Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#82, April 11, 2000


by Marylaine Block

Now that Elian's father is here, it seems clear that, stall though the Miami relatives will, the boy will finally get to go home. To our great relief.

Despite what you might think from the endless media images of Elian and endless TV interviews with his Miami relatives, most Americans, and even most Floridians, think the boy needs his father. Our own experience verifies what child psychologists know: children who lose a parent need the comfort of their families. The best place for Elian to heal after his trauma would have been in the familiar surroundings of his home, where father, grandparents, cousins and schoolmates could all help him. Once rescued in Florida, he should have been returned immediately to his father.

Many of us wonder why such elementary truths are forgotten when Cuba is part of the picture, and why a small group of Cuban-Americans thinks it should get to rewrite America's foreign policy.

The Miami relatives wail that the government cares nothing about the best interests of the child, and worries only about international law and precedent and its relationship with Cuba. And it's true our government CAN'T break its own rules on this case and expect other countries to return kidnapped American children in the future.

But historically, our government has ALWAYS believed that children's best interests are served best by their own parents. We rarely take children away from their parents, and when we must do so, we require social workers to reunite the families whenever possible.

If his Cuban-American family truly cared about the boy's best interests, they would not have used him to score political points against Castro. They would not have paraded him before the media or allowed supporters to surround his home every day, chanting praise for him and insults to Castro. They would not have used every possible delaying tactic.

They would not have tried to wean Elian away from his family in Cuba, and seduce him with the glories of capitalism. Watching him being treated to Disney World, a new puppy, and an incredible array of toys, can we doubt the boy is being bribed? A family friend says every time Elian so much as gets a glass of milk, he is reminded that he couldn't have that in Cuba.

If they cared about what is in the best interests of this child (and any other) -- stability and certainty -- they would not have upped the ante every time their conditions were met. They said they'd return Elian to his father IF he would only come to this country; now that the father is here, they have yet more conditions.

They would not have refused to agree that if they lost their legal appeals they would turn Elian over peacefully, without inciting civic protest, would not have used the implied threat of Cuban-American mass resistance as their strongest weapon.

But if we don't care for the family's actions, we can't really admire the government's actions either. We don't understand why agents of government who should support the law have aided and abetted this resistance. It's bad enough that grandstanding Congressmen propose legislation to keep Elian here, but beyond belief that the mayor of Miami would apparently invite rebellion and refuse to support federal marshals if they come to take the boy to his father.

We don't understand why our government moved so slowly, and presented its case so poorly. Clinton, a great educator when he wants to be, has never explained or defended the INS decision, leaving all the heavy lifting to Janet Reno, who can barely be heard in the media -- unfortunately, policy statements don't make for good pictures and heartrending stories.

The one heartening note was the town meeting held last Friday night on Nightline, which demonstrated that people of passionately held opposing views can hold a civil discussion (Congress, please take note). The Attorney-General explained the government's case and answered questions; the mayor of Miami, chastised by a citizen, apologized and clarified his remarks.

Many of us are happy that at last this scared, confused little boy is going home with his father. We never understood why a small group of people with a strong sense of entitlement was allowed to hold him hostage and intimidate the government for so long.

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