Elian Gonzalez's parents were divorced, much the same way that thousands of couples have separated and divorced in the United States. Elian and his brother were in the custody of his father, Juan, with his mother taking him on weekends; again, much the same way as many couples in the United States.
What's different is that Elizabet Broton Rodriguez then undertook a journey across the Florida Straits in a leaky boat filled with other refugees attempting to come to America. She felt that she could have a better life there with relatives of hers that already live in southern Florida. She wanted her son to be there with her. The journey for many refugees that cross the Straits is a hazardous one - many have died making the attempt.
Elian's mother kidnapped him and took him with her, and during the course of the journey died when the boat sank. Little Elian survived by clinging to the inner tube of a tire until rescued by fishermen. Elian's relatives - uncles, cousins, aunts - in southern Florida came forward to claim him. But instead of returning him to his father, they insisted that they take custody to keep him away from Cuba and provide a better life than his father could offer there.
What makes matters worse is that American officials are ignoring both international and domestic law to make a political statement. Because American officials and Cuban expatriates despise Fidel Castro so much, they will aid and abet kidnappers to get back at the Cuban leader. Never mind that the boy's father insists that the boy be sent back home. The Florida relatives don't care - they want to keep the boy themselves. And because they hate Castro so much, American legislators want to go as far as to grant citizenship on Elian when Congress reconvenes this month.
Indiana Republican Dan Burton subpoenaed Elian so that he can appear before a House committee in early March. This would keep him in the United States after the Immigration and Naturalization Service, in keeping with the law, said that Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba. Other congressmen from Florida, including Republicans Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (both from Cuban expatriate families) are making other attempts to circumvent the law to keep Elian in the U.S. and away from his father.
As you can imagine, this has turned into a political football for the presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle - but it need not be. The entire episode is simply a custody issue, and not a complicated one at that.
The larger irony here is that if Elian and his mother were coming from Haiti or the Dominican Republic or trying to cross the border from Mexico when his mother died, he would be shipped back to the country of origin without as much as a second thought. But because he is from Cuba - and because of the 40-year-old war of words across the Florida Straits - this has become a political issue.
If the U.S. Government can sanction the kidnapping of a boy
from Cuba, can the kidnapping of children from within the country
be far behind?
(Michael King is a member of Project 21 and an Internet and
radio broadcaster in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at [email protected] and
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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