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The Cold War is over, send Elián home

The national angst being poured out over the plight of 6-year-old Elián González is as disproportionate and clumsy as has been the U.S. reaction to Cuban issues for nearly four decades.

Recall, we once ventured perilously close to threatening earth itself over a threat from that island, and the Bay of Pigs invasion remains a symbol of embarrassment for U.S. statecraft in the modern era.

Still, we try to convince ourselves, an important principle must be at stake somewhere in the thicket of the anger, recrimination and jingoism of recent weeks.

The passion over the Elián González affair, as far as it extends beyond the Cuban-American community in Miami, is stoked disproportionately by that small group whose hatred for Cuban President Fidel Castro might well be understandable. But the rule of law is supposed to mediate such extreme emotions and bring the cooling effect of sober reason and common sense to such rage.

If there ever was an international principle that would have kept young Elián from returning to his homeland and his only remaining parent, it has long faded in substance and relevance. This is no attempt to demean the sacrifice made by Elián’s mother or many others who have tried to escape oppressive circumstances for a new start. But we have turned back refugees from more desperate circumstances and on far skimpier reasoning. The overriding factor now has to be the relationship between son and father, the only remaining parent of the boy who was pulled from the sea in late November after his mother and stepfather drowned. A delegation from the National Council of Churches that visited the boy’s father and the Cuban Catholic bishops have urged that he be returned.

If the law finds otherwise, the winner will be a frivolous politics played out for short-lived gain. It appears that any action of family court Judge Rosa I. Rodriguez will be tainted by the revelation that she had business dealings with the spokesman for González’s relatives, who have custody of him in Miami.

Of course, so little of the flap has to do with principle or the rule of law.

Two of the most telling results of the dispute are that González has become a political football and that the stupidity of U.S. policy toward Cuba has been bared in the context of this international soap opera.

The most ridiculous move was the subpoena issued for González by U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). Burton’s bluster about freedom and preserving the child from the communist menace to the south was about as vaudevillian as Fidel Castro’s casual visit with the boy’s father, Juan Miguel González, as if Castro regularly strolls Cuba’s towns looking for an afternoon chat.

As a matter of international policy, the U.S. insistence on prolonging Cold War hostilities and maintaining the economic embargo is silly. We have found ways to maintain trade with China, and we certainly have taken up with equally odious dictators -- some certainly more brutal than Castro -- throughout the rest of Latin America. And those who fled our dictators and the real probability of vicious torture and clandestine killings, from Guatemala and El Salvador particularly, were deemed economic refugees and sent back or detained indefinitely.

It is doubtful that the family court hearing in March will satisfy the politics of this situation or unearth any additional insights.

We have our share of gripes with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But this time the agency got it absolutely right: There is no reason to keep this boy from going home.

National Catholic Reporter, January 21, 2000