Republicans fail to protect boy

By Sean Hackbarth
web posted April 17, 2000

Some may have thought that with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union the Cold War ended. The U.S. normalized relations with Vietnam, is paying for a nuclear power plant for North Korea, and is considering letting China in the World Trade Organization. Since it is true that Soviet nukes are no longer pointed at U.S. kids (but could be re-targeted in minutes), the public forgets that there is still a brutal Communist dictatorship 90 miles from our shores. Cuba has been a thorn in Presidents' sides since Castro toppled Batistia in 1959. Now, a little boy is caught in a legal and political tug-of-war. At stake is his freedom.

With court rulings going the wrong way, it looks likely that the Lazaro Gonzalez family will be forced to return Elian Gonzalez to his father Juan Miguel. U.S. Judge Michael Moore ruled that Attorney Janet Reno "has decided the issue of who may speak for [the] Plaintiff, and her decision, by statute and in the exercise of congressionally delegated discretion, is controlling as a matter of law." The Miami Gonzalez family has appealed the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The legal questions pertain to whether Elian has the right to an asylum hearing, and whether Janet Reno can make arbitrary decisions. According to Judge Moore's ruling, Reno's decision could have gone either way, and it would still be binding. She could have stuck to the INS's original determination that Elian's case should be left up to the Florida state family courts. Instead, she submitted to Fidel Castro's screaming and declared that only Elian's father could ask for asylum for him.

With legal avenues running into dead ends, Elian's best hope is for Congress to pass a law making Elian, Juan Miguel, and Juan Miguel's wife and baby boy U.S. residents. This would bypass Janet Reno and turned this case into a custody battle. While such legislation has gotten strong support by a few Congressmen and Senators, there has been no vote on it. A Republican-controlled Congress who traditionally has been anti-Communist has failed in its opportunity to protect the rights of Elian and give a black eye to Castro.

Why has legislation stalled? The simplest reason is that there just aren't the votes in either house. Some Republicans like Rep. Steve Largent (R-OK) see this as only a parental-rights issue. "This is a family issue, first and foremost. To forget that and allow our hatred for the Cuban regime to keep us from doing what is best for the child is shameful. It's already a tragedy that the child lost his mother; it would be a travesty for our government to come between him and his father," wrote Largent is a New York Times op-ed. Largent does try to cover himself by stating, "Let me say unequivocally that I am second to none in my dislike for Mr. Castro's totalitarian regime." He just thinks a father's rights to his son trump the son's right to liberty. Largent isn't alone. Other conservatives feel keeping Elian in the U.S. would label them as family values hypocrites.

What Largent's argument does is put Cuba on the same moral plane as the U.S. That's wrong. The U.S. doesn't consider children to be possessions of the state as a Cuban official stated. The U.S. doesn't send its children away from their parents to state-run farms. The U.S. doesn't keep lengthy dossiers of its citizens and rewards or punishes them by how well they support the "revolution." Cuba is a brutal, oppressive dictatorship. No child deserves that.

Rep. Largent and his fellow Republicans have to look beyond the parental rights illusion the Cuban government and its U.S. sympathizers that put up. They should defend Elian's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness instead of allowing him to be sacrificed upon the altar of Fidel Castro.

Sean Hackbarth publishes ElianWatch and The American Mind.

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