Elian’s Fate: It’s Not America’s Decision
by Sheldon Richman
Imagine an American father-a widower-deciding that he wants to move himself and his 6-year-old son to Cuba. Should the U.S. government permit it?
Many strong arguments could be raised against the father’s decision. Cuba is a communist dictatorship where Fidel Castro’s word is law. His Marxist philosophy squelches the most basic freedoms. Criticizing the government can land a Cuban in big trouble. Marxist economics prevent Cuba from becoming the western Hong Kong it would become if economic freedom, meaning property rights, were permitted. People’s economic conditions are reduced to primitivism because markets are not permitted to operate free of the heavy hand of Castro’s commissars.
But all that said, does any one really think that the U.S. government should stop this father from taking his son to Cuba? Presumably, we Americans wouldn’t want the government to stop a father from taking his son to France or Austria or Ghana or Russia. These and other countries have varying degrees of government intervention in the lives of families and in their economies. But I can’t imagine anyone petitioning the government to stop such a move. Americans should be uncomfortable with the idea that the government ought to determine a father’s custody on the basis of his political philosophy, however flawed it is.
I submit that the situation of Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his son Elian is no different from the one described above. True, Elian’s mother tried to bring her son to the United States. True, Elian has relatives in Miami. But Elian’s mother died, and his father-who by all accounts is a loving father who shared custody and spent more time with Elian in Cuba than his mother-is alive. And his father wants him back.
Now I know that Castro no more respects the sanctity of the family than he respects property rights. (The U.S. government and state governments could learn a few things about the sanctity of the family too.) But again, this fact, as far as the U.S. government is concerned, cannot trump the father’s legitimate claim to custody of his son. American authorities must not turn such questions into a matter of political correctness. That’s exactly what would happen if recognition of a father’s custody were contingent on his having the proper political views.
Opportunism has been rampant on both sides of the controversy. The shameless parading of the little boy on television implies that the Miami Cuban exiles are more interested in scoring points against Castro than in protecting the welfare of Elian. There are indications that early in this episode, Elian’s great uncle was coordinating the boy’s return with Juan Miguel Gonzalez. The effort was scuttled both by Castro’s and the Miami Cubans’ efforts to make political hay. That is tragic.
But most supporters of Elian’s return are equally hypocritical. What would Reps. Maxine Waters, Jose Serrano, and Sheila Jackson Lee have said about a Chilean boy whose father wanted him returned to Pinochet-ruled Chile? The question answers itself.
One senses that objectivity is the last thing on people’s minds these days. Advancing narrow political agendas takes precedence. This is a poison that will have increasingly unfortunate consequences.
Let’s make no mistake about it: Elian’s childhood in Castro’s Cuba will be one long propaganda seminar aimed at indoctrinating him in the “virtues” of communism. (I resist pushing too hard the parallel of government schools in America indoctrinating our children in the “virtues” of the bureaucratic impositions we misleadingly call “democracy.”) He will live in a poverty born of government control of people’s peaceful and productive economic activities. One bright spot is Castro’s advancing age. Time is on Elian’s side.
It is past time that we drop the subjectivism and sentimentality and begin to look at Cuba with clear eyes. It’s a nasty dictatorship. But it’s one the United States has inadvertently kept in power with its mistaken policy of economic sanctions. That policy has not only given Castro an excuse for socialism’s failings, it has also prevented the nonmaterial exchanges that always accompany commercial trade. Routine contact with American traders would have effectively communicated to Cubans at all levels what they were missing, thanks to communism. Early and frequent contact with capitalism might have consigned Castro to the landfill he so richly deserves.
The policy toward Cuba should be laissez faire. End the sanctions. Let the Gonzalezes go.
Also by Sheldon Richman
Copyright © 1999 The Future of Freedom Foundation. All rights reserved.