- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000

Juan Miguel Gonzalez has requested a visa to travel to the United States to claim his son Elian. To most, a reunion between a long separated father and son would be a solemn, family affair. But if Fidel Castro gets his way, this long awaited reunion will instead be an affair of the Cuban state.

On Sunday, Mr. Castro said on national television that 27 people have requested U.S. visas to accompany Mr. Gonzalez. Mr. Castro joked that the 12 first-graders who applied for travel to the United States formed a powerful "commando." "Not even the Pentagon can handle these kids," he added.

Joking aside, Mr. Castro's words seem unsettlingly accurate. Clearly, the Cuban dictator is aiming to ensure that Mr. Gonzalez is surrounded by Cubans during his stay in the United States in order to prevent a potentially humiliating defection. Reading from a letter written by Elian's father, Mr. Castro said that Mr. Gonzalez would be willing to travel to the United States alone right away if he was promised immediate custody of his child upon his arrival. Under this scenario, the opportunities for defection are minimal. If the process of custody promised to become lengthy, however, then Mr. Gonzalez would ideally travel with an entourage of 27 people, said Mr. Castro. Clearly, Elian's father would have better prospects for defecting if he were to stay in America for a longer time hence the need for the company.

Ricardo Alarcon, for example, president of the Cuban National Assembly and lead cheerleader for the Castro regime, has applied to accompany Mr. Gonzalez to the United States. Mr. Alarcon has no relevance to the Elian case whatsoever and would surely be acting as an agent of Mr. Castro.

Fortunately, the State Department has wisely granted only six visa requests to Elian's father, stepmother, infant half-brother, young cousin, pediatrician and kindergarten teacher. No more visas are needed. U.S. officials said that the other requests are under review, but hinted that it is unlikely they would be granted.

"The point here was to try to make it a group that is really useful to the child," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Tuesday. "We have to keep the interests of the child central here." It is refreshing, though somewhat belated, to hear from Mrs. Albright that Elian's well being, rather than the state of U.S.-Cuba relations is at stake here.

After the State Department downplayed the prospects for the other visa requests, Mr. Gonzalez's travel plans were suddenly and mysteriously delayed. "We don't know because it depends on the assurance that he will receive temporary custody of his child," Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, the head of Cuba's interest section in Washington, said on Tuesday when asked when Juan Miguel Gonzalez would come to the United States. As this page went to print, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said it would be issuing a statement on the case. Mr. Castro isn't comfortable with Mr. Gonzalez's travel to America if his movements aren't shadowed by a cumbersome entourage.

The degree to which Mr. Castro has inserted himself into every aspect of the Elian case is a chilling indication of what the boy's life would look like in Cuba. This should come as no surprise, however. Mr. Castro has led a brutal dictatorship for over 40 years. Cubans are subjects, not citizens. They are watched over by an unforgiving thought police. If he is returned to Cuba, Elian would be closely scrutinized and vigorously indoctrinated.

For many Americans, these are noteworthy concerns. Others, however, would treat communist Cuba like the moral equivalent of any other democratic country. At a press conference on Monday, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton lashed out at New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani for his attempts to "politicize" the Elian case by calling for congressional legislation that would give the boy and his family permanent residency status in the United States. Pity that Mrs. Clinton didn't see fit to criticize Mr. Castro instead. "I wish everybody would take a deep breath, and a step back, and let's try to get this child into a safe, permanent, loving, unexploited home and family as soon as possible." Unfortunately, such a home doesn't exist under Mr. Castro's dictatorship.

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