- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2000

Fidel Castro has reinvented himself. Rather than represent repression and brutality, the millennium Fidel is a crusader who supports the family and defenseless.

He has fought to have Elian Gonzalez reunited with his father and brought back to Cuba. Pictures of their reunion after a government raid represented "no better gift for us," Mr. Castro said. Cubans are fighting a "ceaseless battle" against the "barbarous and cruel crime" of Elian's "kidnapping" in the United States, he added. "Not even Dante could have described the hell he has been through."

Funny, though, that Mr. Castro has failed to acknowledge the inferno he has forced many Cuban children into. Their parents have either been forced to leave the island or managed to escape. They are fighting to have their children join them, but Mr. Castro won't allow them to leave. They are growing up parentless in an island dictatorship. It seems that family unification is a priority for Mr. Castro only if the issue can be used to vilify the United States and showcase the dictator's power.

Arianne Horta, who traveled on the same rickety boat as Elian and was rescued close to the Florida shore, lives in the United States and has been trying for months to have her daughter Estefani in Cuba returned to her in the United States. The Castro regime has refused to oblige her wish. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, meanwhile, has also been unwilling to help her, claiming that until Mrs. Horta becomes an official resident sometime next year, the INS won't help her claim her daughter.

The plight of Milagros Cruz Cano, a blind democracy activist who was deported from Cuba in October, is equally heart wrenching. In an April 4 story, The Washington Times reported that Mrs. Cruz was in the 15th day of a water-and-Gatorade fast to protest the Cuban government's refusal to allow her 9-year-old daughter Noemi join her in the United States. Before she left, Noemi begged her mother: "Dress me up as a seeing-eye dog, so I can go with you." She is holding on to the hope her daughter can someday join her. "It is my daughter or death," Mrs. Cruz Cano told reporter Tom Carter.

The Cuban government has also refused to allow Jose Cohen Valdes, who escaped Cuba on a raft in 1994, to reunite with his family. His wife and three children, ages 8, 12, and 15, have been granted political refugee visas by the United States, but the Cuban government refuses to issue exit permits. The government has also forbidden the family of internationally renowned saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera from joining him, eight years after his defection.

Luis Grave de Peralta, meanwhile, who was featured in a January editorial, was forced to leave Cuba after he was freed from prison for writing a book about Mr. Castro. The U.S. government gave Mr. de Peralta and his family asylum in the United States, but the Cuban government won't let any of his family members join him.

Despite his blatant disregard for the integrity of the family, Mr. Castro has won many supporters in the U.S. media. Dan Rather recently said: "While Fidel Castro, and certainly justified on his record, is widely criticized for a lot of things, there is no question that Castro feels a very deep and abiding connection to those Cubans who are still in Cuba. And, I recognize this might be controversial, but there's little doubt in my mind that Fidel Castro was sincere when he said, 'listen, we really want this child back here.' "

NBC's Katie Couric also seems to have a good appetite for Mr. Castro's propaganda. "Some suggested over the weekend that it's wrong to expect Elian to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami." She seemed to overlook the fact that Miami's civil society is engaged in a feverish debate on Elian precisely because of Americans' right to freedom of speech. In Cuba, a regime intent on perpetuating its absolute power brutally suppresses this very freedom. Mr. Rather and Mrs. Couric have done their part to ensure it can continue to do so. Unfortunately, Mr. Castro has revised his image but not his tactics.

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