The Immigration and Naturalization Service said January 11 it will not move to return the child to his father in Cuba, despite a statement a week earlier that they would abide by established laws and send the boy back by January 14. The INS said at the time that Elián's father "has the sole legal authority to speak on behalf of his son."
The Clinton administration's refusal to release the boy has provided the framework for an anti-Cuba campaign by Democratic and Republican party politicians, the big business media, and rightist organizations. Each portrays Cuba as a place where individual freedom is suppressed by a police state.
For example, Judge Rosa Rodríguez of the Miami-Dade Circuit Court here gave Elián's great uncle temporary custody until a court hearing March 6. She wrote that his petition "contains sufficient verified allegations that if emergency relief is not granted and Elián is returned to Cuba he would be subjected to imminent and irreparable harm, including loss of due process rights and harm to his physical and mental health and emotional well-being." No evidence supporting that assertion was provided.
Rodríguez also ordered Elián's father, Juan González, to appear at the March hearing, adding that his "failure to appear may result in a decision adverse to his interests." González has asked the U.S. Council of Churches to act as intermediary and bring his son back to Cuba, stating he would not travel to the United States.
U.S. Attorney-General Janet Reno on January 12 brushed aside this Florida state court's ruling, but opened the door for further delay by saying that any legal challenges must come in federal court. She did not say what steps the federal government might take to enforce its decision to return Elián to Cuba.
Vice-president Albert Gore added his voice to the anti-Cuba campaign, stating his support for the judge's ruling. "This child's mother died in an effort to get her child's freedom," he said.
President William Clinton simply responded, "Anybody's free to express their opinion on this," as if Gore is not a top government official. Clinton has hypocritically claimed his administration is not letting politics enter into its decisions.
But it was widely recognized in the media and by U.S. government officials that the INS and the Justice Department can simply ignore the judge's ruling and return the boy to Cuba.
Elián's mother, and 10 of the 14 other people on a boat, drowned when the ship sank as they were crossing from Cuba in an attempt to reach Florida.
The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 gives Cuban refugees the right to permanent residency one year after being paroled from INS detention if they arrive on U.S. shores. If picked up at sea they are returned to Cuba, according to current U.S. law.
While the Cuban government allows anyone to go to another country that accepts them if they so choose, the U.S. government limits legal immigration from Cuba, encouraging illegal and hazardous trips across the Florida Straits.
Other moves include U.S. Rep. Dan Burton issuing a subpoena requiring the six-year-old to appear before the House Government Reform Committee on February 10. Burton said he wanted to prevent the INS from removing Elián.
In an opinion column in the New York Times, Cuban American Harvard professor George Borjas wrote: "Elián's father may be an exemplary parent. But he cannot divulge his true aspirations.... If the father could talk freely, we suspect that he too would choose to migrate to the United States." The Times added a display quote, "Castro's Cuba is an unfit home."
In a protest held in Cardenas, Cuba, Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly of Cuba, reminded the crowd that Burton was the co-author of the 1996 Helms-Burton law, which reinforced the economic blockade of Cuba.
"[He is] the cosponsor of the annexationist law that among other things causes suffering and deprivation to our children," he said.
In Miami, following the INS decision to return the child to his father, Cuban right-wing organizations, helped by TV and radio stations as well as the main newspapers in the city, built protests aimed at traffic slowdowns and stoppages. Even the Spanish radio stations, which normally play only music, publicized the protests.
In spite of public statements of support by Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and other politicians, fewer people than expected showed up.
From a few dozen to several hundred people blocked some streets and the entrance to the Port of Miami. Longshoremen on their way to work yelled at the protesters, and many workers disapproved of these tactics.
The poor outcome of the mobilizations shows the weakening of the Cuban right-wing organizations in Miami and the fact that Washington has failed to win public opinion on the question of keeping Elián in the United States.
"There are just a few people and they are not representative of the Cuban community," said Eduardo, a Cuban engineer who lived in Miami for seven years. "It is just a group who yell and who have the news media on their side."
The events around Cuba and the deportation of 393 Haitian, 16 Dominican, and 2 Chinese immigrants to Haiti by the U.S. Coast Guard in early January have opened a wide-ranging discussion here on the reasons for the widely different government policies.
A Haitian woman was detained in the Krome Detention Center here because she was sick, but her two children were deported to Haiti.
"The solution to such injustice is not opening the process to all who reach U.S. territorial waters," wrote columnist Carl Hiaasen in the Miami Herald. Openly anti-immigrant, he continued, "For the seas would fill with flimsy boats and tragedy upon tragedy would follow. The solution is to make a fair law that applies equitably to everybody and to quit playing favorites."
Another Herald columnist, Robert Steinback, wrote, "I sympathize with the more than 400 Haitians who crowded onto a barely seaworthy ship. But, he continued, "They want political asylum from a democracy [in Haiti]?
"The United States committed its money and military might to restoring democracy to Haiti in 1994—a mission I enthusiastically supported." He added, "I doubt many would qualify for political asylum in any case."
Not everyone agrees with this analysis. Gerald Lacrete, Jr., a Haitian American who lives in Miami and travels to Haiti on a monthly basis, told the Herald, "The former militaries still carry guns and they still kill ordinary people. There is no security there—the people don't go out after 6 p.m. for fear of being killed."
In a letter to the editor, Lea Bracha wrote about the deportations, saying, "The hypocrisy is so blatant, and the disregard for human rights obvious.... Nobody is running in the streets of Havana with guns, and people do not disappear in the middle of the night. The only reasons they [Cubans] have for coming is to better themselves financially, the same reason the Haitians have, but the need in Haiti is so much more pronounced and urgent than it ever was in Cuba."
The Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Miami-Dade County, Rollande Girard, has been getting out her views amidst these events, including at several protests of the deportation of the Haitian refugees.
"Washington attacks Cuba because working people there made a revolution, took back their country from U.S. domination, and expropriated the holdings of the giant U.S. corporations," she said. "They have waged a military, economic, and propaganda war against Cuba ever since."
"These are the same companies and their government who exploit and dominate the people in Haiti. They are the same who discriminate against immigrants and who attack our union and democratic rights here," she continued.
"I urge all who are defending immigrant rights, fighters in the labor and farm movements, and student youth to explain and defend the Cuban revolution," Girard said, and "demand Washington end its campaign and return Elián to his father, and fight to stop the deportations now!"
Rachele Fruit is a member of International Association of Machinists Local 1126.
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