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Fighting the war against Castro, not on Cuban soil, but on the body of a six-year old child, is despicable.

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elian and his little brother
Elian with his baby brother Hianny

Five Months of Agony End in Three Minutes

by Ana Simo

APRIL 22, 2000. It was all over in less than three minutes.

All it took was the will to get it done, eight federal agents to bring Elian from the house, and two dozen agents to manage the crowd.

No one was hurt, except for a protestor who got a bleeding ear.

Five months after the saga began, Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year old Cuban castaway, was finally removed from the Little Havana house where he has been held hostage by relatives bent on exploiting him as an anti-Castro amulet. They were egged on, even financed, by extremist exile groups, and a community that seems to have lost its moral bearings.

Elian is now safely reunited with his father, Juan Miguel, his stepmother, Nercy Carmenate, and his baby brother Hianny, at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C.

Andrews is a base so secure that it is used by the President of the United States himself. That no other place in this country was deemed safe enough for the child to be reunited with his embattled real family should be of concern to all Americans.

What does it say about this country when Cuban-American extremists prevent us from ensuring the safety, and, yes, freedom, of this family on American soil? What next? Interning Elian and his Cuban family in a federal witness protection program?

Why has a small group of people in South Florida been allowed to hold hostage a six-year-old boy, the United States government, our Constitution, and our laws for five months, and foreign policy towards Cuba for decades?

"Five months of agony end in three minutes. Why did it take this long?" asked a woman in Havana this morning as she ran by in a crowd celebrating Elian's release, as reported by NBC News' Mary Murray.

politickingThe lethal combination of the Cuban-American swing vote, and their plentiful soft money flowing into the coffers of both parties in an election year mostly explains why. The Elian case was all about money, power, race: the cute little white Cuban boy was used by a rich, powerful, special-interests lobby controlling a sizable voting block in a swing state. Elian will be gone soon, but the country will be left holding the stinky bag of democracy-corrupting money.

Fighting the war against Castro, not on Cuban soil, but on the body of a six-year old child is despicable. A sense of honor has traditionally been the center of a Cuban man's sense of self. Generosity is one of its highest expressions.

Authoritarian rule, whether in Havana or in Little Havana, erodes honor because it exacts unconditional obedience—to a political class (in Cuba) or (in Miami) to a narcissistic fanaticism based on a Cuban-American ideology of victimization and exceptionalism.

There's a dark side to the honor code, one that has led to much bloodletting from the time of the Crusades to Bosnia. But there's also a good side to it, one that should be cherished by all Cubans and their descendants everywhere, male or female. It is perhaps the best of our heritage.

That good side makes you have a word of honor, makes you never, ever, betray family or friends, makes you respect the law when it's just and equitable, and makes you disdain special advantages for you or your tribe, and makes you protest bad laws by putting your body on the line if necessary but never, ever, the body of a child or a very old or infirm person.

politickingIf you have a sense of honor, there are things that you just don't do. You don't keep your great-nephew's son against his father's will. You don't run from TV show to TV show shedding histrionic tears and calling yourself "surrogate mother". You don't put words in the mouths of the dead. You don't prostitute yourself (or the child you've abducted) to cynical politicians, hate-mongering extremists, and a vampire media.

If you do have a sense of honor and you live in a city like Miami—or any number of other cities in this country—where hundreds of children languish in foster homes, public education is a disgrace, affirmative action is under siege, public corruption is rampant (much of it created by your own politicians), most poor people are black, gay people have few or no civil rights, and freedom of speech is routinely trampled, you don't barricade yourself in your quasi-white neighborhoods, never talking to anyone else but people like you.

If you have a sense of honor, you don't shut the door behind you when you finally get political and economic power.

If you have a sense of honor, you don't scorn African-Americans who were here long before you, who struggled honorably to open the door through which you have blithely walked, thinking you deserved it all because you, and only you, have suffered.

True, you've worked hard to get what you have, and your hard work, like that of all other immigrants, deserves recognition, but don't ever forget that you, and only you, got and continue to get a hell of a lot of help from the very same federal government you're now maligning.

Taken to the extreme, a sense of honor can trigger ethnic massacres and gang warfare.

In moderation, it's just basic human decency, a quality that most ordinary Americans—but precious few politicians or Cuban-Americans—have publicly shown during these five bitter and obscene months.

It is time for Miami Cuban-Americans with a sense of honor to come out of the closet and lead their community out of the 41-year morass of anti-Castro hatred, violence, and intolerance. Cuba is more than Castro. And Miami, U.S.A., should be more than Little Havana.

Related links:

For Bill Press' major scoop, Federal marshals beat Elian's dad to door.

For Karen DeYoung's detailed account of Elian's rescue and reunion with his father Raid Reunites Elian and Father.

For Eric Alterman's shrewd take on the media coverage of the rescue operation Reporters just don't get the picture.

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