Jewish World Review Dec. 10, 1999 /1 Teves, 5760
Send Elian back to Cuba and he'll end up Jose
I WENT TO CUBA two years ago, so I know what's at stake in the
international custody battle over little Elian Gonzalez. If he's returned to
Castro's clutches, Elian could become the desperate young man I met my last
evening in Havana.
On Nov. 25, the 6-year-old was found clinging to an inner tube, floating
off the coast of Florida. His mother, stepfather and nine other would-be
immigrants perished when the boat in which they were fleeing the workers'
Fidel -- who wavers between whining about the embargo and doing everything
he can to validate his ongoing isolation -- demands the boy's return,
supposedly to reunite him with his father. The dictator threatens massive
street protests (yawn) if America doesn't comply.
You see, the Maximum Leader is a family-values kind of guy. He can't stand
the thought of parents and children being seperated. Castro's own daughter,
Alina Fernandez, escaped with a forged Spanish passport in 1993. Given that
she refers to dear, old dad as the "executioner," he probably doesn't want
While they're shaking their fists on command, many of Fidel's dragooned
demonstrators will be silently praying that the child gets to stay with his
"kidnapers," as Castro calls the lad's rescuers.
Elian can't be returned without a judicial hearing. (His Miami relatives
are seeking custody.) Unlike Cuba, this is a nation of laws, where even
non-citizens get due process.
If his father wants to come to Florida and argue the case for bringing
Elian back with him to the slave state, he will be heard. If he's indigent
(the average Cuban would have to strive to rise to the level of indigence),
a court-appointed attorney will be provided.
Although it is within their power, it would be a travesty for the courts to
send Elian back to Cuba. I know what his life will be like there. I've seen
the gulag up close.
There's no future on the island.
After 40 years of doctrinaire Marxism, its economy stands in ruins. The
average Cuban earns the equivalent of about $20 a month. If he's really
smart and ambitious, and becomes a professional, Elian could make a whole $7
a week as a doctor or engineer -- providing he can find employment.
Unless he's one of the elite who's paid in hard currency (allowing him to
shop in special "dollar stores" reserved for tourists and the privileged),
he'll live on a near-starvation diet and experience the chronic shortages of
basic necessities that are a way of life in Castro's Cuba.
In elections, he'll get to choose between the Communist Party candidate
and -- no one. If he expresses unorthodox opinions (say, in favor of human
rights), he'll lose his job and goons from the Committees for the Defense of
the Revolution or Rapid Deployment Brigades will stop by to correct him with
fists and clubs, or trash his home.
Even before he reachs maturity, Elian will experience the joys of
Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba explains that Cuban kids are
indoctrinated from nursery school. In first grade, "children learn to read
by reciting 'F as in Fidel,' 'R as in Raul' (Castro's brother and heir
apparent), 'G as in guerrilla.'"
Maybe he'll be accepted into the Communist Pioneers, where he'll learn to
rat on relatives who express subversive views. In Cuba, his only option will
be joining the oppressor class or the oppressed class. He mother died so
Elian wouldn't have to make that horrible choice.
The young man I met near the Hotel Nacionale during my visit to the island
knew exactly what he wanted -- out. Handsome, funny, fluent in several
languages, Jose came to Havana from a farming community to study chemistry
then decided there was no future as a chemist, or anything else, in Cuba.
After a casual conversation, he opened up in a way that subjects of a
police state shouldn't. "Man, you gotta get me out of here," Jose pleaded.
"I can't breathe. I don't want to end up like them," he said, pointing to
middle-aged people shuffling by. "They're zombies. They have no hope, man --
I gave him $10 (lunch money for me, two-weeks' salary for the average
Cuban) and the name of someone in the U.S. Interests Section, our ersatz
embassy in Cuba, who might help with a visa.
Send Elian Gonzalez back to that? If they try, Cuban Americans should stop
the boy's plane from taking off by lying down on the runway. At 73, Castro
could hang on another 15 years, long enough for Elian to become
JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.
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©1999, Creators Syndicate