Elian and the law; Family values: Cuban-Americans have no right to defy the laws that give them freedom.


THE EXTENDED Gonzalez family of Miami is entitled to pursue every legal avenue in seeking custody of Elian Gonzalez.

But that family, the Cuban American National Foundation and its supporters have no right to defy the law or to try to intimidate the federal government from its enforcement.

This small, possibly unrepresentative group, is causing Americans elsewhere to question the welcome and favoritism extended to Cuban refugees for decades.

Family values and state laws award custody of a little boy in Elian Gonzalez' position to the surviving parent, especially where there is a record of caring involvement.

Against this, Lazaro Gonzalez, supported by CANF, asserts the defects of Cuban society as justifying his claim for the grandnephew he never knew before.

His argument resembles those of some fathers who spirit U.S.-born children to homelands, claiming custody there on the ground that U.S. society is corrupt, regardless of the custody awarded to the mother by a U.S. court.

Usually in international custody cases in which it is involved, the State Department is representing the interests of a U.S. parent -- interests resembling those of the Cuban father in this case.

It is small wonder the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Justice Department followed U.S. law and custom in determining that Juan Miguel Gonzalez has sole right to speak for his son Elian in immigration matters.

Fidel Castro and CANF are mirror images of each other in politicizing the question, treating Elian as a symbol and disregarding his humanity and vulnerability.

People who fled Communist Cuba must respect the rule of law here. Mayors Alex Penelas and Joseph Carollo of Dade County and Miami have shown poor leadership in this regard.

Civil disobedience is always available to the self-righteous -- if they are willing, like Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, to pay the legal penalty.

Lazaro Gonzalez is not obliged to like Fidel Castro. He should support the filial bond between Elian and Juan Miguel Gonzalez. That's not politics. It's family values.

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