Undermining His Chances for Political Asylum and Thus Betraying the Principles America Stands For
The fully justified national uproar over the storm trooper-like kidnapping of Elian Gonzalez has taken attention away from a more fundamental issue. What has not been discussed is the motive for the raid. It was no coincidence that the raid occurred after the Justice Department had been rebuffed by the 11th Circuit Court of appeals in its efforts to bypass an asylum hearing. Clearly Reno and her minions hoped that by forcibly reuniting Elian with his father they could make the asylum issue moot. It is obvious that a six-year-old boy could not be expected either to reject his own father or to understand the nature or importance of individual rights and political freedom. Thus the government hoped it could argue that Elian now really wants to go back to Cuba and that there is no need even to discuss asylum.
But this brings up a deeper question. Why does Reno want Elian to go back to Cuba? Superficially, it might seem as if she is simply wedded to "the law" in some obsessive, soulless fashion--like Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. In this view, her premise would simply be: a father (or mother) has the right to his own child and that's that. This explanation, however, will not do. Reno knows very well that parental rights are not absolute. For example, parents do not have the right to beat or abuse their children; if they do, the child is taken away from them and the abusive parents are sent to jail. The flaw in the "parental rights" argument is that individual rights, and not parental rights, are primary. Parents who abuse the individual rights of their child have their parental rights taken away.
Reno's deeper premise is that a totalitarian dictatorship is not inimical to a child's rights. If one has followed the Elian story in the press and on TV, two things have been apparent. First, left-leaning commentators try desperately to steer clear of any discussion of the actual nature of the Cuban State. Second, if pushed to the wall on the issue, they claim that Cuba is not really that bad (not as bad, for example, as Nazi Germany) or that it is just a matter of personal preference (a "difference in life style").
Consider what a totalitarian dictatorship actually involves: (1) no freedom of speech; (2) imprisonment or death for "political" crimes, e.g., criticizing the state; (3) a one-party political system; and (4) no private property. In effect, under Communism or any form of dictatorship, you have no rights and are the property of the state, to be disposed of in any way the dictator sees fit. (That children are the property of the state is stated explicitly in the Cuban Constitution and recently by Cuban officials in relation to Elian.)
It is true that Cuba has not killed millions as did the Nazis and Soviets--the estimate is about 17,000. But the difference is only a matter of degree not of principle. Many Cubans have died in prison; many still languish in jail for the crime of disagreeing with Castro. Many thousands of the best and brightest have fled, yearning to breathe free. Thousands more have died in the attempt, some of whom were killed in cold blood by Castro's goons. All who wish to speak out live in fear of being turned in by their neighbors, many of whom work for the secret police.
Can Janet Reno look the American people in the eye and claim that sending a child to such a country, one where he will never have any rights and will live at the mercy of a totalitarian dictator, is not a form of child abuse? What if a black child had escaped from the South in 1860 and the child's father, a plantation slave, for whatever reason, demanded his return? Would Reno have complied on the grounds of parental rights?
It would seem that Reno's answer would have to be Yes to both of these questions. If so, then we have to ask what we stand for as a nation if we allow her to send Elian back. America was founded on the principle that the role of the government is to protect individual rights; that the individual is sovereign; that people have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that the individual's life belongs to him, not to the state. If we betray these principles, then we, as Americans, will have betrayed an innocent six-year-old boy and our own moral greatness.
Edwin A. Locke, author of The Prime Movers: The Traits of the Great Wealth Creators, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
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