The National Catholic Review
The Editors

Located 80 miles east of Havana on Cuba’s northern coast, the city of Cárdenas, from which young Elián Gonzalez comes, is a relatively poor but bustling and friendly town of some 40,000one of those places where you instantly sense that everyone knows everyone else. It’s a place of human scale, of immaculately clean streets, of single or two-story structures, many in the stately colonial style dating from the pre-1898 era of Spanish rule. Like most cities on the island, though, Cárdenas has seen better days. Its buildings could use a paint job. Horse-and-buggies now serve as taxis and buses, and the local rum factory has closed. Good jobs, however, are plentiful only eight miles away at the resort town of Varadero, which boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole Caribbeanand indeed both Elián’s parents, Juan Manuel and the now deceased Elizabet, worked there. No, Cárdenas is no Miami Beach. It does not have the glitz, the traffic, the smog, the shopping malls or the proximity of Disney World, not to mention a comparable number of television channels. Yet Cárdenas, one might imagine, would not be a bad place in which to grow up.

Elián should be sent back there as soon as possible. As the Immigration and Naturalization Service has already ruled, the boy belongs with his father, whom no one has contended to be anything but a devoted parent. Every day of delay will only make it that much harder on the boy psychologically. "We regret that emotional or political involvements are obstructing the prompt solution of this conflict," wrote the Cuban bishops in their statement on Dec. 8, "a solution provided by the very basic norms of rights."

 Think of the precedent if we do not return the boy to his father. The next time some Iranian or Nigerian or Uzbekistani parent seizes a child and flees back to his or her native country, the American parent will be left with no appeal. "Remember Elián," they will say.

At the moment, U.S. policylike the boyis being held hostage by the fierce partisans of Miami’s Cuban American National Foundation, which wields a power over our nation’s electoral politics entirely disproportionate to its size. In recent years, Washington has lifted bans on the sale of food and medicine to the rogue states of Iran, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The only country that is denied such humanitarian aid is Cuba. This is an embarrassment and a disgrace. The State Department hardly has a Cuba policy any longer. We have a "South Florida policy," dictated by a spirit of vengeance.

One does not have to love Fidel Castro, El Jefe Maximo, to want to see the boy returned to his homeland. Castro has ruled for 41 years and has seen eight U.S. presidents come and go. He remains popular, but revolutionary slogans now ring hollow, and for most young Cubans the official socialism holds no appeal at all. The Elián case has provided Castro with his biggest propaganda victory since the Bay of Pigs. It has not only brought party cadres into the streets; it has galvanized a broader, otherwise disenchanted public. Cubans have rallied together, for the moment forgetting the glaring failures of the party and the regime. Accordingly, the aging dictator has been able to revert to his favorite occupation, scapegoating the great capitalist monster to the north. It is bad enough that the U.S. economic embargo imposes severe material hardship on the island’s people. It is simply intolerable and unnecessary that we can now be portrayed as a callous kidnapper of children.

 Those who would keep Elián in the United States have made much of the advantages he would enjoy in Miami that are foreclosed to him in Cárdenas. But this would be true for any 6-year-old in Cuba. Undeniably, life in Florida would be easier; life in Cuba is hard. But things are getting better in today’s Cuba. The tourist industry is booming, and last year the economy grew by six percent. What was, even before the revolution of 1959, Latin America’s most secular country is now undergoing a widespread religious revival. If you are a Christian today in Cuba, you are by definition seriously committed. Finally, at age 73, Castro’s days are numbered, and his successors, whoever they are, will have to face a more vocal and broad-based movement for political and social liberalization. In addition to having a father’s guidance and love, Elián would be growing up during this critical "transition" period, a time in Cuba that will be filled with promise. Why prevent him from taking part in his nation’s new moment?

Comments

Manuel Alvarez | 1/19/2007 - 10:57am
I am writing in response to your editorial, “Send the Boy Home to cuba” (3/11). The economic hardship endured by my fellow Cubans on the island is not the issue in the case of young Elián González. Cuba’s economic condition is comparable to that of most third world nations. The devastation wrought by the Castro regime cannot be measured in dollars. The real devastation is moral and spiritual in nature. The Stalinist system of repression, which has been in place for more than 40 years, dehumanizes the citizenry. The concept of the human being forcibly inculcated in its children rejects man’s transcendence. Castro’s regime is far worse than atheistic; it is anti-Christian and anti-freedom (in the most profound theological sense of the word). Cubans throw themselves into the ocean to escape tyranny, not poverty.

My hope that Elián will be allowed to remain in the United States has nothing to do with his father’s impoverishment. If Elián is returned to Mr. Castro, he will be molded into a living mascot for a failed revolution; he will become a symbol designed to mask the wickedness of the dictator who controls him.

Eventually it will be up to the church and Cuban-Americans to assist in the process of reconstruction and reconciliation. While it is easy to repair the structural deterioration with bricks and mortar, how will we address the spiritual damage that has resulted from the deprivation of fundamental human values? Perhaps we can begin by saving one child.

Pedro Moreno | 1/19/2007 - 9:32am
Our love for Elián must be greater than our hate for Communism and the Castro regime. Our love for family life must be greater than our love of democracy and American materialism. Our defense of human rights cannot begin by destroying the rights of the family. Our rejection of poverty cannot supercede our need to keep families together. In summary, in our hierarchy of values family comes way before politics.

The use of Elián González as a political pawn is a disgrace and extremely harmful to this child. It saddens me to think of how he will suffer when he is sent back to Cuba. There he will mourn the loss of two mothers, not just one. All of this could have been avoided by a quick return of the child to his father, who, in spite of his poverty and the surrounding social structure, is the only one with the right to bring up this child. A father has the right to bring up his child regardless of how much money he has in the bank or who he votes for.

Eduardo M. Barrios, S.J. | 1/17/2007 - 1:46pm
Your editorial “Send the Boy Home to Cuba” (3/11) has many inaccuracies:

1) The title makes Elián look like a parcel or inanimate object that could be easily shipped to Cuba. He is a young human being, whose feelings must be taken into account. After almost four months in the United States, Miami is home for him. He lost his mother. He did not live with his father in Cuba. He only has one family now, his Miami relatives. It would be very traumatic for him to go back to Cuba. There he would be raised by a stepmother he does not know and who is very busy trying to nurse an infant son.

2) You notice the cleanliness of Cárdenas’s streets, but fail to notice the many holes in them. Cubans are now cleaner than ever, because they have practically nothing to throw away. Cuba is not a garbage-producing country like the United States, where many items are labeled “disposable.” Moreover, the Cuban government has made Cárdenas look prettier for the eyes of the world media.

3) You call Elián’s father a “devoted parent.” You certainly do not know that Elizabet, Elián’s mother, divorced him because he was an abusive husband and that a Cuban judge granted custody of the child to the mother. You believe that Elián’s father wants his son back with him. That is what he says now, but he is lying. He knew that his ex-wife was leaving Cuba on a raft with the boy. He called up his Miami relatives to tell them. When the boy was found alive, he did not ask to have him sent back. All he said was, “Take good care of him.” When Castro stepped in, he was forced to change. He is now the true hostage, not Elián.

4) “Castro remains popular,” you write. This leaves unexplained why there are so many Cuban exiles on all continents. If he is so popular, why is he the best guarded ruler in the world? Nobody knows where he works, where he lives, where he sleeps.

5) “Cubans have rallied together,” you say. But you do not know that people are carried like cattle to the “spontaneous” rallies. Cuba has wasted lots of working hours and millions of pesos in T-shirts and posters for these rallies. Since Cubans have little entertainment, they go to the government-sponsored meetings as to a carnival. Very often the government gives free sodas and cookies to participants.

6) You do not fail to mention the trade embargo as the source of material hardship for Cubans. Many people are against it for a simple reason: The economy would not improve if the embargo is lifted. The real problem is that Socialism is an economic failure. People do not work hard because work is not rewarded. No country can prosper when most of its citizens want to leave it.

Manuel Alvarez | 1/19/2007 - 10:57am
I am writing in response to your editorial, “Send the Boy Home to cuba” (3/11). The economic hardship endured by my fellow Cubans on the island is not the issue in the case of young Elián González. Cuba’s economic condition is comparable to that of most third world nations. The devastation wrought by the Castro regime cannot be measured in dollars. The real devastation is moral and spiritual in nature. The Stalinist system of repression, which has been in place for more than 40 years, dehumanizes the citizenry. The concept of the human being forcibly inculcated in its children rejects man’s transcendence. Castro’s regime is far worse than atheistic; it is anti-Christian and anti-freedom (in the most profound theological sense of the word). Cubans throw themselves into the ocean to escape tyranny, not poverty.

My hope that Elián will be allowed to remain in the United States has nothing to do with his father’s impoverishment. If Elián is returned to Mr. Castro, he will be molded into a living mascot for a failed revolution; he will become a symbol designed to mask the wickedness of the dictator who controls him.

Eventually it will be up to the church and Cuban-Americans to assist in the process of reconstruction and reconciliation. While it is easy to repair the structural deterioration with bricks and mortar, how will we address the spiritual damage that has resulted from the deprivation of fundamental human values? Perhaps we can begin by saving one child.

Pedro Moreno | 1/19/2007 - 9:32am
Our love for Elián must be greater than our hate for Communism and the Castro regime. Our love for family life must be greater than our love of democracy and American materialism. Our defense of human rights cannot begin by destroying the rights of the family. Our rejection of poverty cannot supercede our need to keep families together. In summary, in our hierarchy of values family comes way before politics.

The use of Elián González as a political pawn is a disgrace and extremely harmful to this child. It saddens me to think of how he will suffer when he is sent back to Cuba. There he will mourn the loss of two mothers, not just one. All of this could have been avoided by a quick return of the child to his father, who, in spite of his poverty and the surrounding social structure, is the only one with the right to bring up this child. A father has the right to bring up his child regardless of how much money he has in the bank or who he votes for.

Eduardo M. Barrios, S.J. | 1/17/2007 - 1:46pm
Your editorial “Send the Boy Home to Cuba” (3/11) has many inaccuracies:

1) The title makes Elián look like a parcel or inanimate object that could be easily shipped to Cuba. He is a young human being, whose feelings must be taken into account. After almost four months in the United States, Miami is home for him. He lost his mother. He did not live with his father in Cuba. He only has one family now, his Miami relatives. It would be very traumatic for him to go back to Cuba. There he would be raised by a stepmother he does not know and who is very busy trying to nurse an infant son.

2) You notice the cleanliness of Cárdenas’s streets, but fail to notice the many holes in them. Cubans are now cleaner than ever, because they have practically nothing to throw away. Cuba is not a garbage-producing country like the United States, where many items are labeled “disposable.” Moreover, the Cuban government has made Cárdenas look prettier for the eyes of the world media.

3) You call Elián’s father a “devoted parent.” You certainly do not know that Elizabet, Elián’s mother, divorced him because he was an abusive husband and that a Cuban judge granted custody of the child to the mother. You believe that Elián’s father wants his son back with him. That is what he says now, but he is lying. He knew that his ex-wife was leaving Cuba on a raft with the boy. He called up his Miami relatives to tell them. When the boy was found alive, he did not ask to have him sent back. All he said was, “Take good care of him.” When Castro stepped in, he was forced to change. He is now the true hostage, not Elián.

4) “Castro remains popular,” you write. This leaves unexplained why there are so many Cuban exiles on all continents. If he is so popular, why is he the best guarded ruler in the world? Nobody knows where he works, where he lives, where he sleeps.

5) “Cubans have rallied together,” you say. But you do not know that people are carried like cattle to the “spontaneous” rallies. Cuba has wasted lots of working hours and millions of pesos in T-shirts and posters for these rallies. Since Cubans have little entertainment, they go to the government-sponsored meetings as to a carnival. Very often the government gives free sodas and cookies to participants.

6) You do not fail to mention the trade embargo as the source of material hardship for Cubans. Many people are against it for a simple reason: The economy would not improve if the embargo is lifted. The real problem is that Socialism is an economic failure. People do not work hard because work is not rewarded. No country can prosper when most of its citizens want to leave it.

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