- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2000


In room 226 of the Senate Dirksen building Wednesday, Elian Gonzalez became, to many observers, a flesh-and-blood 6-year-old. Elian himself wasn't present but his cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, described to lawmakers, the press and other onlookers the boy's quirks and hopes and fears.
The testimony of Marisleysis and other witnesses before the Senate Judiciary Committee was emotional. It moved many in the room. This was particularly noteworthy in the case of Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont. Before the witnesses had spoken, Mr. Leahy expressed his objection to the hearing. It is unfortunate that Congress was "using domestic political institutions to undermine judicial authority for partisan gain," he said.
After the first panel of witnesses, including Marisleysis, had spoken, however, Mr. Leahy seemed to appreciate that the hearing had been held and took a position which will most likely surprise, and perhaps anger, some of his Democratic colleagues. Mr. Leahy recommended that Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, should travel to the United States accompanied by his wife and infant son so that he may freely express what he truly wants for Elian outside the control of Fidel Castro's coercive regime.
Mr. Leahy's recommendation was well-conceived. It balances an acknowledgment of the cruel repression of Mr. Castro's regime with respect for the intrinsic right of a parent over his child. It also puts the Cuban dictator on the spot something the White House and other lawmakers have bent over backwards trying to avoid.
It is difficult to identify what testimony inspired Mr. Leahy to make this most constructive suggestion. Perhaps it was Marisleysis' description of Elian's steadfast desire to stay in America and her plea to have his wish respected. Marisleysis said that in one telephone conversation with Elian's father he told her, "I appreciate everything that you are doing for my son. Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?" Marisleysis then gave her personal evaluation of Juan Miguel's predicament in Cuba. "I know that my cousin must be under a lot of pressure," adding, "He cannot tell the Cuban government that he knew his son was coming here because he has a wife and an infant son."
Elian's mother and stepfather died after their U.S.-bound boat capsized. Elian was rescued from the accident on Thanksgiving Day and was brought to Miami, where Marisleysis and her family have cared for the boy. They have filed for custody of Elian, but his father in Cuba has said he wants the boy returned to him.
In her own, gentle way, Marisleysis countered speculation that she and her family were striving to adopt Elian for selfish reasons. "All this family has done was to be there because his father could not come here," she said. "I also ask [God] to allow my cousin to be reunited with his son."
Mr. Castro should allow this father-son reunion to occur on U.S. soil as soon as possible. As Marisleysis said Wednesday, Elian needs his father's love. The young boy's custody shouldn't be decided, however, until his father and his new family have been brought to the United States, and it has been made clear they may stay if they like.
The president, Congress and people of the United States shouldn't grant Mr. Castro's dictatorship the moral equivalence of democratic governments. Elian is only one child, and it is true that there are many other people in need. However, the Elian case is a test of U.S. resolve and integrity and the White House shouldn't sell out this young life for political reasons. Cuba can't be treated like any other country.

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