Free Elian from politics, get him home with his dad


AWEEK AGO, federal agents swooped into that bastion of anti-communist fanaticism -- better known as the home of Lazaro Gonzalez -- rescued Elian Gonzalez and reunited him with his father. That is as it should be.

Now, federal officials can do something else: Get the boy and his father out of here. Immediately. Today. Yesterday couldn't have been quick enough.

It's time Americans weary of the Elian Gonzalez saga spoke up. Had saner heads prevailed, the boy would have been returned to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, within days of his rescue from an inner tube off the Florida shore.

But saner heads didn't prevail. Elian, after all, wasn't just a boy. He was a boy from Cuba, where the evil bearded one, Fidel Castro, still rules. Elian's mother, Elizabeth Brotons, wasn't some unfit parent who jeopardized her child's life by hustling him aboard a rickety powerboat to come to America to be with her husband, Lazaro Rafael Munera, whose racket was charging Cubans $2,000 a pop to bring them to these shores. She was a heroine who was trying to get her child to freedom.

So the simple, no-brain solution -- return Elian to his Cuban father, who had legal custody of him -- vanished. The boy's Miami relatives -- with no legal claim whatsoever -- snatched him up and all but proclaimed him the poster boy for Cuban refugees. Soon, Castro got in on the act, and we no longer had a simple child custody case. We had another in a long line of U.S.-Castro Cold War-continuing hissing matches.

The hissing matches are old, and they got old fast. They were tiresome even by the end of the 1960s. Those Cuban-Americans who gathered outside Lazaro Gonzalez' stronghold and proclaimed that the boy would never return to Cuba have prolonged this latest cultural collision.

Americans weary of the spectacle have a message for them: You're plucking our one last nerve.

As I lay in the hospital a few weeks before federal agents seized Elian, story after story about the Cuban-American demonstrators who resolved to block a reunion between Elian and his father appeared on the news.

Just as I was praying that someone would shoot me, my nurse walked in with medications. Witnessing the spectacle on the tube, she opined, "Maybe we should send them all back."

Now there's a notion worth exploring. Ship all those contumacious Cuban-Americans -- who are all for American laws that give Cuban refugees more favorable status than just about any other nationality -- back to Fidel. Let them know that taking up residence in this country is a privilege, not a right. Send them the message that their continued presence here depends on their not getting on our nerves.

While we're at it, let's re-examine the laws that give automatic political asylum to any Cuban who hits these shores shouting "Down with Fidel!" Are Cubans under Castro's rule any more oppressed than women living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan?

The Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have reported major human rights abuses of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.

If a Haitian child fleeing the Dominican Republic came here under the same conditions as Elian, would we have this brouhaha? The poor kid would have been shipped back, even if his or her closest relative in the Dominican Republic were a fifth cousin thrice removed.

Such double standards will abound when we base part of our immigration policy on the not very cogent and downright childish "principle" of "We hate Fidel Castro."

Is he a communist dictator? Yes. But we've made our peace with communist dictators in the former Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China and Vietnam, a nation that killed more than 50,000 of our men and women.

Is Castro a chronic human rights abuser? Yes, but no more so than heads of other regimes we've actually supported. Wasn't it our CIA that trained Honduras' murderous Battalion 316 in torture techniques?

Castro has been called a thorn in America's side for 40 years. He's been more like an assegai jammed deep into our ribs. But we deserve him. Consider him the penance we must pay for all our years of abusing Latin American and Caribbean nations.

But the rabble in Miami, apparently convinced that anti-communist fanaticism is better than communist fanaticism, hates Castro still.

So, regrettably, do some of our politicians, who refuse to seek the normalized relations with Cuba that would have prevented the Elian Gonzalez impasse. They can make amends for their folly by using their power to see that father and son Gonzalez are returned to Cuba, posthaste.

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