A ‘Possession of Cuba’?

  Since last November, America has torn itself apart over the case of Elian Gonzales, the bright-eyed six-year-old who was found bobbing in the ocean off the Florida coast. Like many Americans, I've been ambivalent. On the one hand my commitment to family values made me believe that Elian's place was with his dad. But Castro is a ruthless tyrant, and nobody ought to be sent to Cuba. Last Thursday, my ambivalence ended. I believe Elian should not be turned over to his father, and I believe his father agrees with that. In last Thursday's Wall Street Journal, we learned that on November 22, Elian's father, Juan Gonzales, called Miami relatives to tell them Elian and his mother were on their way to America. A collect telephone bill proves the call was made. Three days later, fisherman rescued Elian off the Fort Lauderdale coast. The boy was taken to a hospital, where his Uncle Lazaro confirmed his identity, and he called Elian's father to let him know that his child was safe. A relieved Mr. Gonzales asked his uncle to care for the boy. At no time did Elian's father demand his return--that is, not until the Cuban government got involved. On November 27, Cuban authorities demanded the child be returned to Cuba. As the Wall Street Journal put it, "Not until that Monday did we hear from the boy's father, who was quoted as having had second thoughts about Elian and now concluded that he had been kidnapped." Now, I agree with my friend Rep. Steve Largent, and others, who argue that the sovereignty of the family should be respected. I agree: parents, not the state, should decide what's best for children. And I agree with those who say that if the boy had come from, let's say, Caracas, we wouldn't hesitate to send him back. But that's exactly the point. Elian does NOT come from Caracas. He comes from Cuba, which means his father is not a free agent. With Cuban authorities watching and listening, Mr. Gonzales cannot speak freely. It is Castro who is speaking. And there isn't an issue of the sovereignty of the family involved in any event: In Cuba, the child belongs to the state. Even if we didn't have the telephone call from Elian's father, asking Miami relatives to hang onto his son, we have the dramatic testimony of Janet Reno's friend, Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, whom Reno appointed to mediate the negotiations between the boy's grandparents and the Cuban relatives in Miami. Sister Jeanne originally believed the boy should be sent back to Cuba. But she changed her mind after meeting Elian's grandmothers—and their Cuban handlers. She may have seen something very unstable about the grandmothers. Or perhaps she received a signal from them—and realized Elian would be better off in America. So now, the issue is clear: Does the United States give asylum to this boy, allowing him to stay where he wants to stay, in the country his mother died bringing him to? Or do we hand him back, not to his father, but to Fidel Castro? Remember, Cuban authorities claim that Elian is a possession, not of his father, but of the Cuban government. And for me, that makes the decision easy. Elian should stay.


Chuck Colson



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