By Brian Low
Elian Gonzalez. Who knew one little six-year-old boy could stir up so much popular emotion? Two and a half weeks ago, Elian Gonzalez was found floating in the Atlantic Ocean, clinging to an inner-tube that his stepfather placed him in after their boat carrying a dozen Cuban refugees capsized and sank. Elian appears to be the only survivor, and is currently in Miami with extended family, who want the boy to remain in the United States with them. The question is whether he should be allowed to stay, or be returned to his natural father, still in Cuba.
And it’s got people all over the place fired up.
Attorney-General Janet Reno and the US Federal Administration think the boy ought to be returned. So does his father, most of the citizens of Cuba (well, those allowed to voice their opinions anyway), and Fidel Castro. All this outrages the Cuban expatriate community living in Florida, which has protested that Elian should be allowed to enjoy a life of opportunity in the US. Florida judge Rosa Rodriguez agrees, and in a decision that may or may not be beyond her authority granted the boy’s great-uncle temporary custody. For his part, after a trip to Disneyworld, Elian changed his mind and indicated that he would like to stay in the US after all.
It is not altogether clear what will happen with little Elian. What should happen, though, is that he should be returned to his father in Cuba.
First, the opinions of most people should be disregarded. The credentials of Cuba’s politicians speak for themselves. The insistence of the Cuban expatriate community, which has made a pawn of the boy, a new-found trophy to wave in Castro’s face, should likewise be ignored. In addition, what the boy wants should be disregarded entirely. In this day and age of children’s rights, not even the most liberal of critics would make six-year-olds the principle arbiters of their future and adjudicators of their interests. If we did, the bottom would fall out of the world broccoli market so fast it would make your head spin.
The governing principle of Elian’s fate should be his best interests. The question to be answered, is whether Elian’s interests are best served by having him raised by distant relatives in democratic, economically prosperous circumstances, or by his own father in an authoritarian and impoverished regime.
The truth is, if economics were to be the governing principle of interest, there are a lot better places for Elian than Florida. The Cuban expatriates should try to get him refugee status in Luxembourg or Kuwait. At the very least, preference in legal custodianship should be given to Americans richer than his Florida relatives, who, while wealthy enough, are not nearly as prosperous as some who would undoubtedly take the boy.
Plainly, economic opportunity, or lack thereof, should not be the main issue. Even if it were to be allowed as a consideration, the Americans needn’t worry much about poor little Elian. Given the highly publicized nature of this saga, it is almost certain that Castro will ensure that Elian and his father live somewhere above the level of starvation. When you’re a dictator, you can do that for people every now and then.
As for Elian’s political freedom in Cuba versus the US, if it were really an issue, the expatriate community could lobby for the boy to be granted US citizenship. That way, once he was old enough to get into trouble trying to exercise basic human rights in Cuba, he could move to the US. Or they could work to bring down some of the US sanctions that damned the tide of Cuban progress and isolated the nation as a standing pool of totalitarianism. In sum, not even popular western conceptions of human rights should be decisive in the decision over Elian.
If the issues of political freedom and economic opportunity are taken out of the equation, it becomes a question of whether Elian should be raised by distant relatives, or by his father. The answer is simple: Elian needs to be returned to his father–even if they don’t have Disneyworld down in Cuba.