Remembering Elian Gonzalez

by | Apr 22, 2003

I met Elian Gonzalez during a visit to the Miami house which had become the flashpoint for a profound philosophical conflict–days before his pre-dawn seizure on Saturday, April 22, 2000. Springing from his uncle’s house with the exuberance of a child unleashed on a playground, Elian was spontaneous, as a guest taking photographs learned. Elian […]

I met Elian Gonzalez during a visit to the Miami house which had become the flashpoint for a profound philosophical conflict–days before his pre-dawn seizure on Saturday, April 22, 2000.

Springing from his uncle’s house with the exuberance of a child unleashed on a playground, Elian was spontaneous, as a guest taking photographs learned. Elian ran over, snatched the camera and, aware that all eyes were on him, took a picture — of himself.

The padlocked fence guarding Lazaro Gonzalez’s small, two-bedroom house, where he lived with his wife, Angela, his daughter, Marisleysis, and his great nephew, Elian, would prove no match for the troopers who snatched Elian at gunpoint.

Observing Elian during his last days of freedom was a rare opportunity–and I knew it. Though many in America had grown weary of his plight, I knew that Elian’s saga captured the essence of Americanism because Elian is an individual–not a collective like Vietnam’s Boat People, Cuba’s Mariel flotilla, or generations of Mexicans, groups for which America made exceptions to its arbitrary immigration laws.

I knew that asserting Elian’s right to stay in America would require a defense of individual rights, the core, founding principle of the United States of America–and that there could be no better test of the nation based on individual rights than how it treats the individual, particularly when the individual is a child.

Elian’s fate, I knew, would leave an indelible mark on America’s future, and, looking back, it has–Americans failed to rally around the liberation of an individual child from communism and proved that America, where so-called group rights routinely triumph over individual rights, is steeped in collectivism.

Modern academics, who teach that a life lived in freedom is not necessarily superior to life in slavery, had left most Americans largely ignorant of life under communism. Throughout Elian’s saga, Americans expressed utter disbelief that Elian’s life in Cuba would include forced labor at age 11, forced military service until age 27, and no right to speech, travel, association or property.

The third anniversary of America’s rejection of Elian Gonzalez’s rights underscores America’s drift from its philosophical roots. Those who cried “Send Elian back!” three years ago are now struggling to understand why the United States is in grave danger with not one thought to the nature of totalitarianism, let alone the cost of appeasing its practitioners, whether communist dictators or jihad Moslems.

There were American voices pleading for Elian’s asylum, though they were either ignored by the media, eager to depict the defiant auto mechanic and his 21-year old daughter as the archvillians, or they were drowned out by Cuban exiles in Miami, who failed to mount a principled defense of Elian’s individual rights.

As I left Elian’s Little Havana home, I remember the face of an old man behind the barricade. Wearing a handwritten placard that read: “Elian’s Right 2 the Persuit [sic] of Happiness,” he pressed against the barricade with a look of weary desperation. Like many among Elian’s defenders, the sign did not actually offer an argument for Elian’s asylum, though its words bore the trace of a truth once held to be self-evident–that each individual, especially a child, has certain inalienable rights.

I should have known then that Elian didn’t stand a chance.

April 22, 2000, was one of America’s darkest days–it marks the launch of an unprecedented military strike executed by the President and the Attorney General, with the support of most in Congress and the media, a majority of the American people and, ultimately, with their refusal to hear Elian’s asylum plea, the Supreme Court.

For Elian, there could not have been a more suitable reintroduction to Cuba than a gun; it is the means by which communists captured Cuba, it is the means by which communists control Cuba and it is the means by which communists command the life of every Cuban–including Elian Gonzalez, who should have stayed in America because, here, his life was his own.

When Americans begin to understand why it is wrong to force a child to leave America and live under tyranny, they may begin to grasp why America is worth defending. Until then, the raid against Elian Gonzalez marks the day Americans abandoned the defense of the inalienable rights of the individual– without which a defense of America is not possible.

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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