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Jewish World Review Jan. 12, 2000 / 5 Shevat, 5760

Cal Thomas

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Elian Gonzalez libre --
A FLORIDA JUDGE has ruled there is sufficient evidence that 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez could be harmed physically and mentally should he be forced to return to Cuba. Gonzalez' mother and stepfather drowned while escaping from Cuba, and the boy was rescued after floating in the ocean for two days. Since his rescue, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has ordered the child returned to Cuba where his father, who has remarried, says he wants him back.

Among the several problems with this case is that we don't know whether the father is speaking of his own free will or is being coerced by Fidel Castro's government, which has launched a propaganda war against the United States. Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) have upped the ante. Smith says the boy told him through a translator he wants to remain with relatives in Miami. Burton subpoenaed Gonzalez and plans to hold a congressional hearing, further delaying his return.

There is a question whether the INS must obey the order of a state court, which has ruled the boy must remain in the temporary custody of his great-uncle in the United States at least until a March 6 hearing. In an election year, it is unlikely the Clinton administration would further anger Cuban-Americans and many Latinos by ignoring the judge's decision and deporting Gonzalez.

For people who support strong families this would normally be an easy call. A motherless child should be with his father, so long as he is not abusive and other circumstances are favorable. But the Cuban and American systems are not equal and little is known about the father.

Several questions should be asked before further action is taken. Friends of Gonzalez' mother should be interviewed, in Cuba if possible and in the United States for sure, so the courts might know why she left. What was the home situation like? What were the circumstances that led to the boy's parents divorcing? Was the father pressured into making statements calling for his son's return? At a minimum, the father should be interviewed in the United States so that it might be determined whether he is speaking freely.

Some with short memories may have forgotten what a classic Communist dictatorship looks like.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service Resource Information Center provides a helpful reminder. In a December 1998 report titled -- "Cuba: Systematic Repression of Dissent'' -- author Douglas Payne writes that "Cuba is aone-party Communist state, in which every Cuban is subject to a totalitarian system of political and social control .... Anyone deemed by the regime to be in opposition to (the Communist Party of Cuba, PCC) is regarded as a "counterrevolutionary'' and an `enemy' and is therefore at risk of punishment. The judicial system is constitutionally subordinated to the executive and legislative branches and under the control of the PCC.''`

The government's human rights record, notes Payne, began to worsen in 1996, and he quotes the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cuba concluding in his most recent report: "To be a dissident in Cuba is as difficult today as it has been at any time in recent years.''

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says, "There are no legal means for openly challenging the policies of the Government or Party, or competing as a group, movement, or political party organization for the right to govern, to replace the Communist Party and its leaders by peaceful means, and to develop new and different policies ... it is impossible to make open and organized criticism of the policies of the Government and the Party that might hold top leaders accountable or make them susceptible to being removed from office.''

The Castro regime, according to Payne's report, conducts electronic surveillance on its own people and blackmails or coerces "a widespread network of informers to spy on or forcibly intrude in the lives of any citizen for any reason, anytime, anywhere.''

The Clinton-Gore administration has committed a rare political blunder. It apparently cares nothing about the sacrifice of the mother and stepfather who gave their lives that this child might have a future of freedom. President Clinton says politics should not be a consideration.

Yes, it should, because it is all about politics: the politics of freedom and hope vs. the politics of repression and fear.

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