- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2000

How could have the INS more badly handled the case of 6-year-old Cuban boat-wreck survivor Elian Gonzalez?

The Immigration and Naturalization Service deferred a pre-Christmas hearing on Elian's case until Jan. 21, while stipulating it could make a decision "at any time," presumably obviating the need for any hearing.

But suddenly on Wednesday, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner ruled that the boy should be returned to Cuba by a week from today, evidently without further ado. Elian, rescued at sea after the refugee boat carrying him capsized with the loss of life of his mother and stepfather, has spent six weeks with relatives in Miami, who wish him to remain with them.

Earlier, U.S. officials were pushing for the boy's father, who has sought custody of Elian, to come from Cuba to Miami. But the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has in the past refused to make the trip, saying it is "unnecessary" for him to do so, and that the United States is obliged to return the boy without the father going to Miami. His statements echoed those of the Cuba's communist government.

More recently, Havana has said Mr. Gonzalez is "in principle" free to go to Miami to retrieve his son, although it has "advised" him against doing so, and there is no word yet whether he has applied for or been granted an exit visa to make the trip. The Cuban government had said Mr. Gonzalez should not travel to Miami, in any case, prior to an INS decision on the boy's disposition.

So the timing of the Meissner ruling seems a gesture of accommodation to the conditions set out by the Cuban government.

In this, the U.S. government sets itself up to play the "heavy," at least in the perceptions of much of its own public at home and perhaps of the Gonzalez boy himself.

Imagine, if you will: The United States could have insisted that the boy's father be present for any final determination. If Elian were to be sent back to Cuba that decision might have taken place in the controlled environment of an INS hearing room in the midst of a joyful father-son reunion.

Instead, there is the awful prospect of Elian being seized from the Gonzalez relatives who have been sheltering him in Miami's Little Havana, in the midst of wails, weeping, massive protests, and more trauma.

Then, presumably, he is to be routed back to Cuba in the company of INS or Cuban officials, impersonally like an item of misplaced property routed from a baggage carousel to Havana.

In Cuba, he likely will be put on even greater display than he has been in the U.S.: This time in the manner in which Roman legions once brought wild animals into the City on Seven Hills to show the populace what wonderful new worlds owed allegiance to the sacred person of the emperor.

Elian predictably will be squelched, if he pipes up too positively about his experiences and observations in America. "Little Elian," his teachers will predictably chide him good-naturedly at first "was only shown the best things in the United States, and so he thinks it is a wonderful place. But he was not shown the poverty or the slums." Yes, the same slums that Mikhail Gorbachev once offered would pass as perfectly acceptable housing in Moscow or Havana, need we add.

Fidel Castro at the moment seems to be in charge of events. Commissioner Meissner's ruling reportedly took into account Cuban family law. It seems we cannot consult the wishes or interests of a 6-year-old (a problematical situation at best), but we can consult the "laws" of a state with which we have an unfriendly relationship, and whose legitimacy as a government we hardly accept.

Mr. Castro perhaps presented his own early and bombastic role in demanding the boy's return as counter-pressure against resistance orchestrated by Miami's politically influential Cuban-American community. But his ungracious overescalation of emotion in the issue has only showcased his own personal shortcomings as well as those of life under his ever-present thumb in Cuba.

Benjamin P. Tyree is deputy editor of the Commentary pages of The Washington Times.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide