- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2000

It is with great distress and pain that I find myself having to write a piece in defense of my fellow Cuban-Americans.

I have been in total amazement in the last few months, culminating in the horrific scene of Saturday, April 22. To witness, in the last few months, the systematic and vigorous chipping away at an entire community of people is not the way I ever imagined my adopted country to behave.

I was born in Cuba and fled with my family after nearly two years of living under Fidel Castro's Marxist-Leninist government. My immediate family was one of the fortunate ones that got out. Leaving behind many relatives, friends and dreams. We arrived in the United States and built a new and prosperous life with our sweat and determination. Only now we see our fellow Cuban-Americans portrayed by some in the national media, and by the careful orchestration of the current administration, as a bunch of lawless, hysterical demonstrators, with a mob mentality. This misinformation was necessary to mold American public opinion so it would justify the military-type federal attack on an "American family's" home.

The people of Cuba have a long history of respect and support for the United States. The national pride of a Free Cuba lives in every freedom-loving Cuban alive. Many Cubans bravely fought on U.S. soil in the War of Independence.

Cubans, as a people, helped raise much-needed funds for the Revolutionary Army of George Washington. The "Havana's Ladies," a group of Cuban mothers, heard Gen. Washington's plea for desperately needed funds and raised an astonishing amount for that time. They sent to Virginia the equivalent in today's money of $28 million. This has been little exposed in American history books but is well-documented. The inscription that the "Ladies of Havana" wrote on their contribution was:

"So the American mothers' sons are not born as slaves."

The pledge of the Havana's Ladies, remained very little known, with the exception of an American historian Stephen Bonsal, who wrote: "That sum collected [by the Havana's Ladies] must be considered as the ground whereon was erected the American independence." Gen. Jean Baptiste de Rochambeau wrote in his "Daily Memoirs," available in the Library of Congress: "The joy was enormous when it was received, the money from Havana: The contribution of 800,000 silver pounds which helped stop the financial bankruptcy (of the Revolutionary Army) and raised up the moral spirit of the Army that had began to dissolve."

How terribly ironic it is that we find the homeland of the "Havana's Ladies" in communist slavery today. How ironic that we take the sacrifice of a dying Cuban mother for granted, a mother who wished to bring her son out of communist slavery. Our response is to repay the debt owed to her ancestors, the "Havana's Ladies," by sending her son Elian back to the very chains she gave her life to free him from. Elian found freedom in the United States. Freedom that was achieved by our Founding Fathers' revolutionary struggle for independence, with the help of Cuban mothers.

We must look at the sequence of events in the Elian Gonzalez case and see how we have arrived at this point, a point that defies all that is decent and good in our society. This is a society supposedly deeply rooted in the concept of justice for all that set foot on its soil. We must, as a nation, ask ourselves how we can justify the actions of a power-mad administration, which has shown us at every turn it has a total disregard for the rule of law, using the pretense of enforcing the very rule of law that the Justice Department trampled on in the seizure of the private home of the Gonzalez family.

It saddens me deeply to see how the Cuban-American is portrayed today in the country that I served honorably and, with pride, as a special assistant to the president of the United States, a country that I would, then and now, give my very life to defend. It saddens me to see our country turn its collective back on Elian and the freedom-loving Cubans who have contributed so much to the very soul of our nation.

It is with profound sadness that I watched in total horror the tear-gassing of those law-a-biding citizens holding a "legal" vigil at the Gonzalez home in Miami. The federal seizure of a frightened child looking down the barrel of an automatic weapon, and being taken forcibly in the middle of the night was unforgettable.

If Elian had been seized in daylight, the federal agents might have tear-gassed another Cuban-American peacefully participating in the vigil for Elian, singer Gloria Estefan, whose very own Cuban-American father fought in the Bay of Pigs and lived to fight "heroically" as a U.S. Army officer on multiple tours of duty in Vietnam. Miss Estefan's father, I might add, died a painful death because of injuries he sustained in Vietnam, fighting for the United States of America.

Like Gloria, many Cuban-American families have made the ultimate sacrifice to the country that took us in and gave us the God-given right to live free. It is a price that we pay willingly and with extreme honor and pride.

In closing, I want to stress that our anger is not directed at the federal agents who took part in the raid of the private home of the Gonzalez family, although it now seems that unnecessary and excessive force was indeed used. The outrage should be squarely placed with those who gave the order.

In stark contrast, I can attest from personal experience to the dedication and goodness of some federal agents. A few years ago, 85 U.S. Secret Service agents traveled to a hospital where I underwent a serious operation. They came to give blood so I might live. One of those federal agents was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. I will forever hold Special Agent Allen Whicher and his family in my prayers.

Federal agents helping our fellow citizens: That is the image I want to hold on to, and have the world see, not the one that will unfortunately be forever etched in our memory of the "federal seizure" of Elian Gonzalez at the private home of his Cuban-American family.

Antonio Benedi is a former special assistant to President George Bush and is a member of the board of directors of the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty.

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