Commentary: Just Imagine Having to Grow Up in Cuba

Dear Mr. Byrne,

You write in your column today that Elian Gonzalez should return to Cuba only if his father “can guarantee that his son will enjoy all the freedoms spelled out in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

I think you’re onto something. In fact, why don’t we apply that idea to everyone everywhere? We could start by bringing over a few million Iraqi children who, as a result of the U.S.-UN embargo and as documented by various relief and medical groups, are being denied essential medical and food supplies. Perhaps in this way we could make up a bit for the hundreds of thousands who have in ready died, needlessly.

Poor Elian, just imagine having to grow up in Cuba! You find it “staggering” that anyone would defend Cuba, because it offers universal health care, schooling, and other social services. Why is that so staggering?

Cuba has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in Latin America, a continent in which roughly 210 million people live in abject poverty. But then again, most of those poor countries are friends of the United States, and somehow I doubt that writers like you get nearly so worked up about the abominable violations of human rights that regularly occur or have occurred in places such as Haiti or Columbia or Chile or Argentina (where they used to throw human rights activists out of airplanes over the ocean).

But, of course, some of these countries are “democracies” friendly to U.S. interests. How interesting the double standard.

I would hardly call Cuba a “ruthless dictatorship.” It is not my impression that Cubans are terrified of their government, or afraid to speak the slightest criticism lest they be done away with by death squad or Caribbean gulag.

Perhaps if Cuba had not been subjected to a 40-year economic siege by their Northern neighbor, a flowering of socialism and democracy might have more chance to occur there. As I recall, Abraham Lincoln was not too tolerant of Northern dissidence during the Civil War years.

You posture on the high moral ground of democratic ideals, arrogantly assuming that the United States stands without question as the paragon of all freedom. This is a lie. The United States has never supported true democracy in Cuba.

If you think about it, this country’s leaders had their chance, for decades, and the result was Batista and the mob and an economy that served as a dependent appendage of the American economy. Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution were a response to the failure of the so-called democratic forces created and supported by this country in Cuba.

Something else to think about: What has Cuba really done to us? I don’t know, except kick out some corrupt business elements. Certainly much of the Cuban upper and middle class fled Cuba after the revolution, but not because they believed in democracy.

They never did before, either; why should we believe they do now? Maybe it was because they were tied in to a corrupt system. But I do know what we have done to them-repeated CIA assassination attempts, poisoning their livestock, and, oh, lest we forget, the little matter of invading the country.

By the way, the fact that so many Cubans left the country is not unusual in a revolution. During our own war for independence, nearly a third of the American population supported the British, and eventually fled either to Canada or returned to England.

I find it the height of hypocrisy to see so many turn their ideological hatred of Cuba’s system of government into further justification for the continued trauma of a little boy who belongs with his father. I believe strongly in human rights, and I do not support their violation anywhere. But that is not the issue here.

To say that little Elian must of necessity live in this country to be truly free is as dishonest as it is arrogant. Besides, I can think of many millions of children right here whose basic needs are not being met, because of poverty and a whole host of social ills.

Perhaps I could take your position seriously if you applied it with across-the-board consistency, as in the case of the many refugees who flee dictatorships that just happen to be friends of the United States. And who are routinely denied entrance to this country.

-Mark Harris

Evanston, Ill.

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