It would be a sin to deport Elián Gonzalez. To send a child to rot in the prison of Cuba for the alleged sake of his own well-being is criminal hypocrisy. To send him there in order to preserve his father’s rights is absurdity, since there are no parental or other rights in Cuba. To send him there because “He needs a father, no matter what,” is a mindless bromide. Does he need a father who has no choice but to watch his son being broken in mind and starved in body?
The liberals I know want Elián deported because they regard the difference between the United States and Cuba as “merely a difference of political opinion,” merely a subjective matter of “how you define freedom.” In other words, being relativists who are statists themselves, they find nothing objectively wrong with Cuba. And even if Cuba does have flaws, some of them say, so do Haiti and many other underdeveloped countries from which people seek to emigrate. So why the fuss about Elián? Isn’t it discrimination in favor of Cubans?
This argument evades the difference between slavery and poverty. True, a proper immigration policy should not favor Cubans; but it should discriminate nevertheless — in favor of the most deserving cases from every country. I mean the pathetically small trickle of escapees from real dictatorships — Communist, Nazi, or other — who manage somehow to claw their way to our border. Can we morally shrug off victims such as these and send them home to the Secret Police to “wait in line” behind barbed wire? In Ayn Rand’s words, the criteria of “dictatorship” in this context are: “one-party rule — executions . . . for political offenses — the nationalization or expropriation of private property — and censorship.”
Most Cubans in Miami understand firsthand these insignia of dictatorship; they recognize Elián’s plight. But, though impassioned, they are hard-pressed to defend him in convincing terms. Many of them, who exalt “family values,” sound insincere in seeking to separate a son from his father. Besides, if religion is their final intellectual recourse, as it is for most conservatives, Cuban or otherwise, how persuasive a case can they make in any debate? To neutral observers who seek logical answers to the Elián controversy, mystic visions are not persuasive; they are irrelevant. What Elián desperately needs on his side is not a defender of the faith, but an exponent of reason.
Ayn Rand taught me philosophy for 30 years. She herself had fled Soviet Russia in the ’20s, and she knew what life was like there. The opposite of slavery, she taught, is not merely freedom of action, but above all its root, the freedom of thought. You cannot be free, she said, unless your mind is free, free to come to and express its own conclusions without threat or coercion, free to pursue its own profit and happiness, and free to keep the wealth its own efforts have created.
What she taught me, in essence, was that, despite all their detractors, the Enlightenment and the Founding Fathers were right; and that one must defend the independence of the individual, the inalienable rights of man, and the supremacy of reason against all comers, whether “friend” or enemy, kin or outsider, relativist or mystic, state or church. A century and a half ago, when these ideas were still the conventional wisdom in the U.S., Elián would have provoked no controversy; he would have been welcomed here eagerly.
Fifty years ago, by contrast, when I first met her, Ayn Rand was the only prominent representative of these ideas that I could find. Tragically, she is still the only one today.
The motivation of President Clinton in this issue, besides liberalism, is a desire to leave a “legacy” of peace, peace pursued through worldwide appeasement of dictators, no matter what the human carnage to which it leads. If only the Republicans were able to offer an alternative.
In the Elián case, as in the Microsoft case, the Justice Department, once again, is fighting for injustice. The only political hero to emerge is the Mayor of Miami, no matter what his political motives, if any. What makes him admirable is his flat-out refusal to sanction or abet the Administration’s policy.
In the name not of Cuban nationalism, but of Americanism in its original and deepest philosophical meaning, Elián Gonzalez must be allowed to remain here. Let this poor boy have a chance to live a human life. If “compassion” is one of our politicians’ chief values, as they keep telling us, can’t they show him any of it?