- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

Today is the new, unimproved Justice Department deadline for Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez to agree in writing to surrender the boy if they lose their legal appeals to keep him in this country.

As federal pressures push toward reuniting the boy with his father in communist Cuba, tensions understandably run high in Florida's Cuban-exile community.

Whatever happens, the Cuban-American community would be well-advised to keep public passions under control.

A breach of public safety and order, beyond passive resistance and peaceful protest, will constitute a major public-relations coup for Fidel Castro, both against the Cuban exile community and America as a whole.

And Mr. Castro recently has been playing a winning hand in the long, drawn-out struggle. Arrayed against those who wish to keep Elian here are both the Castro government in Cuba and the Clinton administration.

At long last, and as it suits the Maximum Leader, Mr. Castro has agreed to allow Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, to journey to the United States to retrieve his son. This depends, however, on U.S. courts and authorities making a final determination in favor of the father and moving to carry it out. (A kinder, gentler heart might have opened this door out of Cuba much earlier, but that wouldn't have roiled the crowds in Havana.)

Local authorities in the Miami-Dade County area have warned they will not provide police backup to facilitate removal of the boy from his Miami relatives' home or his repatriation to Cuba. This may be a politically savvy move on one level, but it has raised the risks.

Whatever occurs, the last thing we should wish is that someone anyone would meet with physical harm. Mr. Castro last week warned that the Miami Cuban community is in his eyes so dangerously committed against repatriation of the boy that it might impair his safety. The exile community must scrupulously avoid lending any credence to such a disturbing suggestion. One exile group leader has duly warned that "whoever commits any violent act will be denounced."

It is to be hoped, as even President Clinton has commented, that the Gonzalez family in Miami will be permitted to explore all legal appeals and civil remedies.

Elian Gonzalez has been caught up in much excitement since his rescue from an inner tube last Thanksgiving Day. He has been compared poetically to a young Moses, found in the equivalent of a float of bulrushes and saved by a compassionate Pharoah's daughter. But he must not become a sacrificial lamb, either to the exigencies of U.S. relations with a foreign state or the emotions and fervor of the crowd. He must not be made a victim or witness of mayhem.

So much depends on the tone and tenor of his reunion with Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Perhaps the boy will run joyfully to his father. In any event, Mr. Gonzalez should be received politely in the United States, even by those who dislike or question his coming for the boy. The son cannot be well served by a public dishonoring of the father.

Perhaps, absent an act or Congress, or even the will to act, or even the sentiment of the majority of the public to pursue such action, we approach a legal cul-de-sac.

But last Thursday, Vice President Al Gore broke ranks with the administration and expressed support for legislation sponsored in Congress by Sens. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, and Bob Smith, New Hampshire Republican, to provide permanent resident status to Elian and his family. Mr. Gore earlier favored resolution in the courts. Perhaps in a bold bid for votes in heavily Cuban-American precincts in New Jersey as well as Florida, he said Thursday, "It now appears that our immigration laws may not be broad enough to allow for such an approach in Elian's case." Then on Friday, Elian's father wrote to Senate leaders urging the proposal's rejection.

Let us always remember: Whatever the outcome, we must hope Elian will continue his life in safety, surrounded by people who love him. It would appear he has an abundance of such people, perhaps in both countries.

It is, moreover, to be hoped against hope that Mr. Castro will not continually work to thwart or deform the development of this young boy and that, however long Mr. Castro himself may encumber the Earth, tyranny will not have a hold on Cuba very much longer.

There is hope for Elian, wherever he goes and wherever he lives. For the memory, the experience and the possibility of freedom can never be extinguished in his heart, nor utterly in the hearts and souls of the Cuban people.

Mr. Castro represents the past; he is the long antipathy to the United States; he is the Revolution. Elian is the future that has come to us in such a poignant, unexpected way on a Thanksgiving Day; in him is the possibility of resolution.

Wherever he lives, among us or removed from us, a part of us must go forth in good will to the Cuban people yearning to breathe free. And even if the authority of law in the eyes of some of us violates our better selves, we must still say: Hold on, for a better day is coming, and won't be as long in coming as it has been. Then we shall once again walk unhindered in your midst and you shall be free to return and walk unfettered in ours.

Benjamin P. Tyree is deputy editor of the Commentary pages of The Washington Times.

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