Freedom and Hope for Young Elian

By Antonio Benedi

If only we could bring ourselves back only ten years and recall the barbed wire and concrete wall that divided East from West Berlin. If we could imagine for a moment a mother in the East rushing the "wall" in an attempt to push her five year old son over and sending him to freedom in the west, only to be caught up and badly bloodied and injured by the razor sharp wire.

If we in the west could picture that mother clinging on to the wall as she took her last breath when pushing her five year old child to freedom. Could we stand to see this vivid and real-life picture and, for even a moment, consider returning the child to the east side of the wall? Back to a place that his mother gave the ultimate sacrifice, her very life, to get her son out of. What would we say to that mother!

This is indeed what our country is debating right now in the case of young Elian Gonzalez. The communist country is not East Germany it is Cuba. The wall is not made of barbed wire, but of turbulent, and more often than not, deadly water.

Although it isn't Ellis Island, Miami can rightfully be called the land of promise and liberation for young Cuban "refugee" Elian Gonzalez, who now finds himself the center of a international crisis, when all he was looking for was freedom.

We have all read the reports, "Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez, was rescued from an inner tube in the Atlantic Ocean, November 25, after being adrift for nearly two days and now his biological father wants him returned." The boat that Elian, his mother, and stepfather were on sank in the Atlantic Ocean killing all eleven aboard, except young Elian. His mother, in a desperate attempt to save her child's life, took the inner tube she had been clinging to for dear life and placed her son in it, before slipping away and drowning in the strong ocean currents. What would make a mother and her child voyage through the deadly currents found between Cuba and Florida on an unsafe boat?

The answer lies in the nature of Cuba. In Cuba, a person is not permitted to leave the country without permission from government. If someone is caught trying to leave without authorization, the man, woman, or child is subject to extensive fines or long prison sentences. When a citizen of Cuba is given permission to travel outside of the island, it is only after paying a $500 fee, equivalent to five years wages for the average Cuban worker.

Once a person in Cuba declares he would like to leave the communist country he loses all benefits, his job, his home, his meal "ration" cards and could possible be unjustly prosecuted for indiscriminate crimes against the "state".

Why would a young mother risk losing so much, unless she hoped to gain something more precious – freedom!

Cuba, birthplace of six year-old Elian Gonzalez, is a totalitarian, communist, one-party state, where freedom is silenced and basic human rights are denied. It is controlled by communist dictator Fidel Castro who has ruled this small island with an iron hand for 40 years.

Castro is now attempting to present Elian as an instance of American imperialism and capitalist brainwashing. Castro has organized – ordered would be more appropriate - mass rallies in front of television camera's calling for Elian's return. This in a country that does not allow freedom of speech, nor any freedom to assemble in small or large groups. How then, can all these people have been allowed to demonstrate? Simply because they were ordered to do so by the government.

Elian's biological father, who has never had primary custody of the boy, is claiming that he wants him returned. He makes these statements from Cuba, where Castro's gang of dragoons is known to regularly brutalize critics of the Castro regime. According to a State Department report on Cuba, any anti-government propaganda is a punishable offense and carries a penalty of 3 months to a year.

Criticizing Castro or any member of the National Assembly or Council of State can warrant a three-year prison sentence. That same report makes it clear that Cuban prisons are particularly terrible places because of unsanitary conditions, poor nutrition, and brutality practiced by prisoners and guards. Being sent to a Cuban prison is often tantamount to a death sentence.

Is it any wonder then that Elian's biological father has said that he wants the boy returned to him? Saying anything else would likely land him in jail.

Worse than that, Elian's father might end up dead like other critics of the Castro regime whose deaths were explained as accidents or suicides, or simply brushed off.

Elian's mother knew what was best her child. She knew that he could never find freedom or happiness under Castro's regime.

Perhaps because of Marxist professors at American colleges, we are lulled into thinking that communism is a harmless ideology. That, however, is not the case. According to The Black Book of Communism, recently published by Harvard University Press, over 100 millions deaths are attributed to communist regimes in the 20th Century.

Cuba, while a small country, must share the blame and the guilt borne by larger communist countries, such as China, North Korea and the old Soviet Union. Wholesale genocide like that practiced by fellow "comrades" in China, the Soviet Union and Cambodia? Not to that extend only because of Cuba’s population size, but many have been killed, imprisoned and subjected to serious oppression in Cuba.

Cubans do not choose their political leaders. Only the communist party is legally recognized. The 601 members of the National Assembly were elected without opposition, and the United Nations and Amnesty International agree that there is no due process on the island.

In Cuba, Elian would be just another victim of the communist-controlled economy and the frequent food shortages they cause. In Cuba, Elian would be treated like one of many human cattle, and told by the government where he must live and where he must work. Even if he were to become one of those "privileged" citizens of Cuba who are permitted to work for foreign companies or are given permits to be self-employed farmers, he would find himself subject to exorbitant taxes designed to keep him powerless and in poverty.

It is by treating the citizens as de facto slaves that Castro has made himself wealthy. According to Forbes magazine, Castro is the eleventh richest political leader in the world with a net worth of roughly $100 million – a huge figure for such a poor country.

Keeping families together is important, but we as a nation must give special recognition to those seeking freedom from oppressive governments and that is exactly the situation with those fleeing Cuba.

The Department of Immigration and Naturalization Service, a division of Attorney General Janet Reno's highly politicized Justice Department, will determine the boy's fate. Currently, an INS hearing is scheduled for January 21, 2000.

There is a possibility that Congress may pre-empt the INS, due to the courage of five Republican Senators, led by Senator Connie Mack of Florida, who plan to introduce legislation that would make six-year-old Elian Gonzalez a United States citizen.

I recently returned from Berlin to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the fall of the "Wall". Today in Berlin, people can cross over in total freedom. It is unbelievable that in the year 2000 we are still looking at a "Wall," a wall made of water that keeps people imprisoned in communist chains only 90 miles from the greatest country in the world. What a real human tragedy!

I, too, was five years old when my parents took me and my brothers and sister out of Cuba, in the middle of the night, under very dangerous circumstances, and eventually brought us to the United States. We were welcomed with open arms and given the ultimate "God-given" gift, the gift of freedom!

I thank God everyday for the generosity and warmth of this great country. I cherish with my deepest embrace, the liberty and freedom that the American people gave to us when we too arrived as political "refugees". It truly breaks my heart to be a witness to the ongoing debate over Elian. Should we dismiss the ultimate sacrifice made by a dying mother and bend to the pressure of a ruthless, bloodthirsty communist dictator, or should we continue our shining legacy of "open arms" for those seeking political asylum from modern day oppression and human slavery?

God help us all if we mark our country's beginning of the new Century with the wrong decision. Let's show our commitment to freedom by allowing Elian to remain here in the United States, rather than sending him back to a life of slavery and misery in Cuba.

Welcome to the land of Liberty, Freedom and hopefully for you, Justice. Welcome to the United States Elian. I hope your stay is long.


Antonio Benedi is a former Special Assistant to President Bush, and a Board Member of The Patrick Henry Center For Individual Liberty

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