Michael Smith: Michael, what’s at stake in the Elian Gonzalez situation? Obviously this case is about more than returning a six-year-old to Cuba.
Michael Ratner: Clearly from a legal point of view there’s never been any issue here. There’s an absolute right of the father, particularly after he is recognized as the father and is not causing any harm to the child. The father legally gets Elian back, and it should have happened forthwith.
But there are other things going on here. One thing is the cravenness of our politicians, who are still more or less being held hostage by the right-wing Cuban community in Miami. And basically allowing that community for too many years-and maybe we’re finally seeing the beginning of the end of that-to dictate their demands.
First, you have to look at what Clinton and Reno did. Clinton and Reno have the absolute right, and they have had it for the past four months, to send that kid back to Cuba immediately. There’s no court order stopping them.
They’ve spoken, saying the father has a right to the kid. And they know that there is tremendous harm being caused to the child every day he’s with the great uncle-but they still haven’t done that.
So you have Reno and Clinton being essentially chickens, tied to the Miami community. Then you have Gore, who is the most craven of them all, who is not only tied to the Miami community but doesn’t even speak the right thing. I think that’s a matter of not just votes but of money that that right-wing community gave him-which was at the time of Elian’s arrival about $360,000 but has probably doubled that by now.
So on one level we just have politicians who are being held hostage by the Miami community, and the Miami community, the right-wingers in there, who Fidel appropriately refers to as “the Mafia” every time the administration says they’re going to do something and the right-wingers bluff them back.
MS: Do you think that the events have split the older immigrant Cubans from the younger generation born in America?
MR: The brief answer to that is yes. There’s obviously been a split growing in the Miami community between those who left Cuba and their children, particularly after [Cuban counterrevolutionary leader] Jorge Mas Canosa’s death.
I think this case has deepened that split. Because if you look at what is going on from a legal point of view, it’s completely illegal. If you analyze it from a moral point of view, you have to say that that right-wing community is acting immorally.
And everybody sees that. That this kid belongs with his father is primary, both in the Cuban community-which is very tight knit concerning families, as well as in the United States, which believes in those kinds of “family values.” Children should be with their parents.
So from a moral, emotional, and psychological point of view, it is shown that that right-wing community, that Mafia, is utterly bankrupt. At the expense of a child, they are fighting for some other political agenda.
From a political point of view, it looks like that community is off base. And in my view, it has really jumped off a cliff. They’re not taking a lot of people with them.
From a political point of view, their power, I think, is waning, and they made a huge error. They were wrong in believing that there was still so much sentiment against the Cuban revolution. They thought they could get away with it. They couldn’t and were shown to be utterly bankrupt, to have no morals at all.
I think that the lowest point, if I had to pick a lowest point, would be Diane Sawyer putting the little boy on national television, crawling around on the floor of a playroom, and asking him to draw pictures of how his mother died. That to me was the most exploitative single piece of propaganda I’ve ever seen.
I blame Diane Sawyer, I blame the Miami Cubans, I also blame our government. I blame Janet Reno because she gave that kid to that family and didn’t put conditions on them, telling them you can’t exploit that boy, you can’t put him on TV.
I don’t know what the heck Janet Reno was doing in allowing them to do that. With ABC you expect the lowest of the low (Diane Sawyer crawling around the floor for a story), and you expect the lowest from the great uncle. But could you have expected it from Janet Reno-allowing a six-year-old boy to go on national TV in deep psychological trauma for 250 million Americans to watch on TV?
Utterly unacceptable. In fact, every psychologist who looked at that program or talked about it-other than the one that was on there, who was heavily criticized-basically said this was child abuse and she should have snatched the child away immediately.
MS: What do you think of having the child restored to his family and to his culture?
MR: The Democrats have essentially twisted in the wind for four months while they attacked each other, and I think it hurt the Democrats tremendously to allow this thing to continue. And it hurt the child tremendously, culturally, and particularly in his relationship with his father because they have allowed this kid to be inculcated for four months with anti-Cuban, anti-father propaganda.
It reminds me a little bit of the children who were taken from leftists during the Argentinian “dirty war,” babies whose mothers were killed, who were turned over to right-wing generals and raised by right-wing generals, who then wind up being right-wing kids.
If Elian stays in Miami being raised in a right-wing, anti-revolutionary family, which also is against his father, this could likely happen. So I think the four months our government afforded them was extremely harmful to the child.
MS: What’s your view of the Cuban government’s response to the kidnapping of one of their nationals?
MR: The Cuban government’s response has been very measured. First, even without the heavy mobilizations in Cuba, the people are solidly behind getting Elian back. No matter what their opinions about where they live-some of them being more critical of the government than others-this has really brought the Cuban people together.
The right-wingers in Miami hoped to harm the Cuban revolution. It did the opposite actually. I think it brought people together and showed how dangerous and evil the right-wing Cubans in the United States could be.
The Cuban government has been incredibly reasonable. They not only said they would send the father here but they said they would have the father await the outcome of court proceedings. And there is no reason for them to have to do that, there is no injunction stating they can’t take the kid back.
They are not threatening at this point to end the immigration accords. They have a lot of other cards up their sleeve that they could play to be tough here. They are being utterly reasonable about getting Elian back, but they are being very strong about it. They are not giving up for a second.
When you go to Cuba-I was just there-it is on TV every day for a minimum of two hours. When you talk to people in the street, everybody, without exception, says this kid ought to be returned to his father in Cuba.
And when you visit Cuba you realize that Cuban children are probably the best treated children in the world. They certainly have the best statistics. Everything from infant mortality to health care to education-any measure of how you raise children-the Cuban children are probably treated the best of any in the world.
To say that Elian would be abused or would not get a decent life in Cuba is to turn the world on its head. If there is any place that I would be worried about Elian, it is in Miami with some of his cousins, who are criminals, and where there is a much bigger chance of children dropping through the safety net, which barely exists for children in the U.S., and going into a life of crime or drugs. In Cuba the chances of that happening are basically zero.