- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

The United States Government is using its legal power and the plain threat of police power to send Elian Gonzalez back to Fidel Castro, a known killer who has written into law his custody over the minds and bodies of all Cuban children.

But the Clinton administration and all those who argued for the boy's return just ignored the reality that was at the center of the struggle for Elian Gonzalez's future, and the only reason for it: the nature of Mr. Castro, his rule and its goals.

Among those goals, and laws, are these: making the family subservient to the communist government, putting the regime's commands above parent or child, worshipping the leader above family, freedom, religion or relations with any other human being.

Dictators do these things to serve their overriding imperative: to protect their own rule and lives from the inevitable hatred of the people, which haunts them, never leaving.

President Clinton could ignore Mr. Castro's goals and laws because he and those around him fail to accept in their consciences, souls or policies the devastating impact of dictatorial rule on children and grownups who suffer under it.

So far, the support of American opinion has strengthened Washington almost to invincibility in its campaign for Mr. Castro's recapture of Elian Gonzalez. Born and sheltered in freedom, Americans keep forgetting what dictatorships do to the family, or do not want to remember.

Elian Gonzalez is now an instantly recognizable name in America. It is not only because he presents us with a dilemna would we ourselves choose our child's need to breathe free above his need for us. It is also because his mother risked and lost her life for his liberty and her son's. Now that he is in the America she sought, its government is determined to send Elian back to what she fled, and he will lose liberty, possibly forever.

That Mr. Castro is a killer is beyond question. We cannot say how many civilians he had shot these past four decades or made disappear, or who died during the life-sucking long sentences in hell-prisons. Or how many children, so dear to his heart, died under fire from his planes, sweeping over the rafts and rowboats of Cubans like Elian's mother trying to escape from the man. All told, the dead number thousands; how many Mr. Castro is too shy to say.

In my everlasting innocence, I am still stunned that Westerners, who would not touch or forgive the wanton killer of one person, find Mr. Castro very charismatic the fellow who killed thousands for uttering forbidden thoughts. I met him in New York, and asked whether, to get the American embargo lifted, he would allow a slight taste of democracy in Cuba. Believe me, neither he nor the scorn of his refusal were one bit charismatic.

The noted Nobel Prize laureate for literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, did not mention the murders in his article in the New York Times demanding the return of the boy. He found plenty of space to sneer at American society and its dangers to Elian but not a word for certain provisions in Cuba's "Socialist Constitution" and other laws pertaining to Mr. Castro's idea of how to raise a child.

The Cuban Constitution's Article 38 decrees that education and culture are to be directed toward promoting "communist formation" of new generations. Article 3 of Cuba's Code for Children, states that the objective for families, schools and all organizations, is that same "communist formation." And if the parents foster ideas departing from the official ideology as taught in schools or the Pioneers' Union, they shall face judicial charges for "hindering the normal development of the child." Elian had to join the Pioneers a year ago, when he was 5.

U.S. law permits seekers of any age to seek asylum. In Eastern Europe, where I was a correspondent during the years of communist rule, I knew people who begged foreign friends to take a child out. If God willed, they would follow someday.

Not knowing what our own choice would be, we should not arrogantly nullify a mother's sacrifice, cavalierly ignore the strengths of a free society in the growth of a child, and the suffocating power of a dictatorship in minds young or mature.

Without long and deep study of one question, the United States should not have even begun the drive to send Elian back to the control of a killer obsessed with controlling children. The question: Where will the boy best flourish and his mind grow rich?

Then the land of liberty might have answered "in freedom," as did those parents who could not achieve it themselves but did know its worth for their children.

A.M. Rosenthal is the former executive editor of the New York Times.

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