- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

The Elian Gonzalez saga appears to be coming to a close. While many Americans have been pleased to see the small boy reunited with his father, it has to be considered what kind of life Elian and his immediate family will be returned to. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has been a tireless and significant actor in the Elian affair from the start, exploiting the case for political gain. Should Elian return to Cuba, as now seems more likely, Mr. Castro will continue to hold considerable sway over the life of every one of them.

Yesterday, a three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that, as a minor, Elian was not entitled to an asylum hearing since such a proceeding would go against the wishes of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. The court upheld a January decision by the Immigration and Naturalization Service that said only Mr. Gonzalez could speak for his child. The INS decision "was within the outside border of reasonable choices," the court said elliptically.

The court's ruling wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the INS decision, noted Kendall Coffey, a lawyer for Elian's Miami relatives, who have tried to keep Elian in the United States. It simply stated that the INS had the authority to make policy on the Elian case and that the courts didn't have the jurisdiction to reverse it.

President Clinton said Thursday the case was "about the importance of family and the bond between a father and son." Mr. Clinton's observation is misleading, since granting Elian U.S. asylum would have given Elian the option of living in the United States, not the requirement to do so.

The court's ruling deals a blow to the relatives' efforts to win Elian U.S. asylum. Although they now have 14 days to ask the full court to reconsider yesterday's ruling, it seems unlikely the court would reverse the unanimous panel decision. The Miami relatives could also appeal the court ruling to the Supreme Court. For the time being, Elian's relatives have asked Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy for an order keeping the boy in the country until the high court reviews his case.

No one should underestimate the bond between father and son. And yet, consider the kind of world Elian will now grow up in if he does go back. In April, the U.N. Human Rights Commission condemned Cuba for its "continued violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms." As a child, Elian's education would mainly consist of indoctrination to the Castro system. He will be rigorously denied freedom of thought. In about four years, Elian would have to spend three months of the year away from home in forced-labor and military-training camps. Venereal disease and teen pregnancy run rampant in these camps. If he is raised as an ordinary Cuban child, Elian would be denied access to vital medications, since Cuba's health care apparatus is suffering severely from lack of funds.

It is a grim childhood. As an adult, the Cuban model hardly allows families to provide for their most basic needs. Religious people, including children, indure severe repression. The regime is the ultimate arbiter of what career one may choose.

In Cuba, only the regime has rights, and those rights are vast indeed. In order to ensure its own survival, it coerces its people into compliance, reaping power from their fear and grief. Indeed, the only happy ending to the Elian saga is for Mr. Castro to disappear.

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