Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Return of Elian to Cuba: A Defining moment for America

This blog is a continuation of Defining Moments in a Nation's History: How do the innocent fare?

Heroic Sacrifice for Freedom:

Some will risk everything for freedom. That is what Elizabet Rodríguez and her son, Elian Gonzalez did. In a desperate attempt to get away from the harsh conditions of Cuba, Elizabet and Elian, along with twelve other Cubans, precariously set sail into the Caribbean sea in hopes to live a better life in America. Tragically, however, all but two died during the long journey. On Thanksgiving Day in 1999, Elian was found (with another person) on a raft just 90 miles north of Miami. Soon thereafter, the INS then released Elian to his paternal great uncle. Indeed, this attempt to escape the dictatorship of Fidel Castro and the miserable conditions in Cuba was at a great cost. However, this young refugee would only enjoy the blessings of America for a short time.

Castro Wins, Elian Loses:

To make a long story short, due to the political pressures placed on the Clinton administration from Castro himself, the death of Elizabat, Elian’s mother, and eleven of her companions, amounted to naught. In June of 2000, Elian was returned to Cuba under the pretext that Elian’s father (living in Cuba) had paternal jurisdiction over Elian and as such, deserved to have him returned. Of course, we all know how important the rights of parents are to Fidel Castro; it had nothing to do with terrible image Cuba was saddled with after so many refugees had fled the country one year after another.

Injustice Met With Lukewarm Response:

At any rate, the significance of the Elian Gonzalez story is that here was a young migrant who miraculously found his way to America. His relatives in Florida were more than willing to take care of him. Yet, the dictator from Cuba publicly protested and as a result, the Clinton administration sends little Elian back to Fidel Castro. That was bad enough but the protest that came from the House Republican Whip, Tom Delay, was that the Republicans would have an investigation. Opposition, as least from what I remember, was minimal. Of course, nothing came from that “investigation.” It was a failure of leadership on all sides; most notably the Clinton administration who acquiesced to Castro. Keep in mind that Castro was known by Cuban exiles as a murderer; a repeated violator of human dignity.

This saga was a betrayal of who we Americans claim to be. And it contradicts the very principles upheld in the Statue of Liberty poem, otherwise known as The New Colossus: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Elian the Immigrant, Immigration and God's Justice:

In recent years, as you well know, America has been riddled with an immigration crisis. It has been a cause for division; especially with the Obama administration suing the State of Arizona and Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, returning the favor. If I am not mistaken, some of these Federal and State feuds are unprecedented. Our political leaders have yet to balance the compassion for the plight of immigrants who want nothing more than to eat and find work in America with its U.S. citizens wanting their legal rights protected and their institutions not to be overburdened. Humanitarian considerations in the former instance and the legitimate rights of a sovereign nation in latter should, in times of moral clarity, make its way into law. However, when moral principles are confused and virtues wanting, then what we have is internal division and crisis.

I pose a similar question that was previously asked: Could it be that Elian stood for something bigger than himself? Could it be that the failure to protect a young immigrant from a dictator has, as a matter of divine justice, occasioned great difficulties for America in terms of managing its immigrants? No one can divine the intent of God. Nevertheless, we know from Scripture and Church history that there are defining moments for nations as with individuals. We come upon a fork in the road: One that leads to life, the other to death. The former road is paved with justice, sacrifice and charity. The latter is paved with expediency, self-interests and cowardice. As for the return of Elian to Cuba, I think the political leaders and even religious leaders of our nation were too passive while an injustice was being done in public view. After it ceased to be a news item the American public moved on to something else. However, I don’t think God forgot about little Elian. I wonder if we forfeited some of his blessings by of the sin of omission in June of 2000. I wonder if we were too passive.

I hope you will come back and read about Terri Schiavo and the hope that still remains for America in the next and last blog of this series.