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With liberty and justice, but not for Elian's dad

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© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2000

Okay, scratch that from the list of easy answers.

U.S. politicians had hoped for it.

The Cuban exiles of Miami had predicted it.

The most arrogant of Americans had just assumed it.

But Juan Miguel Gonzalez did not, upon arriving in the United States, fall to his knees and beg to stay on our sacred soil.

He did not announce: "Fidel Castro was makin' me say all that bad stuff before! I secretly wanted to be an American all along. I now request asylum. I wish to purchase, how do you Yankees call it, a suburban utility vehicle."

Instead, he got off the airplane and declared to the people of the United States: You have my 6-year-old son, Elian. I expect you to give him back to me. I intend to return with him to our native Cuba, where I will raise him.

Naturally, many exiles in Miami decided at once that they did not believe Gonzalez. They said his words were scripted -- if anything, more proof that the father has been brainwashed and is unfit to raise the boy.

And some still wait hopefully for the defection. It is unthinkable to them that the guy actually might want to go back to Cuba. Maybe he is steeling his nerves and he'll do it today, or the day after. Maybe he'll meet with the family in Miami and finally see the light. Maybe he'll change his mind during the appeals.

Maybe so. All he has to do is ask.

But what we have on the table is a father from another nation, a nation that we denounce, coming to us and telling us: Give me back my son.

There is no way around the hard choice now.

The only way to keep Elian Gonzalez in the United States is to declare that we Americans have the right to decide which nations' parents have a right to keep their children, and which nations' parents do not.

The hatred of Castro by the exiles in Miami is justified. The evils of the Castro regime, both historic and current, are real. For all of Castro's posturing about the need to reunite Elian with his father, Castro keeps hundreds, if not thousands more families divided between our two nations behind his own version of the Iron Curtain.

But those protesters who ring Elian's temporary home in Miami, and vow he will be sent home over their dead bodies, have collapsed the whole world into one single litmus test. To them, sending Elian home is a victory for Castro and nothing else. No matter whether that is where his father wants to raise him.

Juan Miguel is the surviving parent. This is not a case of finders, keepers.

The exiles are fixated, but almost all are honorable. Less honorable are the American politicians of both parties who have exploited them: Al Gore and George W. Bush, each wanting to grab voters in the presidential race; Bill McCollum, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate; U.S. Sens. Bob Graham and Connie Mack; the Florida Republican Party, which used Elian's name in a letter to raise money; the mayors of Miami-Dade and Miami, who disrespected their solemn oaths as elected officials, little George Wallaces and Orval Faubuses, by saying they would not help enforce the nation's laws.

Gov. Jeb Bush should be singled out and praised for not joining in this insanity. In fact, the governor told his state party to back off. Too bad he couldn't use his clout on the national stage.

We Americans have been taught since birth that our nation is the greatest in history. Why? Because it is built on the principles of liberty and self-determination, governed by the rule of law and not the whims of men.

The Declaration of Independence says these sacred rights are bestowed by God directly on each human being. Presumably, even Juan Miguel Gonzalez possesses them and does not forfeit them merely by refusing to live where other people think he ought to.

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