Free Elian Gonzalez!

Many supporters of sending six-year-old Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba believe the boy should automatically be reunited with his surviving parent.

Those who hold this view should ask themselves: if Elian’s only surviving parent was an inmate at Auschwitz, would they send Elian to join him?

If no, then we can agree that there are circumstances in which even a competent parent should lose custody of a child.

It is ironic that those who want to return Elian to Cuba because of parental rights would return him to a country where he and his father have no rights.

Life in Castro’s Cuba is such that it warrants the law stepping in to protect Elian.

Cuba, the only nation in the Americas whose government is unelected,1 routinely jails Cubans for political crimes, which can consist of nothing more than criticizing the government or the government’s political heroes. Children are required to pledge allegiance to Castro, and are encouraged to report their parents for political crimes. As teens, they are forced to attend “schools” that are often hundreds of miles away where they are forced to spend half the day at manual labor. Conditions at these “schools,” where sexually transmitted diseases and abortions are common, are appalling.2

Ordinary citizens have no reliable health care. The Castro government devotes a smaller portion of its budget to health care than other poor nations such as Jamaica, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.3 What’s more, Cuba has what the U.S. Department of State calls “medical apartheid… funnel[ing] money into services for a privileged few, while depriving the health care system used by the vast majority of Cubans of adequate funding.” In other words, if you are a member of the communist party elite, or a foreign tourist or diplomat who can pay with hard currency, medical care in Cuba isn’t too bad. If you are an ordinary citizen like Elian, however, you’ll be out of luck. Health care is so underfunded, medical supplies are often unavailable for ordinary citizens who often must even bring their own bed linens with them if they are hospitalized.4 Furthermore, because Castro wishes to claim that certain diseases, such as syphilis, have been eradicated on the island, official policy is that if a patient has syphilis, he simply isn’t treated and is never told.5

Food is less than plentiful for Cuba’s ordinary citizens as well. As a six-year-old, Elian is already too old to receive a canned fruit ration. Next year, he’ll stop being eligible for his milk ration. Because of the shortage of milk, Cuban parents often water the milk to extend it – just what a growing boy needs.

Life is Cuba is so harsh Elian’s mother, Elizabeth Broton Rodriguez, gave her life and risked his trying to escape it. Relatives of Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, reportedly say that the father has in the past expressed his own desire to live in Miami – a wish which, if true, he could not safely state now. Reportedly, Elian’s father has endured official reprisals at work intended to deter him from trying to escape the island.

Elian’s father may want Elian in the United States.

Two decades ago, a young Soviet boy named Walter Polovchak defected to the United States against his father’s wishes. The U.S. courts ruled that Walter’s right to escape persecution exceeded his father’s parental rights. Today, Walter is a U.S. citizen and the father of a six-year-old, and he believes Elian should stay in the U.S. What’s more, Walter’s father now says he’s glad Walter stayed in America.6


Amy Ridenour is president of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Footnotes:1 Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, “The Cuban People Will be Free,” op/ed written for Diario Las Americas, Miami, Florida, May 3, 1998, as released by the Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, downloaded from on January 11, 2000.
2 Frank Calzon, “Here’s What Awaits Elian,” Miami Herald, December 7, 1999.
3 “The U.S. Embargo and Health Care in Cuba: Myth Versus Reality,” U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, August 5, 1997, quoting the Pan American Health Organization, downloaded from on January 11, 2000.
4 “The U.S. Embargo and Health Care in Cuba: Myth Versus Reality,” U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, August 5, 1997, downloaded from
5 Zoe Valdes, “Free Elian from the Bloody Claws of Castroism!” Miami Herald, December 23, 1999.
6 Walter Polovchak, “Let Him Stay – As I Did,” December 14, 1999, downloaded from (webmaster note: this link no longer functioned as of February 2001) on January 11, 2000.

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