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by Ernesto Betancourt
The Elian case is being seen in too narrow a context. For the child this is a matter of life or death and he seems to understand what is at stake for him very clearly. The immediate relatives in Miami have done a fantastic job. They have been decent, generous, firm and very modest, while providing the child a loving environment he most sorely needs. The father has been under Castro control all along and, while recognizing that restraining factor, all we can say is that he is not a model of courage or parental commitment to the well-being of his child. Finally, the mother, Elizabeth Brotons, was willing to pay with her lie to see her child free. Quite a contrast with papa Juan Miguel.
Cuban-Americans are being bashed for demanding the rule of law for the child and having the courage to stand firm in their support of the Miami family. The Administration is in a frantic game of provocations to encourage the image of a community that refuses to respect US laws. So far they have prevailed in the liberal media and in the pro-Castro crowd. And they have influenced American public opinion by narrowing the issue to a question of a father's rights.
Not even a court decision validating the position of Elian's family all along has been enough to cool the lynching mob in the media. Not to mention the Serrano/Waters cabal in Congress. Why is Elian so important outside the family and he himself?
To the Cuban-American community he evokes memories of personal or family experiences and there is also a feeling of circling the wagons when their community is being unfairly portrayed and viciously attacked. To the liberals this is a pro-Castro cause they could endorse without the ideological ballast of Communism. They could appear as advocates of family values while attacking the much hated Cuban-American community, whose political influence has prevented their dream of normalizing relations with Cuba. For Fidel, this is a crucial struggle for success to revive nationalist feelings among Cubans, mostly the younger generation, and restore his stance among the Cubans as a champion of the rights of Cubans against the imperialists. Avoiding failure in this effort is a matter of life and death for his regime. This leaves us with Clinton. Why is he acting the way he is?
The initial decision of the Administration, announced on November 30 1999, was that this was matter to be handled through family court. It was stated that neither Justice nor INS had competence to deal with the issue. In other words, the legal angle was not the issue. Then, Fidel grabbed the issue for his own sake and gave the Administration a 72 hour ultimatum to return the child. Afterwards, he softened his stance and early in December made the concession of accepting the prisoners who had rioted in Louisiana. A secret path of conversations was opened that will someday be subject to a Congressional investigation.
Gary Hart and Andy Young were involved initially in these secret conversations and Dwayne Andreas may have been the financial angel in some cases, in particular the Grannies' visit. They were promoting some business deal from before the Elian problem and got tangentially involved. All this was part of a hush-hush effort by the Administration to generate business pressure to restabllish normal relations with Cuba Somehow, they seem to have been displaced after the Grannies visit ended in a public relations disaster. And, more so, after the Faget arrest led Fidel to smell a Clinton betrayal. As part of the broad deal, Castro is also to play a role in the Colombia peace negotiations.
While the Elian case was progressing in the courts through the appeal to the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, the broader negotiations continue and Gregory Craig was brought in to ensure that the Elian case was taken care properly-that is to Castro's satisfaction-so that it may not interfere with the broader deal. This may help explain why Janet Reno, having negotiated a commitment for an accelerated handling of the appeal with the Miami family, all of the sudden turned to pressure the family to sign an abdication of their constitutional rights of further appeals and also agree to deliver Elian in a secret place of INS choosing, removed from US media.
This was intended to ensure prompt closure and no adverse public relations. Elian be damned and the relatives, along with the community, be demonized as thugs, lawless punks, maffiosi, kidnappers, secessionits and what not. One intimidation from Ms Reno followed another without rhyme or reason. Craig went to Havana and had several multihour sessions with Castro which resulted in Elian's father moving to Washington. Still as a Castro prisoner, because Remirez' home is not US territory. We do not know what assurances from Clinton Craig gave to Castro to persuade him to agree to Juan Miguel's coming to the US.
Did the US made a formal commitment, through Craig, to ignore the Court of Appeals decision or make it moot ? Certainly, the actions of the Attorney General in trying to transfer the custody of the child to his father, who was not living in US territory-the diplomatic status of the residence was never officially requested to be removed-had that implicit consequence.
That is why the court decision is so important. It demonstrates that it was not the Miami family or the Cuban American community that was violating the rule of law. As it has been the case time and again uinder Clinton, Ms Reno had been violating the rule of law while claiming with a straight face that she was doing exactly the opposite. The court revealed its discomfort with the behavior of INS and Justice in particular, as it pertains to the rights of the child to make a claim for asylum on his own right.
Notice that Craig, immediately after the court's decision was announced, demanded that the Attorney General fulfill her commitment to deliver the child to the father. This action will make the Court decision moot, because the child will end in Cuban territory with the father and the father will prevent him from applying for asylum. In doing that the Attorney General is risking angering the Court of Appeals even more. Unless proper safeguards are provided for the child to be in US and not diplomatic territory and that he be guaranteed the right to make his own appeal for asylum, even if his father objects, the Justice Department may be violating the spirit and in some aspects even the letter of the court's decision. Ms Reno and President Clinton are desperate because if they fail to stop the judicial process, the deal made by Craig with Castro on the basis of Clinton's promises will fall apart. Castro is likely to blow the whistle once he becomes convinced that Elian will be out of his reach. The whole mess could explode in Clinton's face. The American people will discover that its President made a deal with a Communist Dictator in total defiance of what the court were considering under an appeal before them. It seems there is a big scandal in the making.