The Rights of Elian Gonzalez

by | Jan 14, 2000

Is communism physically harmful to human life?

Is communism physically harmful to human life?

That should be the fundamental question in the Elián Gonzalez case. Elián is the six-year-old boy whom the Immigration and Naturalization Service has ordered back to Cuba. Elián’s mother and stepfather fled from Cuba with Elián almost two months ago, but they (and eight others) drowned at sea. Elián was rescued and taken to live with relatives in Florida. His father remains in Cuba and has been demanding custody of the boy. The INS ruled that in the name of “family reunification” Elián must return to Cuba. And most media commentators have praised this decision (which a Florida state court is now trying to stay).

But would such a decision be tolerated if it involved, say, a young black boy who had escaped to the North from a Southern plantation 150 years ago? Or a Jewish boy who had come to America from Nazi Germany during the 1930s? Would he have been sent back if the father — with a gun to his back — declared his desire to have his child returned to slavery or to a concentration camp? Would editorialists argue that the child’s best interests are served by “family reunification”?

Certainly not. Why, then, is Elián’s situation any different? Life in totalitarian Cuba, after all, is life in slavery.

Yes, a parent has the right to determine his child’s upbringing — but not to inflict physical harm. A parent has no right to beat up a child, or to keep a child imprisoned in a cell. That becomes a violation of the child’s individual rights. But a communist state is simply one huge jail, where the citizens are under the physical control of their wardens. That is what Elián faces if he goes back.

It is absurd for the INS commissioner to assert that the father is “expressing his true wishes” regarding his son. Mr. Gonzalez is not free to say anything else. If he displeases the state, his job, his home — his life — can be summarily taken from him. If Castro orders him to ask for the return of his son — or, conversely, to renounce any interest in the boy — the father has little choice but to obey. Like the slaves on a Southern plantation, the citizens of Cuba exist at the whim of their rulers.

Some make the accusation that Elián’s plight is being “politicized” by outdated “Cold Warriors.” But it is actually these accusers who are using Elián to push a destructive, fossilized ideology. It is the INS and its supporters who are still trying to pretend that communism is not a system of enslavement, and that the difference between America and Cuba is merely one of “lifestyle.” It is this Administration that orders the Coast Guard to physically repel Cuban refugees who approach our shores, resulting in the disgraceful sight of American officials firing water cannons upon Cubans to keep them from reaching U.S. soil. It is the zealous advocates of Elián’s deportation who are clinging to a discredited philosophy that refuses to acknowledge the tyrannical nature of life under socialism.

Keeping Elián in America is no violation of the rights of the father (who — if he has any genuine affection for the boy and were free to express it — would announce his fervent desire to have his son live in freedom). Anyone concerned with the actual rights of the father should be demanding, not that Washington return Elián , but that Havana let the father go. It is Castro who is preventing family reunification by keeping his borders closed to those who wish to flee his dictatorial rule. Let Castro permit Mr. Gonzalez to leave Cuba permanently and unconditionally (along with all his relatives, so that none can be held hostage against him). He can then live here, or in any free country he chooses, and take custody of his son. Both his and his son’s rights would thereby be upheld.

Elián’s mother willingly risked death on a desperate voyage to liberty — not on a “migrant smuggling trip,” as a N.Y. Times editorial despicably described it. She was drawn by the American principle that each individual has an inalienable right to be free. It would be tragic if the politicians and the judges in America failed to grasp the essence of this country as well as she did.

Peter Schwartz is author of "In Defense of Selfishness: Why The Code of Self-Sacrifice Is Unjust and Destructive" which seeks to answer the fascinating and controversial question "What if the central idea we’re all taught about morality is wrong?" Visit his website at www.peterschwartz.com.

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