Elian's difficult saga

Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2000

We have tried to avoid getting too involved in the tale of Elian Gonzalez, but the media and national attention are turning the entire situation into a circus.

The very mention of the child's name invokes heated debate and passion. He's been on the cover of almost every news magazine. Practically every newspaper in the country - including the Empire - ran the photo last week of a crying Elian being held by a relative as a machine-gun-armed federal agent moved in to take him.

His seizure by federal officials led to small-scale riots in Miami, where he was staying with relatives. Police officers were hurt, hundreds of demonstrators were arrested, the chief of police resigned in frustration, Republican congressional leaders are planning hearings on whether the Justice Department overstepped its bounds in returning Elian to his father, and the list goes on.

It's obviously a tragic tale. Elian's mother drowns while her son is rescued as they flee to America for a better life on a tiny boat. Of course the catch - and debate - centers on the fact that Elian's father, who was divorced from the mother, lives in Cuba and wants the boy back.

For months the Justice Department has negotiated with the boy's relatives to return him, but to no avail. That finally led to last week's forced seizure of the boy by armed federal agents. He was whisked off to Andrews Air Force Base to be reunited with his father who had flown in from Cuba. And that of course has led to the question of excessive force.

Ironically, if unarmed agents had just knocked on the door to take Elian, what would have happened? Could someone have been shot, or agents attacked by the crowds surrounding the house? And then what would the congressional hearings focus on - possibly why agents weren't better prepared?

This is a no-win situation and solely because Elian is a cute little boy. We've said it before and we'll say it again. If Elian were a 25-year-old black Haitian, would anyone care? Unfortunately, we believe the answer is no. If he were a 55-year-old Mexican, would anyone care? Again, no.

And of course there's the question of what would happen if it had been Elian's father on the boat, and the mother were in Cuba. Would we be having this debate if Elian's mother flew in from Cuba and wanted her boy back? We would venture to guess that he would be quickly returned.

Everyone feels sorry for Elian. He's been through losses and situations most of us will thankfully never face. But this country can't just make exceptions because Elian's a kid and he's cute. He belongs with his immediate family - and that's his father - not some distant relatives he's never seen before this situation unfolded.

The government was right to take Elian, and they're right to send him home with his father, even if we all would prefer the father and boy stay here.

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