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Published on Wednesday, April 5, 2000 in the Miami Herald
Elián: Affirming One's Rights Vs. Trampling Over Others'
by Max Castro
If ever Miami was an ``ethnic cauldron'' and a ``city on the edge,'' as some writers have described us, this is it.

Tensions had been building. For many people, the statements last week by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas were the last straw. There he was, the best and the brightest of the Cuban-American community -- a young, talented, moderate Democrat -- pandering shamelessly to our worst instincts, with the most strident voices on Miami Cuban radio looking on approvingly. It was a sad, dismaying, outrageous moment that all the backpedaling in the world cannot erase.

The mayor's promise not to allow local police to help federal officers enforce a lawful order and his blaming in advance President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno for any trouble seemed to invite a reality and a headline: Mob rule in Miami. Moreover, Cubans are still a minority in this city, and most other people here think that Elian Gonzalez should be with his father. Among Cuban Americans, there is a largely silenced minority that agrees. Does the mayor take account of their views? Moreover, most Cubans who want Elian to stay are law-abiding and would not take the law into their own hands to prevent it. Why is the mayor to- tally siding with a small raucous, rab- id minority within a minority?

The headlines came. We are a banana republic. Miami has practically seceded from the United States. Nonsense, but Miami couldn't have bought worse publicity with a zillion-dollar budget. The Cuban government could have spent the revenue from the sugar harvest and the tourism industry to pay a firm specializing in dirty tricks to paint the exile community in such a bad light before the eyes of the nation and world -- and not obtained better results.

I don't blame the media or Anglo prejudice. In their frenzy for the story, the media sometimes distort and oversimplify. Some Anglos in this community still can't get over the fact that Cubans are an assertive people who don't take kindly to the notion that the natural order of things is for natives to be dominant and immigrants to be subservient. Yet there is a fine line between affirming one's rights aggressively and trampling over other people's rights. Many people feel that line was crossed with a vengeance in the Elian affair, and they are right.

I blame our own politicians. And an exile leadership so eager to pick any possible fight with Castro that it picked one that pits our community against parental rights, family values, international and U.S. law, public opinion, the attorney general, the Cuban Catholic bishops, most of the island's population, leading dissidents and common sense. They wanted to shoot at Castro and organized a firing squad lined up in circular formation. It's a script in which the Miami exiles play the role of the frenzied mob, and Castro gets to be the hero in Havana. Castro never made as much trouble for the U.S. government in its own territory as his fiercest opponents in Miami now.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government finally is asserting itself by saying that the discussions with the Miami relatives and their lawyers are not about whether, but how, Elian will be reunited with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who is coming to the United States.


The Miami relatives' credibility sinks as they change their story every day to fit developments. Now the father is good, but Castro won't let him out. OK, he is coming, but not with his wife and son. All right, wife and son are coming, but Gonzalez is a really bad guy who abuses his son on the phone and used to beat his wife. Oh, incidentally, this wife-beating child abuser can stay in our home whenever he chooses.

It's time to end this farce. Give back Elian, let the child live with his father wherever the latter chooses, whether in Cuba or the United States, and return this city to sanity.

Max J. Castro, Ph.D., is a senior research associate at the University of Miami's Dante B. Fascell North-South Center.

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald


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