Elian Gonzalez’s Life is His Own; Make Him a U.S. Citizen

by | Apr 1, 2000

Elian Gonzalez’s story continues to unfold like an opera: The daring escape from Cuba, the treacherous sea storm, and his mother’s heroic struggle to fasten the 6-year-old to an inner tube before she drowned. As a brutal snowstorm brought the congressional quest for Elian’s citizenship to a grinding halt, his grandmothers made the case for […]

Elian Gonzalez’s story continues to unfold like an opera: The daring escape from Cuba, the treacherous sea storm, and his mother’s heroic struggle to fasten the 6-year-old to an inner tube before she drowned. As a brutal snowstorm brought the congressional quest for Elian’s citizenship to a grinding halt, his grandmothers made the case for returning Elian to communist Cuba and the nun who had previously supported sending him to Cuba changed her mind.

This week, the last act may play in Miami as a showdown between Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, who issued an ultimatum to the family, and those who refuse to let Elian go without a fight. Most members of Congress, most newspapers and most churches agree with the Clinton administration’s dictate that Elian must be returned to his father in Cuba.

Perhaps, for a growing majority of Americans, the boy’s tumultuous saga, like an overlong opera, is a show they would rather not see. But the plight of Elian Gonzalez is an unmistakable barometer of American culture. Whether America protects his liberty speaks volumes about its values. As the Catholic nun learned after initially believing Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba, coordinating his meeting with his grandmothers and then changing her mind, there is no crusade more noble than the liberty of a sole individual.

A father, under normal circumstances, has the right to raise his son. However, life in communist Cuba, which recognizes no one’s rights, is hardly normal — it is slavery. A totalitarian regime, where Elian will be seized from his father and sent to a forced labor camp at age 11, constitutes an actual threat to Elian’s life and his liberty. To assert that Elian’s father has a right to force his son to live in such conditions is to deny the boy’s inalienable right to life.

Liberals, including the National Council of Churches, which defends communist Cuba on its Web site, claim that conditions in Cuba — where Elian will be forced into the Cuban military until age 27 — are irrelevant.

Cuba is its own evidence to the contrary. Consider Article 5 of Cuba’s Code of the Child: “Society and the state watch to ascertain that all persons who come in contact with the child constitute an example for the development of his communist personality.”

Conservatives, including GOP presidential contender Alan Keyes and columnist Tony Snow, claim that the family is the root of all good, as if being with Daddy will compensate for a lifetime of misery. Family, they say, supersedes freedom. Pragmatists on the left and on the right plead for compromise: Let the father come to America and claim Elian. If he does, they say, return the child to Cuba.

No parent has the right to exterminate his child’s right to life. If Elian’s father demands that Elian return to communist Cuba, where 14-year-old girls are forced into prostitution, he is unfit for fatherhood.

No father, no parent, has the right to claim his child as his companion in prison. Any attempt by the family — coerced or uncoerced — to return Elian to Cuba is a violation of the boy’s rights.

Besides the judicial process, there is only one alternative for the protection of Elian’s inalienable individual rights: Name Elian an American citizen. Congress can do this, and congressional Republicans, who have caved and compromised on the citizenship issue, may still act toward that end; GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush pleaded with Reno this week not to return Elian to Cuba.

The moral principle that demands that Elian stay in America is not his mother’s tragic death, and it is not a practical argument over America’s immigration laws. Elian must be granted the status of American citizen because, here, his life is his own; he is free. Freedom is more important than fatherhood. Freedom triumphs over slavery. Freedom trumps family.

As the drama that is the future for Elian Gonzalez unfolds, it bears watching as a defining moment when America decides whether this is the land of the free or the land of the half-free — where those whose families are not free are chained to their blood relations. Elian, whose right to life is, at any given instant, within hours of being wiped out, represents the choice between freedom and slavery.

On one side is America’s government, newspaper editorial boards and Congress, vowing to force him into slavery. On the other side, there are the voices of freedom. For Elian’s sake, and for the sake of the nation, freedom should prevail.

Scott Holleran's writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Classic Chicago, and The Advocate. The cultural fellow with Arts for LA interviewed the man who saved Salman Rushdie about his act of heroism and wrote the award-winning “Roberto Clemente in Retrospect” for Pittsburgh Quarterly. Scott Holleran lives in Southern California. Read his fiction at ShortStoriesByScottHolleran.substack.com and read his non-fiction at ScottHolleran.substack.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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