- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Sometimes a columnist just feels like saying "thank you" to her readers. That readers of The Washington Times are a very special group of people has always been clear from the letters and phone calls we receive, but I probably never really appreciated it fully until responses started flowing freely via e-mail, from our local subscribers as well as readers nationwide through the Internet.
One such moment of gratitude came over me on Sunday as I was looking over the columns in the Other Paper (a professional duty, of course; must keep an eye on the competition). An opinion article by foreign affairs columnist James Hoagland caught my eye, in part because I had been contemplating writing something of a similar nature myself. The topic of Mr. Hoagland's column was "The Elian Mail" of which there has indeed been a extraordinarily high volume here at The Times, no less so than at The Post.
Mr. Hoagland's readers were up in arms to be sure. But what they fumed about could not have been more different than what absolutely incensed readers of The Washington Times.
"Readers were upset by different aspects of the Cuban boy's plight," wrote Mr. Hoagland. "But they were nearly all united by a boiling rage that spilled across pages of lined notebook paper, engraved stationery or e-mail.
"Most took as their targets Elian's U.S. relatives or the Cuban American community in Miami. 'They got what they deserved,' was the general tone."
This is incredible. Instead of raging against Fidel Castro, whose dictatorship drives Cubans to flee repression in the most desperate way, Americans (or at least Americans who read The Washington Post and write to Mr. Hoagland) despise the Cuban-American community because they unflinchingly oppose Mr. Castro. The fact that none of them ever broke the law in relation to the Elian Gonzalez case, including Elian's Miami family, seems to have made no impression. (Of course, reading most press accounts or listening to the news, you would never actually know that was the case. The Post even took it upon itself to cast aspersions on Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman who rescued the little boy, accusing him, of all things, of being a phony and an impostor, a carpet cleaner actually.) Spanish-speaking or Caribbean immigrants allegedly resent the political power and affluence of Cuban-Americans. A majority of Americans apparently feels it's time to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and those troublesome Cuban-Americans just won't let bygones be bygones.
The responses received here at The Washington Times could not have been more different. Mostly, our readers were absolutely appalled at the abuse of government power on display on Easter Saturday when the raid went down in the early hours of the morning. They were deeply worried at what this means for the rule of law in the United States. Those sentiments have come not just from Cuban-Americans, but from many others as well. It is very good to know that there are still people in this country who care.
One reader, identifying himself as a "lifelong Democrat and Cuban-American," wrote, "I have long advocated returning the child to his father now that the father is in the U.S. However, the deceptive and brutal manner in which the government chose to achieve this goal is unacceptable to me and should have been unacceptable to the child's father." The reader goes on to describe this as as an "eye-opening, life-changing experience."
"This is not my America," wrote another reader. "I weep for Elian and all of the children who were in that home when the raid occurred. I weep for America."
An outraged mother saw an unscrupulous government deploying sinister propaganda tactics against its own citizens. "The government has abused their power to influence public opinion against an entire community of American citizens. This is the same government propaganda tactic used against terrorists or nations at war. The same propaganda Hitler used to justify his actions. This American community does not deserve such treatment. Where is the outrage?"
The daughter of a Holocaust survivor wrote to describe how horrified her mother had been as someone who had lived through Kristallnacht (when the Nazis destroyed the Jewish synagogues in 1939) and saw parallels in the Miami case.
Yet another reader, hailing from Iowa and identifying herself as a Potawatomi American Indian, was so troubled by what happened that she took it upon herself to educate other mothers about the raid. "I have started the conversation of how tragic the story of little Elian is at the grocery store, school, extracurricular activities, dinners, etc. I have yet to meet one other mother that knows more about this case than is on the networks and CNN."
The Elian Gonzalez case is not over yet, even though the U.S. government now has the boy and his family in seclusion. Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but it is not all of it. There is still time for the appeals court to rule and even for Congress to act, should Republicans somehow manage to locate their backbone. And there is still time for the rest of us to voice our indignation.
E-mail: bering@washtimes.com

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