Thomas Fleming is wrong when he writes (Cultural Revolutions, April) that, by Cuban law, Elian Gonzalez belongs to his next-of-kin, his father. According to Cuban law (specifically the Codigo de Familia Ley, No. 1289), parental authority is subordinated to “inculcating” the “internationalist spirit and socialist morality.” According to Article 95, section three, of this so-called family code, government tribunals can “deprive both parents, or one of them, parental authority,” when both parents fail to indoctrinate their children in communist morality. Under Cuban law, Elian has one “father” who ultimately decides what value system he will be raised in, and his name is Fidel Castro.

Secondly, Dr. Fleming is guilty of an Orwellian use of the English language. He stated that Elian’s mother “died in an illegal attempt to enter the United States.” One may agree or disagree with current U.S. immigration policy, but one cannot dispute that, under Lyndon Johnson’s 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, Elian’s mother is given automatic residency upon reaching U.S. soil. How can her attempt to enter the United States be illegal if, upon entering, she would be granted residency a year and a day later? The Clinton administration’s 1995 circumvention of the spirit of this law, without repealing it, in a migration agreement with the Castro regime is just another example of the lawlessness of the Clinton administration, not of Elian’s mother. The claim that “by American law, the boy is simply an illegal alien who can either be returned to Cuba or stuck in a concentration camp” is just wrong. Under U.S. law, the child was granted humanitarian parole and was on his way to receiving residency a year and a day later before Castro’s tantrum led to the INS reversing its decision.

Dr. Fleming cites the American abortion rate, declaring “it is hard to believe [Cuba] begins to approach the American level.” Pax Christi sent a delegation to Cuba back in 1998 and was profoundly disturbed to report that, according to the Cuban minister of health, there is one abortion to every birth in Cuba. Pax Christi claimed that, at a “rather large nearby hospital, that we visit often, approximately thirty abortions take place daily. It is not unusual for women to be forced to have abortions. To rebel against the practice is futile.”

Dr. Fleming’s observation that “recent visitors to Cuba have not returned with stories of massive oppression and executions” should be placed in a larger historical context. I’d recommend that he obtain a transcript of Daniel Wolfs BBC2 documentaries. Tourists of the Revolution. It’s amazing how visitors to some of the most brutal and murderous tyrannies of this century failed to mention mass murder and wholesale oppression. George Bernard Shaw visited the Soviet Union in 1931 and returned with stories of “an atmosphere of hope and security as has never before been seen in a civilized country on earth.” Another visitor to the “worker’s paradise” built by that wonderful humanitarian Stalin, Barbara Castle, then a journalist, reported “no atmosphere of repression” in pre-war Moscow, only glorious opportunities for women. Meanwhile, millions were being starved, massacred, and banished to gulags in Siberia.

There is a paradox at work in Cuba. The more foreign investment in joint partnerships with the regime, the greater the shrinkage in the Cuban private sector. Reuters reported in 1998 that “current and former members of the private sector blame the falloff on excessive state controls and taxes imposed after the introduction of some market-oriented features in 1993.” This clampdown on the private sector coincided with the arrival of hard currency from European and Canadian investors. This hard currency has been used to sustain the Cuban police state. Dropping sanctions and providing U.S. credits and hard currency to prop up the regime will only earn the enmity of the Cuban people.

Reports of massive repression in Cuba have appeared in the Economist, in which Pedro Betancur reported on the brutal January 22 beating of human-rights activists by a government mob. Sixty-eight-year-old Gloria Gonzalez described the attack: “They hit one of my sons on the head with a stick, cutting him badly. They broke another’s rib. They kicked me hard and knocked me over.” Seven of the victims of the beating were arrested. According to the independent Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission in Havana, almost 600 people have been temporarily detained since November, and the commission has documented 350 political prisoners. They call it the worst crackdown in a decade.

Dr. Oscar Elias Bisect, a medical doctor, was fired from his job after protesting late-term abortions at a government hospital where he worked and continued to enrage the dictatorship by carrying protest signs charging the regime with being “child murderers.” Dr. Biscet was sentenced to a three-year prison term for his activism. This culture of death was manifested on July 13, 1994, when agents of the regime massacred 41 men, women, and children whose sole crime was trying to flee the island. Whole families were murdered. Agents of the Castro regime destroyed the parental rights of the fathers and mothers along with their lives, and the lives of their children, without mercy. In Dr. Fleming’s rush to expose the shortcomings of American domestic and foreign policy, he has committed the error of whitewashing the last Stalinist dictatorship in the Western hemisphere.

        —John J. Suarez
Coordinator Free Cuba Foundation
Miami, FL

I would like to commend Dr. Fleming for his excellent interview with Dean Koontz in the April issue. However, his editorial in Cultural Revolutions was wholly misguided. Accusing “conservative Republican politicians and family values Christians” of “mischief is the wrong approach to the Elian Gonzalez situation. While it is true that conservatives and liberals have taken positions on the issue that are the exact opposite of their usual reactions, there is good reason to explain it, and Dr. Fleming neglects to point this out.

Conservatives are normally opposed to increased immigration, but in the interests of protecting a little boy from a communist dictator (who is the only reason that Mr. Gonzalez wants his son to return from the freedom he has in America), they have sided with many Cuban-Americans. Liberals and Dr. Fleming have taken the unusual tack of proclaiming observance of Cuban and U.S. family law, which both dictate that Elian return to his father in Cuba. But in 1984, Cuba and the United States signed a treaty outlining the terms of migration from Cuba to the United States, and in 1995, Cuba and the United States reaffirmed a 1994 commitment to ensure “safe, orderly, and legal” migration. Under the 1995 agreement, any refugee intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard or who illegally entered Guantanamo Naval Base was to be returned to Cuba. As Mark Falcoff pointed out in the April 2000 issue of Commentary, the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1964 grants automatic political asylum to anyone (including Elian) who makes it to U.S. shores.

The true “besetting American sin” will be abdicating to Castro’s political smoke bombs and supporting normal trade relations with China. The United States should adhere to its agreements and enforce economic sanctions across the board on countries that violate basic human rights and liberties.

        —Nathan Byerly
Carolina Review
Chapel Hill, NC

I picked up my April issue of Chronicles today and could hardly believe my eyes when I began to read the piece which advocated making little Elian a sacrificial lamb to Castro. I turned the page to see who the heretic was who dared violate die pages of my favorite periodical. To my horror, it was you. Dr. Fleming. The Elian issue has become a litmus test of sorts, which speaks volumes about the current state of our polities and morality. The reprobate Clinton mob, with their moll Ma Reno and her stooge Doris Meissner at the INS, care little about defending our borders and national sovereignty. They allow millions of illegal aliens to violate our borders and fail to deport even criminal aliens, but they are hell-bent to deport Elian to please Castro. To our shame, the majority of Americans support them.

Along with Castro’s propaganda machine, American fellow travelers and the Clinton mob have put forth a propaganda barrage based on parental rights (a concept foreign to communist totalitarianism). They are abetted by our mainstream media’s hostility toward Elian’s Miami family and the surrounding Cuban-American community. Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, Gloria Borger, and Sam Donaldson, to name a few, can scarcely contain their fierce intolerance of anyone who tries to explain the facts of the case.

The decay of the conservative movement has been illustrated by “conservatives” like Rep. Steve Largent (R-OK) who have bought into the Clinton/Castro propaganda campaign. That strange alliance with the left is made in the name of “the rule of law” and “family values.” Some of my associates in the immigration control movement take the absurd, hard-line position that Elian is here illegally and must, therefore, be deported. They argue that we must obey the custody laws irrespective of whether Cuba shows any respect for the rule of law.

It has become obvious that most Americans have lost, or perhaps never had, fear and loathing of communist oppression. That excuse does not apply in your case, which seems to be biult on despair at our own decay and the moral equivalence argument used so often by the left during the Cold War. I confess that I had some initial concerns about Elian being exposed to all of the corrupting influences in America today. But the logical extension of that line of thought is to advocate totalitarianism here to purge negative influences.

You have chosen the side of Bill Clinton, Janet Reno, Maxine Waters, Al Sharpton, and a lot of other unsavory characters. I would hope that fact gives you some pause. I have only Al Gore to jolt my comfort zone. I am willing to allow that even he may be subject to an occasional attack of conscience, but even if his enlightened position is due to political considerations, any help in saving Elian from a life under communist oppression is welcome.

        —Gary K.
Stark La Palma, CA

Who could quarrel with the vigorously logical analysis you have made of the case of Elian Gonzalez? And yet, several points remain to be covered.

The mother of the child who made the supreme sacrifice in order to free her son from life under an evil dictatorship, although dead, remains a factor in the case. What were the motives or impulses that caused her to engage in a perilous adventure with her little boy on an improvised embarkation in which she and ten companions met death, while her son was the sole miraculous survivor?

The child was apparently in the custody of the mother; as to your statement that he entered the United States illegally, he was obviously brought ashore by United States personnel.

The father has remained and has sired another little boy. If Elian is returned to his father, it will be to live under the control of a stepmother and in competition with her son, which is traditionally a heinous situation.

I cannot agree with your conclusion, and I am very displeased with the authoritative tone of your article.

I will not renew my subscription to Chronicles.

        —Alvin D. Laidley
Carmichaels, PA

Thomas Fleming’s piece on the Elian Gonzalez affair is thoughtful and well-intentioned but seriously flawed. He calls the case “a simple child-custody battle.” However, the matter was elevated into an international confrontation by Fidel Castro, not by the boy’s Miami relatives. Before that, it was merely an unusual immigration case.

What Dr. Fleming refers to as the “mischief in this case has not been made by allegedly conservative Republicans (who haven’t done a damn thing) and so-called family-values Christians (who haven’t even been heard from). No, the real mischief-makers are Fidel Castro and his ideological supporters and sympathizers in America: The National Council of Churches; liberal members of the news media, especially Geraldo Rivera; and Representatives Charles Rangel, Alcee Hastings, Maxine Waters, Jose Serrano, et al. Add to that Bill Clinton, Janet Reno, and Doris Meissner, and you have the making of plenty of mischief.

— Christopher Ikaria
Brooklyn, NY

Dr. Fleming Replies:

The arguments against returning Elian Gonzalez to his father fall into two (admittedly overlapping) categories. The first set of arguments is on the principle that the U.S. government should exercise a “right” to deprive a foreign national of his child if a) the child happens to be on U.S. soil, and b) the country to which he would be returned is ruled by a repressive dictatorship. The second set consists of special pleadings that Juan Gonzalez is a bad father or not free to speak his mind or that the mother “died for freedom,” etc.

There is, it goes without saving, no legal justification for the intervention of any government agency in America—local, state, or national—and apart from the Republicans’ equally obscene intervention to steal Walter Polavchak from his father, no one to the right of Karl Marx and Hillary Clinton has ever hinted that any government had such authority. That shoidd be the end of a rational argument, but apparently it is not. Cuba is a communist dictatorship that sends students out to cut sugar cane and forces them into indoctrination camps. Sending Elian back to Cuba would be like sending a Jewish kid back to Nazi Germany.

Hitler was bound to turn up in the argument, but what is the parallel? Nazis selectively persecuted Jews; to what persecuted group is Elian supposed to belong? Yes, communist states indoctrinate children; the ruling elite runs the schools and controls the media. If someone wants to say that there is a difference in kind between their state-controlled education and media and ours, he will lune to make that case. There is simply no evidence to suggest that people living under communism have had a harder time rearing decent children than those of us who live in so-called Western so-called democracies. My recent experiences in the United States and in postcommunist countries suggest the opposite.

Much is made of the fact that, in communist Cuba, children are said to belong to the state. None of these defenders of parental rights has apparently heard of the good old American doctrine of parens patriae, by which state governments claim the right to determine the proper education and upbringing of children. Here in Illinois, the Republican and Democratic legislators passed a child-protection bill in which they uniformly substituted the phrase “the best interests of the child” for every previous protection of parental rights. The very fact that any American would want to use the government to determine custody of an alien is a sign of how far we have gone in elevating the state over the family.

The other set of arguments have largely to do with the circumstances of the case. It is said, for example, that our government(s) have jurisdiction because, as a Cuban landing on American shores, Elian is automatically a refugee. If that were the case, then his status would be decided by the INS, not by any family court in Florida, and the INS says we should send him back. In fact, many of the Cubans who reach the United States are denied refugee status, particularly (by an agreement with Cuba) when the aliens are intercepted before reaching American soil.

Then there are a set of arguments about the Gonzalez family, which boil down to something like this: “Mothers have a superior claim to their children; this mother chose to risk death in order to give her son the chance to grow up in freedom; Juan Gonzalez originally wanted the boy to go to America and, in asking for his return, he is acting under duress.” None of this is true.

By Christian tradition and ancient law, the father is head of the household, and in a divorce he has automatic custody. Anglo-American feminist liberals in the 19th century did, it is true, tamper with this fundamental provision of the common law, natural law, and divine law, but today in the United States, the presumption in favor of the mother is disappearing. In the Gonzalez case, the father remarried; the mother was shacking up with a boyfriend. The father had custody five days out of seven; the mother kidnapped the kid and recklessly exposed him to mortal danger.

For what? We shall never know, and it hardly matters. The simplest and most honorable motive would be the desire to live with her relatives in Miami. The mere fact that Juan Gonzalez asked his former in-laws to take care of his son in Miami says nothing about the state of his feelings when told of his ex-wife’s criminal behavior. Upon entering the country, Mr. Gonzalez was closeted with Doris Meissner and Janet Reno, who were clearly urging him to solve Bill Clintons political problem by defecting to the United States. He has so far refused to give in to their blandishments. He cannot be acting under duress.

The only thing else to say is that I agree with the critic who said that this case is a “litmus test.” It is. On the one side are those who take their stand on law, tradition, the integrity of families, and the truths of revealed religion. On the other side are the child-savers who have spent the century looking for pretexts to snatch our sons and daughters, joined by Christian conservatives who can make no better argument than “Yanqui si, Cuba no.”

We have always seen our role at Chronicles as primarily educational, and the good news for us is that there is so much work left to do even among our good friends and loyal readers.