- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2000

America should say farewell to Elian Gonzalez. Today, a court order keeping the six-year-old Cuban child in this country expires and the Supreme Court isn't expected to extend it. Fidel Castro will likely have Elian back on his island soon.

As Cuban soothsayers had predicted, Elian has acquired mystical qualities that belie his age and size. He has become the miracle child, the baby Jesus, the hope to many Cuban-Americans. The Cuban priests of Santeria, a religion with African roots popular on the island, have insisted that Mr. Castro's power was inextricably linked with Elian. Mr. Castro must bring the boy, who they believe to be the son of the deity Elegua, back to Cuba if he wants to keep his grip on power, they have said.

Perhaps the Santeria priests in Cuba had an uncanny knack for peering into the future. Mr. Castro has fought hard to have the child brought to Cuba and has benefited handsomely from the Elian uproar. Congress, for example, appears ready to ease an embargo on Cuba that is about four decades old. And now that an appeals court has upheld the Justice Department's decision denying Elian the right to an asylum hearing because he is a minor, Mr. Castro will probably have the magical child under his dictatorial grip. The Supreme Court is not expected to review the Elian case.

Mr. Castro has effectively used Elian to score a public relations victory. Initially, it seemed as if the Elian case would highlight the desperation of the Cuban people under Mr. Castro. Elian's mother gave her own life and risked Elian's to find freedom. The Cuban community mobilized with such fervor to keep Elian in the United States because they were so intimately aware of the suffering on Mr. Castro's island.

Surprisingly, though, Mr. Castro came out on top. Take this comment from NBC's Katie Couric, for example: "Some suggested over the weekend that it's wrong to expect Elian Gonzalez to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami," she said. The U.S. media put Cuban-Americans' strong opposition to sending Elian back to Cuba in the harshest light, while lending Mr. Castro a legitimacy he scarcely deserves.

This is a rather ignoble end to such an extraordinary saga. Sadly, the Clinton administration failed from the beginning to understand the importance of the Elian case on its own merits. Since the White House's primary objective has been to placate Mr. Castro, rather than consider first the best interests of the child, the options became unnecessarily limited.

A State Department document made public this month exposes the White House's close contact, and probably collusion, with the Cuban regime over the Elian issue. The State Department "wants to have a daily conference call to coordinate press guidance and communications with the Cubans," said the document.

Presumably, the White House so obliged the Cuban government out of fear Mr. Castro would allow another rafter crisis to hit U.S. shores. Rather than put Mr. Castro in his place, the White House launched an appalling and illegal pre-dawn raid to snatch Elian.

Due to the government's sorry handling of the whole affair, America should view Elian's departure soberly. Elian's freedoms will be brutally repressed in Cuba. Hopefully, the saga doesn't quite end here. Elian is but six years old, and, according to many, a miracle child.

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