- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2000

Universal themes that propel fairy tales become a subtext for the Elian Gonzales saga. The conflict, now playing out, has been drawn as freedom vs. dictatorship, capitalism vs. communism, extended blood family vs. a state-imposed indoctrination program. All are valid.

Those who want Elian to stay here say he will live a life of opportunity to choose freely what he wants to be. Those who say he should go home with his father argue that a father's blood rights trump everything else.

While most of us believe a child should be raised by a blood parent rather than an extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins all things being equal there's a psychological fact that gnaws at this certainty. Not only is Elian returning as a "possession" of Fidel Castro's state, as a spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington put it, but the immediate family he is to join in Havana is made up of a father, stepmother and stepbrother. Nothing automatically makes this bad. Lots of step families get along just fine.

But it's no coincidence that stepmothers are suspect in children's literature. Running parallel with the theme of a troublesome stepmother is a weak father. We know from Cinderella that the stepmother favors her own daughters and the father is either absent, indifferent or powerless.

Psychologists analyzing fairy tales show how the themes contain elemental human truths, testifying to a child's fears on many levels.

You don't have to be a psychologist to understand how traumatized Elian is for having lost his mother, and how troubled he will feel entering his newly constituted family with a stranger as his "mother." This is the insight that Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, a Dominican nun, presented when she pointed out that Elian had successfully bonded with his 21-year-old cousin, and to send him home now, after months of emotional attachment, would be to disrupt another close and secure tie.

In the best of all possible worlds, Elian should live with his father and stepmother, but this is a family unit overwhelmed by Fidel Castro, a true villain to Cubans who live here and to everyone else who loves liberty. He is, literally, the Wicked Witch of the West.

Elian's father may not be personally weak, but he certainly is politically weak. This was made all the more credible by news that his parents have been placed in a government compound to protect them from the packs of journalists "for their own good." We all know how aggressive journalists are in Mr. Castro's Cuba.

Never has the personal been so political. Even a dullard can imagine what would happen to Mr. Gonzales' parents if their son seeks asylum for himself, his wife and his two sons in America.

For Elian's mother and the other Cubans who drowned with her in their pathetic flight across the Florida straits, the rough seas between Cuba and the coast of Florida are as formidable as the Berlin Wall in whose shadow so many East Germans died trying to escape. Would a child who survived the Berlin Wall and found security in an extended family in the West, have been sent back? The Pioneers, to which every Cuban child must belong, is not the Boy Scouts. It's there to brainwash children to teach allegiance to the state above devotion to family.

The demonstrators in Little Havana who want to keep Elian in Miami have not always conducted themselves by the rules of civil disobedience, but their passion drove them to it. While watching them speak out for keeping the boy, I was reminded of another time when when such passion was scarce indeed in these precincts.

On May 13, 1939, the St. Louis, a luxury liner on the Hamburg American line, left Germany bound for Havana with 936 passengers, all but six of them Jews. They sought safety after the frightening and bloody Kristallnacht, "the night of the broken glass." Each passenger had a visa to land in Havana, but Cuba refused to honor them. Cuban Customs agents demanded $1 million.

Newspapers and radio reports gave daily bulletins concerning the fate of the passengers, but it was impossible to raise the money as quickly as the Cuban government required it. Americans urged our country to intervene. Passengers on the ship sent a telegram to President Roosevelt, begging for help. They never got an answer. The secretary of state, like Pilate of old, washed his hands of the matter.

Said the New York Times: "We can only hope that some hearts will soften and some refuge will be found." Some hearts, some refuge. The passengers were sent back to Europe on the St. Louis and the Holocaust. God bless little Elian.

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