- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2000

The longer little Elian Gonzalez stays in America, the more difficult it will be, even for the bureaucrats to whom a little boy is just a name on a piece of paper, to send him home.
The bureaucrats knew this, which is why the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) tried to sweep him out of Florida before very many Americans learned about him.
Janet Reno, who OK'd the destruction of the children at Waco in order to save them from suspected abuse by their parents, now prescribes sending him back to Fidel Castro as the way to preserve this child's best interests.
Fidel loves little Elian. You can tell by the way he orders up enormous "spontaneous" street demonstrations demanding the return of the boy, intimidating his family and impressing Miss Reno. When Elian's two grannies arrived back in Havana on Sunday they were greeted by busloads of demonstrators, trucked in from the provinces to see the sights of Havana, or else.
The grannies were the featured attraction in what the government radio and television stations called, with no apparent hint of irony, "a caravan of dignity," and Fidel hailed them for their "brave and extraordinary work" in reconnoitering the dark and deadly streets of Capitol Hill. Perhaps because it takes one to know one, Fidel seems to have taken literally Mark Twain's brave and extraordinary description of Congress as our only native criminal class.
This has been heady stuff for Mariela Quintana and Raquel Rodriguez, who were housewives in the provincial city of Cardenas before Fidel plucked them from obscurity for their new life as pawns in his propaganda war.
Any Nana or Pop-pop in America could tell you that the grannies' plea to return the little boy to his family strikes mystic chords in the heart of every grandparent, in America or anywhere else, making it hard to imagine why Elian should not be returned to the Cuban hearth, as bleak as the boy's future would be. "He will never be happy in the United States because he grew up in Cuba," says Granny Quintana. "He is a Cuban boy. He has a father. He has four grandparents and an entire family [in Cuba]."
If Cuba were not a prison island, case closed. We should put Elian on the next plane to Havana.
But Cuba, alas, is a prison island, clearly demonstrated by Fidel Castro's cynical dispatch of the grannies, and not the father, whom he fears would stay once on American soil.
The first persuasive change in the argument over Elian occurred late last week when Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, the nun who arranged the meeting between the grannies and Elian's Miami relatives, changed her mind and now thinks Elian should stay.
Sister Jeanne is neither a Fidelista nor a contra partisan. She works in the Sanctuary Movement, by no means a right-wing enterprise, and has helped Haitians and other repressed and oppressed foreigners to get into the United States. She at first said such a decision did not even seem difficult. Elian belonged with his father.
Then she met the grannies. "When she saw them together," Cokie Roberts of ABC-TV says of her conversation with Sister Jeannie, "she felt that the grandmothers were terrified. That they were clearly under orders from Castro. And that they were very, very programmed and fearful. And that the little boy has made a very tight bond with his cousin in Florida and that to be taken away from her would be, and I'm quoting here from Sister Jeanne, 'another death to him.' She feels he should be left alone by all the politicians, by the way, in order to mourn and get over the fact that he's lost his mother.
"And those who have talked to the survivors, adults who survived in the water, say that the father was planning to come here as well, the whole family was planning to come eventually."
Janet Reno, who worries about the abuse of children, should take another look at Elian's prospects if he is returned to Cuba. She might consider the case of Luis Grave de Peralta, the father of two little boys not a lot older than Elian, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for compiling a book of Fidel's speeches, quoting his promises accurately, which the great leader imagined was holding him up to mockery. When Mr. Peralta was released after four years in a 6-by-12 cell with a murderer and a schizophrenic thief, he was sent into exile. Fidel, the great unifier of families, kept Mr. Peralta's wife and boys as hostages, to be put to cruel uses later.
Elian's mother gave her life to get her son to America. Uprooting him now from his new home in Miami would mock her sacrifice. If Sister Jeanne is a judge of character, and her experience suggests that she is, this is what Elian's grannies are trying to tell us.

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