Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

December 15, 1999


I was going to write about the controversy over the fate of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy found clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast: his mother and stepfather drowned in their attempted escape from Castro's island prison, but somehow little Elian managed to survive after a grueling ordeal at sea. But what is there, really, to write about?


Boy escapes from totalitarian jail to the freedom and unlimited opportunity of the US: American law gives Cubans the right to stay on US soil if they succeed in getting that far on their own power: it's the "dry foot, wet foot" policy. Since Elian qualifies under the law, he has the right to stay: case closed. To add drama and pathos to the story: The boy's mother, determined that her son would live in freedom and have the chance for a good life, risked her own – and lost it. But the dream lived on: Elian is free. What is completely inexplicable, and even frightening, is that he may not be free for long.


Would we be talking about this if Elian were a refugee from, say, Iraq – or Serbia? Of course not. But Cuba retains a place in the affections of the American left. So what if it ruthlessly represses all political opposition and represents the last gasp of a system that killed more people than the Nazis – they have universal health care, don't they?


Incredibly, the Clinton administration has taken an officially "neutral" position, and is claiming that they will leave it to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to make what the pundits are calling a "Solomonic" decision. "I don't think that we should, any of us, interfere with what is going to be a difficult enough decision as it is," Clinton said at a Dec. 9 news conference. But the idea that it is possible or admirable to be morally "neutral" in a matter of this kind is, itself, most assuredly a very un-neutral stance to take. In posing life in the US and life in the Cuba as two equally desirable and morally plausible fates, the Clintonians and their left-liberal amen corner are delivering the not-so-subtle message that Cuba is not only an okay place, kind of like a tropicalized Berkeley, but is morally equivalent to the US.


Conservatives reflexively get out the barf bags on hearing these arguments, and I, too, am disgusted and bewildered that anyone could say such things without an acute sense of embarrassment if not genuine shame. What's even more inexplicable – and devastatingly depressing – is that a great many Americans, about half, seem to favor sending the boy back to live with his Commie father, at least according to recent polls. In other words, about half of the American people, 45 percent, see no fundamental difference between life under Castro's totalitarian regime and Clinton's America.


If we think of it that way, they may have a point. The efficiency and ruthlessness of Castro's political police, is rivaled by our own – which was unleashed against dozens of conservative dissidents and others during the Clinton years, and I'm not just talking about Waco and Ruby Ridge.


Just ask Linda Tripp. Poor pathetic Linda will not spend twenty years in the Cuban gulag for soiling the legacy of Commandante Clinton. But a million-dollar-plus legal bill and coast-to-coast vilification is a heavy price to pay for the crime of lese majeste.


And an awfully loooong list of people who have two things in common – they crossed the Clintons, and subsequently met unfortunate "accidents" – has been compiled by people who keep track of such things, such as the British journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. No, we aren't as far down the road to serfdom as the Cubans. But we are catching up with them quickly enough to make some Americans queasy – put me in that category – and others complacent about the ongoing Cubanization of American life.


"Cubanization"? Isn't that a little overdrawn? Well, then, look at it this way: Sure, we have elections – controlled by two state-supported and subsidized parties. These two parties, which enjoy a monopoly on ballot status, are merely separate "left" and "right" wings of the same party, the Washington party, which controls American politics far more effectively than a one-party state. But, hey, wait a minute, unlike Castro's Cuba, we have a free press – right?


Yeah, right, we have a "free press" – one so intertwined with government on every level that official controls and censorship are not even necessary: the flacks and hacks of the American media do not even need to be told what to write, since their every instinct is to parrot the government line even before it is fully formulated. As an effective system of thought control, the power, reach, and dependable unanimity of the mainstream media is unsurpassed by anything Fidel's pathetic propaganda apparatus has to offer.

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But can't dissidents still speak out against the government – what about the First Amendment? Sure, you can operate your own single-jack operation, get on a soapbox, electronic or otherwise, and get your own two cents worth in – but even that privilege is in danger of being revoked. As the federal government inches closer to regulating and taxing the Internet, invoking "hate crime" laws to limit speech, and launching Orwellian schemes such as "Project Echelon," there is a growing movement to formalize the thought control and government surveillance that comes with the imposition of a totalitarian regime.


The father is Juan Miguel Gonzalez, a loyal Castroite Communist who proudly points to the portrait of Che Guevera hanging in his bedroom, and has become an official instrument of Cuban government propaganda. Is anyone surprised that he was encouraged by his recent meeting with American immigration officials? "'These people [the INS] have been on our side all along. They agree that he should be back here, that the child should be returned as soon as possible,' a beaming Gonzalez said in an interview outside his two-story home in Cardena, 95 miles east of Havana," reports the Associated Press.


Of course the INS (and, behind them, the Clinton administration) is on Castro's side, although they are rushing to deny it. They can't register these immigrants right off the boat and count on them as loyal Democratic party voters. Haitian, Bosnians, Mexicans – yes, send more, and plenty of them. But please, no more Cubans, not even a 5-year-old boy, a waif washed up on the shores of (relative) freedom – and never mind his mother's obvious wishes and the tragedy of her ultimate sacrifice.


Suddenly, the left has discovered the virtues of "family values" and fatherhood, declaring that the boy must not be a tool of Cuban exiles and a political cause: we must decide "what's best for the child," as Al Gore put it. But of course it would be "better for the child" to go back to the life he once knew, which was filled with such activities as his parents "taking him to a march commemorating revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos." According to documents released by the Cubans, Elian attended a day-care center run by the "Young Pioneers – a branch of the Cuban Communist Party which virtually all Cuban children are required to join. Perhaps, on second thought, it is better if he stays in Cuba – while indoctrination in the Young Pioneers might not be much different from an education in our oh-so-politically correct public schools, at least in Cuba he'll learn to read and write – and will be in less danger from a random mugging, beating, or mass killing.


The Cubans claim that the boy belongs with his father, and that the US is "stealing" him by letting him stay. Our own Fidelistas echo this refrain: speaking in "family values" code, they aver that the boy would be "better off" with his surviving parent. Isn't it funny how these lefties, who are supposed to be such big feminists, are now forgetting or evading the mother – whose name I could not find in any of the news accounts. We have heard much about the father, we know his name and his politics and his demands, but what about the mother? What was her story? The father, we know, is a dedicated Commie, but the mother, who tried to escape with her child, was estranged from him: Who knows what differences led to their estrangement – and yet, from what we do know about the basic facts of her life, they were different enough politically for one to flee from tyranny and the other to embrace it. If Elian returns, then her sacrifice was in vain – how come the feminists don't have a problem with this? Will no one speak out in the mother's name, and demand to know why her clear intent is not being respected?


The Cuban government has made Elian's fate a rallying point for the faltering regime, and has mobilized mass "spontaneous" demonstrations demanding the child's forced return. Fidel himself has personally taken up the cause, declaring that "there will be millions of people in the streets demanding the boy's freedom. It is difficult to hold back the population with the state of irritation." And sure enough, there were demonstrations in front of the US embassy, one of which was described by the Associated Press [Dec. 6] as follows: "Waving Cuban flags and chanting political slogans, 500 members of the Communist Youth gathered Sunday night in the first such protest outside the U.S. Interests Section in Havana – the American government's Cuban mission. 'Elian, our friend! Cuba is with you!' the young communists chanted during the hour-long demonstration."


With "friends" like these, Elian doesn't need any enemies. Cuba may be with him – but only in the sense that most of the population wishes that they, too, were being feted in Miami – or at least free to leave the Cuban "workers' paradise." Trapped in a totalitarian nightmare, the best of Cuba's young people go quietly mad. The worst join the Commie nomenklatura – while the vast majority in the middle can only wait and hope that the regime will someday go the way of its former Soviet allies. If we send Elian back, which road will he take? Will he rebel, become a dissident, and get into trouble? Or will he go along with the program, like his father, and perhaps become a propaganda icon, a model of the New Socialist Man? If he has an ounce of independence – and the strength of will to cling to an inner tube for endless hours at the age of 5 – we may find that, one day, a grown-up Elian will return under similar circumstances. And what will we say to him then?


After all this publicity, Elian could not have a normal life in Cuba. He would be watched constantly, and, as he grows up, he would be put under tremendous pressure to demonstrate his loyalty to the regime. According to his cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, who lives in Florida: "He told me, 'I don't want to go back, I don't want to go back'" – and that is good enough for me. Elian may be a child, but this kid's no dummy – he realizes that his mother died in the attempt to give him a better life – and now that he has it he wants to keep it. Who among us can blame him? Only the INS and our resident Fidelistas, who would re-enroll him in the "Young Pioneers."


I am pleased to announce that we now have a search engine – a device that comes in handy with a website like And you have certainly been taking advantage of it, as I can see from our hit report. I find that it is very useful, and am confident that our readers will give it quite a workout. Thanks to Eric Garris, our ISP Eagle-Net, and the volunteers and contributors who made it possible. We continue to improve this site, not only continually updating the news but also giving you new features, new columns, and new tools. Please let us know what you think: without your feedback, as well as your support, we have no way to gauge our success.


And that isn't all, as far as improvements go – there's the new photo that accompanies this column. I don't mind saying that this an innovation that comes as a great relief to me: when we first started featuring a photo at the top of "Behind the Headlines," the only one on hand was a particularly geeky one that made me look like a cross between Elmer Fudd and a Mafia hit-man. The new one, which is much more informal – and, in my view, realistic – was taken by Yoshinori Abe: no more phony smile, just a candid glare. Thanks to Yoshi, for catching me by surprise with his camera, and especially to Malcom Garris, who redesigned the logo.

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