- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2000

Images of American flags burning in Little Havana, Miami, have flared tempers in this country. The sad spectacle caused a deep impression on many Americans, especially since some of the culprits presumably were immigrants from Cuba, who have every reason to thank America for her hospitality.

Most Cuban-Americans understand that. Police officers said flag-burners were a minority among the protesters in Little Havana. Demonstrations test the democratic spirit of a country, but they often lure a deviant element. America shouldn't let the actions of a bad few define its attitude towards Cuban-Americans in general.

America stands, to most Cubans, as a revered symbol. Given the repression they were forced live under, Cubans who make it to America become champions of liberty and lawful society. It was precisely because of their American idealism that their reaction to the White House's legally questionable commando raid on the Gonzalez home was so strong.

But the unrest in Miami has prompted some Americans to question U.S. immigration policy towards Cubans. Cubans who arrive on U.S. shores are routinely given U.S. residency. This is in stark contrast to U.S. immigration policy towards most other aliens, who are summarily sent back if caught in the country.

Why give Cubans special treatment and why all the uproar over Elian Gonzalez? The answer is that U.S. immigration policy has always been based, at least in part, on generosity towards those who would face political or other types of persecution if sent back home. The plight of the Cubans under Fidel Castro's dictatorship has long provoked the indignation and sympathy of Americans.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission last week condemned Cuba for its "continued violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms." In a report released last month, Amnesty International said it "is concerned that certain punitive measures used by the Cuban Government to stifle dissent are becoming more frequent."

Real life anecdotes are often the best way to illustrate state repression. Amnesty gives the example of dissident Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez, a physician, who "has reportedly been detained over two dozen times since June 1998." On Aug. 14. 1999, he was detained after attempting to give a talk on civic resistance and was then reportedly beaten about the face and neck, burned with a cigarette, put in a single cell, forced to strip naked and beaten and kicked.

Later that year, Cuban authorities held him in a psychiatric hospital and were reportedly trying to carry out psychological tests on him. On Feb. 25, he was tried and found guilty of insulting the symbols of the homeland, public disorder and instigation to commit a crime after he tried to organize a protest march and hung the Cuban flag sideways in protest of the Castro regime.

Meanwhile, "Those who attempt to leave the country illegally … and are subsequently repatriated often encounter problems trying to find employment." This poses grave problems for Cubans, since all jobs are given by the state and it is difficult enough to subsist even with a job.

Children also have a tough time in Cuba. At about age 11, children are sent away to forced labor and indoctrination camps. Here, the beneficiaries of Cuba's "free education" work in the fields and are taught communist propaganda. Due to transport problems, many children see their parents only once every other month.

Cuban-Americans are intimately aware of Cuba's harsh reality. They are ethically opposed to returning any individual to an island prison from which they are not free to leave. This explains Little Havana's vehement opposition to sending Elian back to Cuba.

Cuban-Americans' protest of the raid on the Gonzalez home was an American reflex. The flag-burning, on the other hand, was inexcusable. But Cuban-Americans are overwhelmingly hard-working, law-abiding people. They inject the country with freedom-loving vigor. America must continue to open her door to them.

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