The Clinton administration, which thinks it takes a village to raise a child, knows that a masked SWAT-type team with battering ram, automatic weapons and pepper spray suffices to snatch a child, terrified, in a predawn raid. But Elian was fortunate. The last time Janet Reno--one of the worst attorneys general in American history and certainly the most lethal--inflicted her caring on children, they were incinerated. Besides, the government, practicing compassionate liberalism and heeding the advice of its latest batch of "experts," had on its getaway plane some Play-Doh. Kneading it is supposed to ease a child's stress.
A few days before the paramilitary operation against Lazaro Gonzalez's home, one of Reno's experts, a pediatrician with a long record of crackpot leftism, came--without meeting Elian--to the convenient (for Reno) conclusion that Elian needed to be quickly "rescued" from "psychological abuse" at the hands of his relatives. Fear of child abuse was Reno's excuse for launching what became the Waco inferno.
Reno's boss, a perjurer, suborner of perjury, obstructor of justice (when is that disbarment hearing?), set the stage for government violence against Elian's relatives. Venting his impatience with the relatives, Bill Clinton, that stickler for legality, said: "The rule of law has got to be upheld. If we don't do it here, where do we stop?" The man has brass, but for the record: Lazaro Gonzalez had broken no law. The fact that the INS had decreed that he no longer had custody of Elian imposed no duty on him to go anywhere to surrender Elian. The INS was always free to knock on Gonzalez's door. The INS preferred to smash the door.
A climate conducive to such disgraceful government behavior was created by strange journalism, the implication of which was that Elian's mother must have been demented to risk, and lose, her life in order to get Elian out of Cuba. Peter Jennings mixed exasperation and hauteur about the relatives' reluctance to speed Elian back to totalitarianism: "Once again the government has failed to get the kind of cooperation from the relatives that might allow the case of this young boy to end in a civilized manner that is best for him." Katie Couric resorted to archness: "Some suggested over the weekend that it's wrong to expect Elian Gonzalez to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami." The New York Times disdained Miami as a "banana republic" and used a headline to express the obtuseness of Cuban-Americans: COMMUNISM STILL LOOMS AS EVIL TO MIAMI CUBANS. Still. Eleanor Clift decided communism is merely a "lifestyle": "To be a poor child in Cuba may in many instances be better than being a poor child in Miami and I'm not going to condemn their lifestyle so gratuitously." NEWSWEEK reported that although Elian's prospects in Cuba would be "limited," Cuba's lifestyle has virtues: "In some ways young Elian might expect a nurturing life in Cuba, sheltered from the crime and social breakdown that would be part of his upbringing in Miami. The boy will nestle in a more peaceable society that treasures its children."
The nestling will not begin until some courts have had their say. Last week the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said scalding things about the Reno-INS attempt to deny Elian due process of law. This suggests that asylum for Elian is possible. But sois a family-court ruling giving custody to his father.
Most Americans, influenced by the drumbeat of the media and the Clinton administration, favor returning Elian to Cuba. They say they are concerned with parental rights. Well, Cuba isn't. Its policy is that parents have rights only "as long as their influence does not go against the political objectives of the state." Children need fathers, but they need the culture of freedom even more. To assume that Elian's father has an indefeasible right to immerse Elian in Cuba's highly ideologized tyranny--talk about child abuse--is to make a fetish of biology.
A point may come when a court considers whether it is in Elian's "best interests" to be deported to a police state from the free country his mother died getting him to. The court will find the following facts pertinent.
The Miami relatives say that three days before Elian was plucked from the sea, his father phoned to say that Elian and his mother were coming. Sprint telephone records confirm a collect call from Cuba to the relatives. When Elian's relatives visited him at the hospital on the day he was rescued, they called his father, who, they say, asked them to take care of Elian. It was not until after Castro's regime demanded the return of Elian--stolen state property, don't you know--that his father was quoted as saying he now thought Elian had been kidnapped.
In December 1962 in Miami, survivors of the Bay of Pigs invasion presented President Kennedy with a brigade flag that a survivor had kept hidden during 20 months of imprisonment. Kennedy said: "I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this brigade in a free Havana." Thirty-eight years later America has a different kind of president. For a snapshot of his policy toward Castro, see the cover of this magazine.
Pictures of the 6-year-old, screaming in terror, in the clutches of those who had put a gun in his face--your tax dollars at work--demonstrate what leaders of America's civil-rights movement understood: the power of graphic journalism when recording the brutal infliction of force to enforce injustice. In an exquisite summation of this debacle, the father's lawyer, Gregory Craig, who was Clinton's lawyer during impeachment, sought in advance to pressure broadcasters into not carrying such pictures. Like a snail crossing a sidewalk, the Clinton administration leaves a lengthening trail of slime, this time on America's national honor.