- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2000

The debate over Elian Gonzalez continues

Although I have reluctantly supported the idea of returning Elian Gonzalez to Cuba because of my belief in the paramount nature of parental rights, I have changed my mind. New facts have come to light that dramatically shift the balance in favor of keeping this young boy in the United States ("Elian 'a possession' of state, Cuba says," April 5).

The new facts came from the mouth of Luis Fernandez, a spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. "[Elian] is a possession of the Cuban government." Once the transfer takes place, "no other entity can remove this."

I supported the return of Elian on the principle that parental rights should always prevail in these kinds of situations. Children belong to families, not governments. But this new statement from the Cuban official shows what will happen to this boy upon his return. He will not return to an admittedly difficult nation to be raised and guided by the will of his father, but is a mere "possession of the Cuban government."

What should have been done if a young slave mother and son had tried to escape from a Southern plantation before the Civil War? Suppose the mother died trying to cross the Potomac. If the father, a free black living in the South, were to petition for his son, the father should have gotten custody even though living as a free black in the South would have been fraught with difficulties. But if a slave owner claimed, "I own the father; send me back the son because he is also my possession," that young boy should not have been sent back into slavery.

If Elian were just a son, he should be sent home to his father, but our country denies all that is right if we send back Elian as a slave, "a possession of the Cuban government."

MICHAEL P. FARRIS

Purcellville, Va.

Michael Farris is a constitutional lawyer specializing in parental-rights in education.

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Most of us Americans know how good we have it. We recognize the rich assortment of rights, privileges and opportunities with which we are endowed. As such, we feel great sympathy when others seek out America as a refuge from a hostile land. All of us felt such sympathy for a small Cuban boy when he arrived on our shores. Subsequently, we have been barraged with media coverage about the boy wonder. With the exception of the Cuban-American minority in this country, most of us are tired of all things Elian.

Please pardon the short attention span of the rest of us, but we know the story. It has never been about what is right for the child. He is nothing but a tool for the minuscule anti-Castro movement and two-faced politicians. Elian has dominated the headline-hungry media and saturated our thoughts. Give him to his dad and let's move on already.

MICHAEL VAN ALSBURG

Arlington

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When you write about the "real wishes" of the father of Elian Gonzalez, I get the impression that you believe he does not really want his son back ("Justice denied," Editorial, March 27). I am sure he loves his son and would not look forward to the prospect of Elian's being so highly inaccessible. This case seems very simple to me. Parents always should have first rights to their children unless they lose that right by being abusive or neglectful. This situation should have ended quickly, four months ago, with the return of Elian to his father in Cuba.

AMY ALEXANDER

Silver Spring

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Thank you for your editorial on Elian Gonzalez ("How to help Elian," March 31). It was refreshingly unbiased and candid. I was merely 9 years old and my sister 6 years old in 1960 when we were separated from our Cuban parents. I have a vivid recollection of our reunion more than a year later at the Miami airport. My father's affectionate hugs and my mother's kisses that evening will remain forever a most cherished memory.

The Cuban-American community in Miami and indeed throughout our country historically has been law-abiding. We love this great country of ours. We know what it means to lose our freedom, our homes, our relatives, indeed our way of life. America is the greatest country on earth. Miami is a great city where Americans from different backgrounds live and work together the American way. This cannot change. This will not change. Not here, Fidel Castro, not ever.

Yet based upon our unfortunate experiences under an oppressive communist government, we have certain perceptions. To Cuban Americans, Elian's father is being coerced. He fears for his and his family's safety in Cuba. It would mean prison or even death not to obey the Castro regime's orders. Elian's grandmothers were doing the same during their visit.

Your editorial makes a great deal of sense. Elian's father must have a private meeting alone with his family. Give him an opportunity to be with his wife and child in a place where he may speak the truth, where he can explain to his uncles whether he is voicing his own opinion or speaks in fear of retaliation on the family left in Cuba. Have the press be the watchdog of the ones left behind. Don't let Castro keep us in the center ring of the infamous Castro Circus while he cracks down on dissidents, jails opponents and murders freedom lovers in Cuba.

MILLIE VAZQUEZ

Coral Gables, Fla.

Georgetown responds to article, letter in The Times

It is unfortunate that The Washington Times did not speak to me or anyone from my staff for the article "Georgetown alumni hit firing of columnist" (Metropolitan, March 30). Perhaps then you wouldn't have written an inaccurate and incomplete story.

Robert Swope is no longer a columnist for the Hoya because he showed a disregard for the people and editorial procedures of our newspaper, not because of his criticism of a campus production.

Mr. Swope consistently turned in columns twice as long as the space we afforded him. He would not share the subject of his columns with his editor a request we make of all our columnists so we can plan a comprehensive section (by coordinating packages or editorial cartoons, etc.). Mr. Swope also repeatedly ignored the policies set forth by the Hoya's opinions editor.

His dismissal had nothing to do with the subject of his column. Regarding his column on "The Vagina Monologues," we did not tell him we would not run it, just that we intended to hold it a week because he had recently written a column about women's studies.

The Hoya invited him to submit another column for that edition. We had no intention of not running the "Vagina Monologues" column. He met this request with an attack on the newspaper, and given the disregard he consistently had shown toward the Hoya's policies and procedures, his column was discontinued.

The Hoya strives to maintain a forum for free speech and vigorously protects the right to free expression.

It is unfortunate that The Times did not present the situation accurately and completely. Your readers deserve that much.

DAVID J. WONG

Editor in chief

The Hoya

Georgetown University

Washington

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In her April 5 letter, "Exit of Georgetown president eagerly anticipated by group," Ann Sheridan, president of the Georgetown Ignatian Society, in usual form presents an inaccurate and skewed view of Georgetown University's president, the Rev. Leo J. O'Donovan. This is particularly true in the area of his support of Georgetown's Roman Catholic and Jesuit identity.

Father O'Donovan has worked tirelessly to renew and enhance Georgetown's Catholic identity in the past 11 years.

During his tenure, Georgetown launched a Catholic studies initiative, expanded religious retreat programs and earmarked $45 million from its unprecedented Third Century capital campaign toward investment in further initiatives related to Georgetown's Catholic and Jesuit community, including creating five endowed chairs in the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Georgetown's faculty, academic programs, campus ministry, fund raising and athletics, to name a few important areas, have never been stronger.

The indisputable facts not the misrepresentations of a biased observer will bear out Father O'Donovan's true legacy at Georgetown.

DANIEL WACKERMAN

Assistant vice president for communications

Georgetown University

Washington

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In her April 5 letter, "Exit of Georgetown president eagerly anticipated by group," Ann Sheridan, president of the Georgetown Ignatian Society, in usual form presents an inaccurate and skewed view of Georgetown University's president, the Rev. Leo J. O'Donovan. This is particularly true in the area of his support of Georgetown's Roman Catholic and Jesuit identity.

Father O'Donovan has worked tirelessly to renew and enhance Georgetown's Catholic identity in the past 11 years.

During his tenure, Georgetown launched a Catholic studies initiative, expanded religious retreat programs and earmarked $45 million from its unprecedented Third Century capital campaign toward investment in further initiatives related to Georgetown's Catholic and Jesuit community, including creating five endowed chairs in the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Georgetown's faculty, academic programs, campus ministry, fund raising and athletics, to name a few important areas, have never been stronger.

The indisputable facts not the misrepresentations of a biased observer will bear out Father O'Donovan's true legacy at Georgetown.

DANIEL WACKERMAN

Assistant vice president for communications

Georgetown University

Washington

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