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by Fulton Huxtable
"No one—not even a father—has the right to enslave another."
Life under a dictatorship is a form of living death. It is life in captivity, like some caged animal in a zoo. But it is worse because you are not an animal, but a human being that needs to be free in order to achieve your dreams. Under a dictatorship, personal action to achieve your dreams is not permitted.
For those trapped in the dreary, gray existence of a dictatorship, there are two, predominant emotions: hopelessness about the future—and—fear created from the knowledge that you have no control over your life, no protection from the arbitrary actions of the state. There is no freedom of speech: you can be jailed for saying or writing something that displeases the state. There is no freedom of press to put a spotlight on the injustice of your being jailed. There are unrestricted, arbitrary searches of your person and "property." You live with the daily, constant fear of losing your life because you, and everyone else, know someone who has had a friend or family member "disappear," never to be seen or heard from again. You cannot join with others to form political opposition to the state: you will be jailed or killed.
Your mail and phone calls are monitored by the state. If you have health problems, the state decides whether you receive treatment. Your fear is that you may get too sick or too old and the state might decide you are expendable, that it is too expensive to keep you healthy and alive. The state decides what education, if any, you are to receive. You are not free to choose your own career. There is no freedom of enterprise: you are not free to engage in voluntary cooperation with others, to form a company that might make you a fortune. Private fortunes are not permitted. Only those in politically powerful positions become wealthy. There are no Bill Gates in a dictatorship, no geniuses free to create products that raise the standard of living for everyone. There are no Salk’s to discover a vaccine for polio. There are no Thomas Edison’s, no Henry Ford’s, no Louis Pasteur’s—there are no great minds to create the discoveries and products that make life possible.
Under a dictatorship, you have no rights recognized and protected by the state. You have limited freedom of movement within the country and no freedom to emigrate to America. If you manage to escape, you do so at the peril of friends and family left behind who are held hostage by the state and may be punished for your acts.
This is the reality of life under a dictatorship. This is life in communist Cuba.
Given the foregoing, it is shameful that polls indicate a majority of Americans thinks that six-year-old Elian Gonzalez should be returned to Cuba. This is an alarming change from 50 years ago. Back then, with memories fresh with the horrors of totalitarianism, there would have been little question about what should happen to Elian: there would have been almost universal support to provide asylum to anyone escaping from tyranny. Back then, most still believed in the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…." But this is no longer the attitude of America: now they will send a child back into slavery, into the unspeakable misery of living under a dictatorship.
In listening to the televised discussions of Elian’s plight, what jumps out from the screen is the shocking lack of any discussion of the central issue relevant to Elian Gonzalez: freedom and the individual’s right to it.
Most seem to discuss this issue as if Elian had simply moved across state lines, from Georgia to Florida, and totally evade the fact that the boy escaped, with the help of his mother and friends, from a communist dictatorship.
No one—not even a father—has the right to enslave another. If Cuba were a free country, one in which individual rights were recognized and protected, then Elian Gonzalez’s father would have a legitimate claim for custody of his son. But his father lives in a dictatorship in which no rights are recognized and all are violated at the whim of the state. In such a case, the father has no right to bring his son back to Cuba and sentence the boy to a life of enslavement, to a life in which the boy’s right to life and liberty are not recognized but violated.
The polls showing a majority wishes to send Elian back to Cuba are a frightening harbinger of things to come in America. It is a sickening indicator of America’s soul that we have the spectacle of maudlin Free Willy movies proclaiming the "right" of whales to be free, yet most apparently have no such sympathy for the legitimate right of a child to be free.
If you were trapped in a dictatorship, wouldn’t you want some hope of being free? For most, in America, freedom has come to us by an accident of birth. Those who have risked their lives to reach our shores deserve our asylum. Those not born free, but who yearn to be free, deserve this hope: to live in America.
Perhaps some do not understand the reality of life under a dictatorship. Perhaps others do understand, but just don’t care. Either explanation is ominous for the future of freedom. And…then…perhaps the poll results would be different if this question were asked: when you were six years old, where would you want to live? In the relative freedom of America—or—under some brutal dictatorship, one in which you would not be free live your life as you wish, one in which you would be condemned, for life, to be a vassal of the state?
Maybe—just maybe—if enough of us ask that question of others, then perhaps Elian will be spared a lifetime of suffering under a dictatorship. America should let Elian breathe free.