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Jewish World Review July 5, 2000 / 2 Tamuz, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Families and dictators -- IN ONE SENSE, the Elian Gonzalez story is over. In another sense, it may be years before it is over, in the sense that the truth finally comes out.

Given how young Elian Gonzalez is and how old Fidel Castro is, it may be only a matter of time before Elian will be free to tell the truth, though that time may be measured in decades. How long the Castro regime will last after Castro himself is gone is problematical. But Cuba has no tradition of freedom to assure that it will become a democracy any time soon.

The one thing that is clear already is that this case was not about parental rights, which do not exist in Cuba, nor about "the rule of law," which does not exist in the Clinton administration. Judging by the polls, the American people do not understand that.

Part of the problem is that most Americans have no conception of a totalitarian dictatorship or the ruthlessness with which they use family members as hostages. This is nothing new, but our schools and colleges teach so little history that the public can hardly be expected to understand what an old and widespread pattern this is, among dictatorships of the left or right.

Back in the 1930s, for example, Nazi agents were infiltrating the many German organizations in Brazil. Those Germans in Brazil-- many of them born in Brazil-- who opposed Nazi takeovers of their organizations were reported to the Hitler government and their relatives back in Germany were subject to visits from the Gestapo.

Castro has retaliated against the brother of baseball pitcher Orlando Hernandez of the Yankees, who defected from Cuba. The family of a woman who defected from China a few years ago has likewise faced retaliation. Against this background, there is much overlooked significance in the fact that Castro has never let the entire Gonzalez family come to the United States at the same time. First the grandmothers came over while father Juan Miguel Gonzalez stayed behind. Then Juan Miguel came over with his wife and one son, while the grandmothers and another son stayed behind. But Castro always had his hostages in Cuba.

Those who do not understand this will have a hard time explaining some very strange things that went on during this long struggle over the fate of Elian Gonzalez.

Let's go back to the beginning, when this little boy was rescued from the sea, after the boat he was on sank, drowning his mother and others on board. Those who believe that his father was saying and doing what he freely wanted to say and do must face the fact that, with his son hospitalized after this traumatic experience, in a city that could be reached within the hour from Havana, the father waited for months before coming to the United States.

If that was the act of a free man, then he must be one of the most unfit parents around. More likely, he was as unfree as all the other people in Cuba.

What about what Juan Miguel Gonzalez said, that these were "distant" relatives in Miami, people he barely knew, who were holding his son against his father's wishes? It was Elian's uncle on his father's side. Are uncles distant relatives?

What is even more telling is that telephone records show that Juan Miguel Gonzalez phoned these "distant" relatives, whom he supposedly barely knew, just about the time when Elian and his mother were making a desperate attempt to reach American soil. The Miami family said that he asked them to take care of Elian but the father denies this. In Cuba, he had better deny it.

Then there were those grandmothers who came over, publicly asking for the return of Elian to Cuba. Yet, a Dominican nun who saw them privately in Miami said that these grandmothers showed fear like she had never seen before. The nun was at first in favor of returning Elian to Cuba and was, moreover, a friend of Janet Reno. But once she saw the fear of those grandmothers, she concluded that Castro was calling the shots and she wanted Elian kept out of his clutches.

The famous midnight raid was what sealed Elian's fate. Far from being made to uphold "the rule of law," that raid was made right after a court ruling that opened the door to a hearing requesting asylum for Elian. By seizing the boy at gunpoint and turning him over to his father, Janet Reno and the Clinton administration silenced Elian, who must now say whatever the Castro regime wants him to say.

Those who want the truth will have to wait until Castro is gone.

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


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate