|A young boy serves a life sentence
By Michael M. Bates
He's just a normal, average, typical 12-year-old boy. If the normal, average, typical 12-year-old boy has the world's longest-reigning dictator drop by every year for his birthday, that is.
Elian Gonzalez was shipped into the waiting arms of Fidel Castro in 2000. The delivery man was Bill Clinton, who used a SWAT team armed with submachine guns to assure everyone's compliance.
According to public opinion polls at the time, most Americans thought sending Elian back to Cuba with his father was the right thing to do. I didn't. Sunday's "60 Minutes," which re-aired an October segment on the boy, was a reminder of why it was wrong.
Elian told the interviewer that he thinks of Castro as "not only as a friend, but also as a father." The young man is a leader in the Union of Communist Pioneers, an organization that the tyrant boasts prepares children for life by "ratifying the irrevocability of the socialist character of our revolution."
We can only imagine how terribly sad all of this would have made Elian's mother. After all, so frantic was she to escape Cuba that she took her small son and joined another dozen souls on a 17-foot homemade boat attempting the treacherous journey to the United States.
She risked her life to get her child to freedom. She lost her life to get her child to freedom.
She knew firsthand that Cuba is a dreadful place. There is widespread poverty. There are acute shortages in food, medical supplies and other necessities. The average worker earns less than $30 a month.
This situation doesn't make Cuba unique. Other countries are extraordinarily deprived.
What makes Cuba distinctive is the subjugation. The oppressor Castro has killed or imprisoned tens of thousands during his time in power. There is no free press. Political opposition is not permitted. Neighborhood spies keep their eyes open for any possible counter-revolutionary activity.
Communism collapsed from its own evil. With liberty breaking out around the world, American leftists have few heroes to cling to. Fidel is one of them; that's why sending Elian back was so important. It helped make Castro look less wicked by making Cuba appear to be just another country.
One U.S. congressman at the time delivered the party line. Asked if Cuba is free, he said he didn't really know because he doesn't live there. He couldn't say whether our form of government or Cuba's is better, only that they're "different."
This was never the situation in Elian's case. Returning him to his father effectively placed him in a prison with 11 million other prisoners. About the only difference is he's constantly surrounded by security. For his own safety, no doubt. And the worst part is that he'll probably never be able to escape. If Elian had stayed here, he would have had a choice when reaching adulthood. He could remain or, if he wanted, moved to the people's paradise run by Father Fidel. That option isn't available now.
When the boy's father came to the U.S. seeking his son's return, his wife, other child and other relatives remained in Cuba. You have to wonder if, were it not for those potential hostages, the father himself would have defected. He appears to be a loyal, Castro-loving Communist, but the reality is the man has no alternative.
The "60 Minutes" correspondent noted that Castro uses propaganda. Seeing a child clearly manipulated didn't deter him from helping the despot propagandize, though. He asked Elian what the worst part of his stay in Miami was.
The nights, said the boy, when his uncles would speak of Elian's mother. This "tormented" him. So when the Clinton storm troopers appeared, the child "felt joy that I could get out of that house."
Elian was also asked in the interview, which quite innocently was arranged with the help of "Castro's personal cameraman," if he'd like to be a member of the Cuban National Assembly. Yes, he would. "60 Minutes" didn't explain that although elections there usually have close to a 100 percent voter turnout, the electorate can vote for only one party, the Cuban Communist Party.
That must be what engenders such voter interest.
The CBS correspondent said, "Che Guevara was yesterday, Elian Gonzalez is today." To our shame, that's likely to be true.
Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This column by Michael M. Bates appeared in the July 10, 2006 Oak Lawn Reporter.