- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Attorney General Janet Reno's judicially affirmed decision to deny 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez asylum in the

United States in lieu of a bovine life in Fidel Castro's ghastliness betrayed an innocence or delusion reminiscent of many liberals prone to mistake devils for deities.

Edgar Snow took a firsthand look at Mao Tse-tung and discerned an avuncular agrarian reformer, not a spiritual scion of Genghis Khan who would kill between 60 million and 80 million people without remorse. John Reed examined the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and perceived a future of paradise, not George Orwell's "1984." Herbert L. Matthews, hosted by Mr. Castro during the latter's rebellion against Fulgencio Batista, saw a benevolent social reformer like Jane Addams, not a megalomaniac bent on enslaving the entire Cuban population.

Miss Reno's disposition of Elian's asylum petition smacks of similar misperceptions, and last week's United States District Court ruling in Gonzalez vs. Reno (March 21, 2000) wrongfully sustained the error.

Elian arrived in the United States as an unaccompanied minor. His mother had perished during their flight from Cuba without the father, Juan Gonzalez. He sent a letter to the Cuban government requesting the return of Elian, maintaining the child had been illegally removed from the country without his consent. The request was transmitted to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Soon thereafter, Elian petitioned for asylum, speaking through Lazaro Gonzalez, his paternal great uncle who resides in Miami, Fla. U.S. immigration law empowers the attorney general to grant asylum if the applicant is "unable or unwilling to return to … [his home country] because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Elian alleged persecution was feared because of political opinion or social group membership.

What happened next should have set off alarm bells, even to the tone deaf. The Immigration and Naturalization Service dispatched an official to interview Juan Gonzalez in Havana to confirm the sincerity of his demand for Elian's return. During the first interview, Juan read from a handwritten statement asking for the withdrawal of Elian's asylum petition, which facially seemed more orchestrated than unscripted. The father woodenly stated the following: "Elian, at age of 6, cannot make a decision on his own… . I'm very grateful that he received immediate medical assistance, but he should be returned to me and my family. As for him to get asylum, I am not allowing him to stay or claim any type of petition; he should be returned immediately to me."

The INS official sensed a police state atmosphere, and worried that Juan's oral statements were monitored by Mr. Castro's henchmen. To frustrate that surveillance, the father was asked to complete a questionnaire seeking to elicit his genuine attitude toward Elian's asylum petition. His opposition remained adamant.

After some administrative skirmishing, Attorney General Reno denied Elian's petition because objective evidence failed to establish that his father's wishes were coerced or that the child would be persecuted if returned to Cuba. But don't those conclusions blink at the reality of communist dictatorships?

They indoctrinate their populations daily about the imperative of homage toward their communist superiors and of ostracism or worse against any non-true believer. The brainwashing is routinely successful, and inherently absurd confessions of treachery or guilt are often forthcoming. Just read Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon," or the transcripts of Josef Stalin's show trials in the 1930s, like the fawning but transparently false confessions of Nicholas Bukharin.

Juan Gonzalez needed no external coercion to ape Mr. Castro's preference for Elian's return, a slap in the face of the United States. He had been programmed from birth to do the same. He also knew what would happen if he paraded down the streets of Havana with a sign celebrating Elian's asylum petition, and it concentrated his mind wonderfully against such rashness. In other words, no Cuban citizen speaks about anything of concern to Mr. Castro unburdened by the coercive power or fear of his police state. Miss Reno's contrary conclusion betrayed a shocking naivete with grim consequences for Elian.

Similarly ill-conceived was attorney general's insistence that the child would be fearless of persecution based on political belief or otherwise if returned to Mr. Castro's clutches a crabbed and callous reading of a benevolent asylum law. True, children of 6 do not hold political opinions, so immediate persecution on that score is impossible. But with the certainty that tomorrow the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, Elian would confront instant and unforgiving political persecution in Cuba if he were permitted to think for himself as he aged. That knowledge should be sufficient to open the arms of asylum to Elian. Interpretations of statutes that accommodate cruelty or affronts to universally recognized human rights are sharply disfavored.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore, nevertheless, simple-mindedly concluded that the Attorney General's bow to the asylum wishes of Mr. Castro's likely surrogate, Elian's father, was neither manifestly contrary to law nor an abuse of discretion. An appeal is pending in the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where more reason and sophistication should prevail.



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