- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Politics are closing in on the life of Elian Gonzalez. The 5-year-old Cuban boy was found on Nov. 25 clinging to an inner tube off the coast of Key Biscayne, Fla. He and 12 other Cuban refugees were aboard an overloaded power boat that sank on its way to the United States. His mother and stepfather perished on that boat.
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has demanded that Elian be returned to his father in Cuba and is trying to exploit the case politically to villainize the United States. In a none-too-threatening gesture, Mr. Castro has called on Cubans to take to the streets to demand the boy’s freedom. The dictator said he would launch “a battle for world opinion” to get the child back to Cuba.
Perhaps the Elian case provides just the right opportunity to instead turn the spotlight back on Cuba. Revealing a flair for almost comic hypocrisy, the president of the Cuban so-called National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, said, “Once again the United States government has violated the basic principles of law and respect for human dignity thus insulting the child’s father, a modest Cuban worker, and his grandparents.” Cuban officials would be wise not to bring up the issue of human dignity. If human dignity is so marginalized in the United States, then why would 13 Cubans risk their lives in order to reach U.S. shores?
Mr. Castro’s government has systematically coerced and intimidated the Cuban population. At every turn, the dictator has crushed the right to free speech, the freedom of the press and the right to pursue economic prosperity, if not a livelihood. What respect did Mr. Castro have for the human dignity of the four dissidents who were sentenced to jail earlier this year in a closed trial for criticizing the Castro regime?
Those four dissidents are just one of many examples. The U.S. court that will preside over Elian’s case must consider the fact that in Cuba, Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, simply doesn’t have the liberty to state what he really wants for his child, especially since he is a member of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party. Relatives of Elian living in Miami have told reporters that the boy’s father had at first told them he was happy for his son to stay in the United States, only later “changing his mind.” He seems to have come under some powerful suggestion.
The Elian case has become so politically significant that presidential hopeful John McCain was asked about it on Sunday. Striking just the right position, Mr. McCain said “If you're concerned about this father and son being reunited, send his father to Florida. I’m sure he'd be glad to come.” This proposal is sensitive to a father’s custody right while at the same time protecting Elian’s well-being. Furthermore, it would end confusion over what Mr. Gonzalez really wants for his child.
The boy’s great-aunt and great-uncle in Miami have petitioned Florida state courts to have permanent custody of him. If the father refuses to come to the United States, the boy’s Miami family should win custody. Elian spent two days on an inner tube without food or water before two men on a fishing trip found him three miles off Key Biscayne on Thanksgiving morning. After his courageous fight to stay alive, Elian deserves to live with human dignity in the United States.

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