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Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2000 /9 Adar 1, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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The unasked question

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- "WHAT, IF NOT FEAR, could keep a person from making a 30-minute trip to reclaim his son?"

This question was asked by Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, a Dominican nun and president of the college where Elian Gonzalez met with his aunts from Cuba. It is the key question that should have been asked by all those who are calling for this little boy to be sent back to his father in Cuba, in the name of parental rights.

We know what Elian's mother wanted because she risked her life to get it and paid the price. But we can never know what his father really wants, so long as he is still inside a totalitarian dictatorship. This is not rocket science. More than half a century of bitter history has made it painfully clear that people are not free to speak their minds under Communism.

Why pretend that we know what the boy's father wants? Or even what his grandmothers want, since they had a Cuban government escort with them all the time.

If Elian's father had come to Miami, accompanied by his family, and declared in open court that he wanted to take his son back with him, it is very doubtful if most Americans would oppose that. We might not agree with his father's decision, but most of us could accept it as a decision that he had a right to make.

The father would have to have his family with him when making such a declaration, since retaliation against any family members left back in Cuba would be certain if he said anything that went against what Castro wanted. After New York Yankee pitcher Orlando Hernandez escaped from Cuba, his brother was then prevented from continuing to play baseball there.

None of this is new. Hitler did it. Stalin did it. Mao did it. When will this brutal reality finally sink in on those who are infatuated with foreign despots?

When you think of all the illegal immigrants to this country who have been allowed to linger here for years, making a mockery of our court system with the help of left-wing immigration lawyers and activists, the Clinton administration's indecent haste to get this little six-year-old boy back to Cuba has been a painful spectacle.

Sending U.S. immigration officials to Cuba to interview Elian's father behind Castro's iron curtain would be a joke if it were not so obscene. The boy's father is no more free to speak his mind there than were the prisoners of war who were forced to meet with Jane Fonda when she visited Hanoi during the Vietnamese war.

Anyone who doesn't understand that is incorrigibly naive. And anyone who willingly goes along with Castro's charade is incorrigibly cynical. Nothing that Bill Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky was as corrupt as what he is doing now with the life of this little Cuban boy.

How you treat the helpless is the real test of morality. Lots of people are flunking that test big time.

Why is it so important to members of the Black Caucus and to groups like the National Council of Churches to send Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba? What is really important to them is the liberal agenda and the liberal vision of the world.

Politically, it is going to look bad if Elian stays and worse yet if his father and his family come over here to a custody hearing and defect. It would set back years of work that liberals have put in to prepare the public for official recognition of the Castro regime. Indeed, it would be a black eye for liberals in general for the role they have long played as "useful idiots" for Castro and other despots of the left.

An argument can be made that embargoes, such as that against Cuba, are wrong both morally and politically. An argument can be made that diplomatic recognition is nothing more than a pragmatic decision about who actually controls a given country. But no argument can be made publicly that a little boy is to be sacrificed on the altar to politics.

Instead, we get the creation of the appearance of parental and family desires to get Elian back in Cuba. If that desire were real, the boy's father could have come over on the same plane as his grandmothers, so that there would be no question as to what he really wants.

When Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin wrote of the "trembling, furtive looks" and "ice cold hands" of all the family members who met in her home with little Elian Gonzalez, she gave us a glimpse of what totalitarianism means in human terms -- and what freedom means, or should mean, to us all.


JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.

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