad that at least Elian had made it. Only later, when Castro began orchestrating all those "spontaneous" demonstrations in Havana and exerted heaven only knows what sort of pressure on Juan Gonzalez, did the father change his story and demand that Elian be returned to him in Cuba.

No, this is not a custody dispute; this is a grudge match between Fidel Castro and the United States, whether the U.S. government recognizes it as such or not.

Castro has personal as well as political reasons for making Elian's a cause celebre. His own 6-year-old son was spirited off to the United States by his ex-wife in the 1960s, and Castro nearly went to war to get him back. It is hard to say whether Castro is motivated more by communist ideology or simmering hatred for the United States. Certainly there has never been a conflict between the two. But he has made Elian's return a personal crusade -- a way to prove that life in Cuba is preferable to life in the United States.

It is tough to make this case when every year, thousands of ordinary Cubans attempt to escape his communist paradise. In 1998, the last time a visa lottery was held for Cuba, more than 500,000 people applied -- nearly 5 percent of the nation's population. And despite the danger from sharks and from Cuba's border control (which has been known to open fire with machine guns on refugees attempting to flee), thousands take to the sea every year in hopes of reaching Florida.

It isn't just economic privation that drives them -- though Cuba is among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, particularly since the annual $5 billion Soviet subsidy dried up. But it isn't just the shortages and the dirt (which Elian himself mentioned). It is the total repression. Each year since 1991, the United Nations has recommended a special human rights monitor for Cuba -- and every year Cuba refuses to cooperate.

Cuba maintains an estimated 100 prisons and prison camps holding more than 100,000 prisoners. Political prisoners are held together with ordinary criminals for crimes ranging from "counterrevolutionary activities" to owning a fax machine or photocopier. Reports of torture and killings among Cuba's political prisoners are common. According to a report by Freedom House, an independent human-rights monitoring group, "Freedom of movement and the right to choose one's residence, education or job are severely restricted. Attempting to leave the island without permission is a punishable offense."

Yet millions of Americans, including leading liberal politicians, say that Elian's mother's sacrifice should be in vain. The press speaks constantly of the Cuban American community's "hatred" for Castro, as though it were some sort of psychological problem. What they hate is tyranny. And it turns out that they cherish freedom far more than the president, the attorney general or the liberal elite.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate