The Real (and Sinister) Meaning of the Elian Raid

by | Apr 30, 2000

Reno's deeper premise is that a totalitarian dictatorship is not inimical to a child's rights.

The fully justified national uproar over the storm trooper-like kidnapping of Elián Gonzalez has taken attention away from a more fundamental issue. What has not been discussed is the motive for the raid. It was no coincidence that the raid occurred after the Justice Department had been rebuffed by the 11th Circuit Court of appeals in its efforts to bypass an asylum hearing. Clearly Reno and her minions hoped that by forcibly reuniting Elián with his father they could make the asylum issue moot. It is obvious that a six-year-old boy could not be expected either to reject his own father or to understand the nature or importance of individual rights and political freedom. Thus the government hoped it could argue that Elián now really wants to go back to Cuba and that there is no need even to discuss asylum.

But this brings up a deeper question. Why does Reno want Elián to go back to Cuba? Superficially, it might seem as if she is simply wedded to “the law” in some obsessive, soulless fashion — like Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. In this view, her premise would simply be: a father (or mother) has the right to his own child and that’s that. This explanation, however, will not do. Reno knows very well that parental rights are not absolute. For example, parents do not have the right to beat or abuse their children; if they do, the child is taken away from them and the abusive parents are sent to jail. The flaw in the “parental rights” argument is that individual rights, and not parental rights, are primary. Parents who abuse the individual rights of their child have their parental rights taken away.

Reno’s deeper premise is that a totalitarian dictatorship is not inimical to a child’s rights
. If one has followed the Elián story in the press and on TV, two things have been apparent. First, left-leaning commentators try desperately to steer clear of any discussion of the actual nature of the Cuban State. Second, if pushed to the wall on the issue, they claim that Cuba is not really that bad (not as bad, for example, as Nazi Germany) or that it is just a matter of personal preference (a “difference in life style”).

Consider what a totalitarian dictatorship actually involves: (1) no freedom of speech; (2) imprisonment or death for “political” crimes, e.g., criticizing the state; (3) a one-party political system; and (4) no private property. In effect, under Communism or any form of dictatorship, you have no rights and are the property of the state, to be disposed of in any way the dictator sees fit. (That children are the property of the state is stated explicitly in the Cuban Constitution and recently by Cuban officials in relation to Elián.)

It is true that Cuba has not killed millions as did the Nazis and Soviets — the estimate is about 17,000. But the difference is only a matter of degree not of principle. Many Cubans have died in prison; many still languish in jail for the crime of disagreeing with Castro. Many thousands of the best and brightest have fled, yearning to breathe free. Thousands more have died in the attempt, some of whom were killed in cold blood by Castro’s goons. All who wish to speak out live in fear of being turned in by their neighbors, many of whom work for the secret police.

Can Janet Reno look the American people in the eye and claim that sending a child to such a country, one where he will never have any rights and will live at the mercy of a totalitarian dictator, is not a form of child abuse? What if a black child had escaped from the South in 1860 and the child’s father, a plantation slave, for whatever reason, demanded his return? Would Reno have complied on the grounds of parental rights?

It would seem that Reno’s answer would have to be Yes to both of these questions. If so, then we have to ask what we stand for as a nation if we allow her to send Elián back. America was founded on the principle that the role of the government is to protect individual rights; that the individual is sovereign; that people have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that the individual’s life belongs to him, not to the state. If we betray these principles, then we, as Americans, will have betrayed an innocent six-year-old boy and our own moral greatness.

— The following editorial has been produced by the Ayn Rand Institute’s MediaLink department at

Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation Emeritus at the R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Behavior, and the Academy of Management. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for I/O Psychology), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Management (OB Division), the J. M. Cattell Award (APS) and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. He, with Gary Latham, has spent over 50 years developing Goal Setting Theory, ranked No. 1 in importance among 73 management theories. He has published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books including (w. Kenner) The Selfish Path to Romance, (w. Latham) New Directions in Goal Setting and Task Performance, and The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators. He is internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, and other topics. His website is:

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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