Sobran Column -- What About Elian?
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What About Elián?

January 18, 2000

The case of the six-year-old Cuban boy Elián Gonzalez is a tangled one. His mother died at sea while escaping from Cuba with him; he was rescued and brought to this country; his father, still in Cuba, wants him back; his relatives in America, refugees from Cuba, want him to stay here.

Cuba’s aging Communist strongman, Fidel Castro, accuses the United States of “kidnapping” the boy, and thousands of people have staged “protest” marches demanding Elián’s return. The Clinton administration is disposed to send him back, since, after all, Hillary Clinton isn’t running for office in Florida and has no need of the Cuban vote.

Some rather obvious points are being lost in the uproar — chiefly, that the guilt of Elián’s mother’s death lies with Castro. He is, after all, a Communist. Like all Communist rulers, he has made it a crime to leave his country, a crime punishable by death without such formalities as arrest and trial. The Caribbean serves as Cuba’s Berlin Wall: anyone seeking to escape Cuba may be shot on sight by the boats that patrol Cuba’s coastline looking for would-be refugees. (Communism is threatened less by invasion than by escape.)

Elián’s mother took the risk and paid with her life, as surely as if Castro’s thugs had shot her. Her moral right to leave — like all other elementary rights — was denied and violated by the Cuban regime. It isn’t mere cant to say that she lost her life seeking freedom for herself and her son.

So now Castro, having in effect caused the mother’s death, demands the son’s return. The boy doesn’t belong to him, any more than anyone else does. But though chattel slavery is passé, state slavery is alive and well in the world’s remaining Communist regimes, where everyone is virtually owned by the state. Elián is the twentieth-century version of a fugitive slave; and his aggrieved master wants him back.

The remarkable thing is that nobody is condemning Castro’s brazen hypocrisy. Keeping an entire population captive, he calls it “kidnapping” when one boy slips out of his grasp. He permits demonstrations against the United States, but not against his own regime: there are of course no counterdemonstrations in Havana supporting Elián’s right to be free. Some “protests”! And most American pundits tacitly accept Castro’s claim to Elián as legitimate.

[Breaker quote: 
Castro's custody rights] We needn’t (and shouldn’t) make war on Cuba. But neither should we forget our own moral standards and political principles. Communism is an evil system, with by far the bloodiest record in modern history. It places total power in the state, denies every human right, and teaches children — such are Marxist-Leninist family values — to inform on their parents (as Elián himself will be instructed, if he is sent back). Are we so inured to Castro’s four decades of tyranny that we’ve forgotten all this? That Castro is now harmless to us doesn’t diminish the evil he does to his own poor subjects.

Note that the American news media still refer to Castro as the Cuban “leader.” In liberal parlance, Communist despots are “leaders” — a word that implies that they have voluntary followings — whereas right-wing despots are “dictators” and “strongmen,” words implying that they rule by raw force.

Thus Mao Zedong was always “the Chinese leader,” while Francisco Franco was “the Spanish dictator.” Such epithets created the subliminal impression that life in Franco’s Spain was more oppressive than life in Mao’s China. The truth was far otherwise: to apply the most basic test, people were free to leave Franco’s Spain, but not Mao’s China. No Communist regime can afford to permit free emigration. Castro certainly can’t.

If Castro had Elián’s welfare at heart, he would allow the boy’s father to come to this country. But he won’t, any more than he will allow any of his other subjects to come here. And we can’t assume that the father is speaking freely when he demands his son, because he, like Havana’s “protestors,” would not be permitted to say anything else if he wanted to.

If you’ve ever wondered who might have collaborated with a Communist regime in this country, study the people who want to send Elián Gonzalez back to Castro.

Joseph Sobran

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