- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2000

Elian Gonzalez may not have much time left in the United States. His supporters should therefore move quickly to uphold his and his family's best interests. Empathy for Elian shouldn't, under any circumstances, degenerate into violence. There is a more effective and humane way to help the boy.

Fidel Castro on Wednesday took a calculated risk. The Cuban dictator said that Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, could travel to the United States along with other family members in order to bring his son back to Cuba. Mr. Castro is betting that Mr. Gonzalez either wouldn't want or wouldn't be able to defect to the United States. Mr. Castro is probably ensuring that, should Mr. Gonzalez come to America, he would always be under the supervision of Cuban security agents. The White House may have even agreed to not interfere with that "security."

Cuban Americans therefore need to start moving now as discretely as possible to guarantee that Mr. Gonzalez would be given the benefit of a private meeting with Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials sometime before leaving the United States. Mr. Gonzalez and his new wife and child should be offered the option of staying in the United States united with his son.

Most Cuban Americans are opposed to forcibly returning Elian to the repression he has so bravely escaped. The child survived two days and nights at sea gripping an inner tube after the family's U.S.-bound boat capsized. His mother died in the accident. He has since been in the care of Miami relatives who are filing for permanent custody of him, but his father has said repeatedly he wants his son returned to him in Cuba.

Many Cuban Americans relate to Elian because they see themselves in the little boy. Some faced similar horrors in order to reach U.S. shores. His struggle has become theirs. The vehemence with which Cuban-Americans are battling Elian's potential deportation is frightening many Americans. On Wednesday, several thousand people rallied around Elian's Miami home. Some pledged to give their own lives before they would allow U.S. authorities to take the boy. Many political representatives of the community are similarly strident. Twenty-two mayors from South Florida said they would hold President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno responsible if Miami erupts in violence over the Justice Department's efforts to deport Elian.

Fortunately, no violence has broken out. And rather than condemn this Cuban zealousness, other Americans should consider where it comes from. History shows that individuals who bear the brunt of brutal despots tend to become militant in their opposition. Cuban-Americans are no exception. Regardless of their socioeconomic extraction, most of them are emphatically anti-Castro. Their vehemence should give us pause. Cuban-Americans are intimately familiar with Mr. Castro's repression.

There is a time, however, for bridling strong emotions. For the Cuban community, this is it. If Miami Cubans were to protest violently against Elian's deportation, then Mr. Castro wins. He will have effectively shown the world that his detractors are thugs. Instead, the Cuban community should roll up its sleeves and get to work on that meeting. They also have to be prepared to let the child go, should his father want to return to Cuba. The last word belongs to him.

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