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Anti-Communist Child Abuse

Elian's best interests long ago became secondary to his role as an ideological hobby-horse for adults.

Joe Lockard

Friday, April 14 2000, 6:06 PM

The most frenetic 'rescue' carnival since Floyd Collins got himself stuck in a Kentucky cave in the 20s still hangs in the balance. Whatever the outcome of the Elian Gonzalez case, we have watched an incredibly sad case of child exploitation.

All the political words spilled over Elian and his fate share the theme of care for a child. Even if these expressions are diametrically opposite, they still claim a child's best interests. The fraud sickens. Elian's best interests long ago became secondary to his role as an ideological hobby-horse for adults.

Watching the anti-communist passions spilled over Elian is like revisiting the nineteen-fifties in a Miami time warp. The demonstrators who surround the Gonzalez family house still live in the manichean domains of a 'Free World' and an 'Iron Curtain' world. Absolute good and absolute evil collide in the Florida straits, whose tropical waters have replaced the Berlin Wall as the great divide between freedom and slavery. The Cold War never ended here. Elian is the Miracle Boy Rescued from the Cold.

The swirling charges on all sides have a fifties sensibility. There are allegations of mind-control and drug injections. Control of children and their minds have been equated with power over a political future. There have been perverse resonances of kidnapped Greek children of the late forties and early fifties, celebrated by communists as 'liberation' and denounced by Greek nationalists as mass abductions. For right-wing Cuban-Americans, Fidel Castro is no more than Satan incarnate, determined to reclaim one of his victims. In their angry worldview, to hold and keep Elian in Miami is to provide an innocent soul with salvation.

Some religious anti-communists profess to find signs of God's will here: a Moses-like child rescued from the waters who symbolizes the arrival of imminent freedom for Cuba. As the Gonzalez family attorney phrased it, if Elian's father returns him to Cuba the "Pharaoh in Cuba will have Juan Miguel sitting at his right hand and this poor little boy in his lap, and evil will laugh at good." As wrong as one-party anti-democracy and the oppressive surveillance state in Cuba might be, there is no need to go as far as Cuba to find Pharaoh. He has local addresses in every US state too.

Older themes of political conversion and mind control have been joined by eighties and nineties themes of sexual predation and abusive families. Castro claims to have fifty-three affidavits testifying that Lazaro Gonzalez, Elian's great-uncle, molested children while working as a physical education teacher in Cuba. Elian is in the controlling hands of a monster and must be rescued. Right-wing Cuban-Americans counter-claim that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian's father, is physically abusive and that Elian fears his father. They argue that a mother's sacrifice of her life for freedom — forgetting that she made a risky and deadly choice, not a sacrifice — must not be overturned by her ex-husband, one of Fidel Castro's mind-slaves. For these protesters, to return Elian to his father and to Cuba is the greatest act of child abuse. A father who arrives in America with the express intent of returning home to Cuba with his son qualifies on all points as an unnatural monster.

A wide array of opinion polls suggest that about two-thirds of the US public reject this antagonized scene and see the issue in straightforward terms of family reunification between father and son. Framing family questions within anti-communism persuades far fewer people than such maneuvers did decades ago.

The real child abuse lies in subjecting a seven year-old boy, recently traumatized by his mother's death, to a media maelstrom that treats an attempted legal kidnapping as a rescue effort. When people come to be addressed only as political symbols, their de-humanization has begun. The Miami relatives have nurtured and participated in this media war, which reached one of its heights with their release of a home video featuring Elian delivering a long-distance public lecture to his father. The idea that 'home' can be 'home' despite Cuba's political system is antithetical to their exilic Florida substitute for Cuba. For these relatives, 'home' is a political preference that they will force on a child and father because it validates their own choice of Miami, law or a father's love be damned.

There are many arriving on US shores beyond Elian Gonzalez. As anyone who has dealt with INS immigration forms knows, Cubans are privileged immigrants: a Cuban refugee skips the questions and just signs for near-automatic admission. Refugees from China, also under a communist government, do not receive even nearly similar treatment. When black Haitians wash onto Florida shores, they get shipped back home by fast boat. The racial and political contours of humanitarian compassion on immigration issues have a long and noxious history in the United States. Immigrants and refugees routinely face bureaucratic horror stories that few US citizens know or care about, and many remain involuntarily separated from their families for years.

If public discussion of refugees and immigration cared as much for large classes as for a single appealing boy, or for facilitating family reunification as much as for hoary anti-communist symbolism, then there would be real benefit.

Joe Lockard is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective.

Copyright © 2000 by Joe Lockard. All rights reserved.