But it has also asked one very important commitment of those who would avail themselves of that commodity -- adherence to the rule of law as opposed to the rule of men. Of late there's been a distinct dimming of that light, as America's reputation for being an open-armed refuge to the world's freedom-loving masses, takes a beating in the case of a 6-year-old castaway by the name of Elian Gonzalez. As most of us are by now aware, Elian was found adrift in an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day, 1999, the only survivor from a boat-load of Cuban refugees. One of the 11 people who drowned on the perilous journey across the Florida Straits was Elian's mother, who had taken her son from her estranged husband, the boy's father, and snuck off on the fatal 90-mile trek with her boyfriend and nine others. All perished, save Elian, who was picked up and placed with relatives in Miami's politically volatile Cuban expatriate community of Little Havana. And ever since, there's been a gut-wrenching tug-of-war played out on the front pages and network television screens of America between the Miami relatives and the boy's father, who, until recently, remained in Cuba. Complicating matters is the fact that Cuba is still an island nation ruled by a Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, whose regime in Havana is the reason for many in the Cuban émigré community to have found their way to south Florida. But in the course of this situation we've learned another valuable lesson about South Florida; too many in the Cuban American community in Miami, aren't very interested in the ''American'' half of that description.
So, now comes Elian, the smallest pawn in a political morality play that has much to do with the strong anti-Communist sentiment both within and without the Cuban neighborhoods of Miami and, unfortunately, very little to do with the rule of law or the best interests of the 6-year-old little boy who remains at the center of this firestorm for that matter. At present, the loudest shouts seem to be those between the Miami relatives, their considerable hangers-on (primarily comprised of every politician looking for free TV time) and the United States Department of State, which seems to have correctly surmised that a 6-year-old belongs with his father, no matter where that father may live. Lost in the shouts and posturing is this nation's reputation for freedom, fairness and the rule of law. When those members of the Cuban-American community who now beat their breasts for little Elian came to this country on any means of transportation available from the Communist island, they entered into a covenant which they now seem intent on violating.
Normally we would not find ourselves this far from a moral compass in such a situation. However, there's something about rabid anti-Communism that seems to rob many of us of our sense of reason. As in most civilized societies on this planet, we would simply contact the boy's father -- his only surviving parent -- and make arrangements for his son's transport home. There seems to be no other course of action open to any nation that would present itself as law-abiding and civilized. And all the political grandstanding by candidates for every office between Mayor of Miami/Dade County and President of the United States cannot change the fact that Elian has a father who has repeatedly expressed his wishes to return the little boy to Cuba.
The verbal offerings of the current Miami/Dade chief executive, who refuses to let his law enforcement officers participate in taking Elian from his Miami relatives and sending him back to his Cuban father, aren't a whole lot different than those of a couple of southern governors back in the days of school desegregation. Then we had government officials standing in the school house door -- preventing blacks from entering -- because of an unpopular federal law. These short sighted officials were dead wrong then and South Florida politicians and their ilk elsewhere, are just as wrong now.
Nothing, not all the considerable fruits of our economically advantaged society from trips to Disney World and the latest Nike wear will ever change the fact that the child's father has asked for his son to be brought home. Guest spots on prime time network television, double-talking lawyers and all the tear-jerking appeals framed in the fatal flight to freedom of the boy's mother to the contrary, little Elian must go home. And not just for the obvious legalities of the situation. The youngster needs to go home so that we as a nation can avoid staining our reputation for being the first choice destination for all those who would be free in this world. For, if we keep the boy in this country just to thumb our collective noses at Fidel Castro, what makes us or the Cuban-American zealots in Miami any better than the Communist regime in Havana?
After all, isn't that what should really drive our foreign policy decisions in this nation? We should want to be better than our so-called adversaries, not engaged in tit-for-tat, tongue-sticking exchanges with them. Because if we so easily trade our sense of moral fairness and rule of law, allowing our system to cave and this little boy is separated from his father, our once shining beacon will most certainly be severely tarnished if not broken. And we as a people will have done little more than allow our government to be a party to a kidnapping.