Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman who found Elian Gonzalez floating in an inner tube last Thanksgiving, and the man who was holding him when he was seized by federal agents last Saturday, said it best: "They took this kid like a hostage in the nighttime." It's true -- and perfectly to the point. But the reason Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the predawn raid to rescue the 6-year-old boy from the home of his Miami relatives is because that is exactly what Elian Gonzalez had become -- a hostage.
He was a hostage to a fanatical sect of Cuban emigrés whose political clout in this country far outweighs both its numbers and the importance of its agenda, and he was a hostage to a selfish, self-involved family whose 15 minutes of fame is, happily, over. Elian Gonzalez is back exactly where he belongs. And whether he spends the next several years in America, Cuba or Upper Slobovia, he's with his father, so he's right where he needs to be.
I am not a fan of the jackboot or of doors being smashed down in the dead of night. But anyone who believes that Lazaro Gonzalez and his hysterical daughter Marisleysis were ever going to release Elian to the custody of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, severely underestimates the power that holding onto Elian gave these unhappy, angry and manipulative people.
For more than 40 years, the losing side of the Cuban revolution has searched for a hero to lead the island's dispossessed back to their homeland -- a leader who would overthrow the dictator who turned their lives and their society inside-out. And if it came to pass that a child would lead the way, so be it. Elian Gonzalez was the perfect gift to the cadre of exiles who have watched Castro survive all attempts to bring him down -- a hostage to their dreams of counterrevolution.
But to place such an innocent in the middle of a media maelstrom and then attempt to make him a religious luminary in the bargain; to foist upon his young shoulders the aspirations of so many dispirited refugees whose hatred and revenge fantasies have been passed down for generations -- all the while maintaining that it was all being done for the good of the boy -- has to be the height of hypocrisy.
Well, not quite. That distinction must go to the American politicians who shoved each other aside to be the first and foremost to pander to the Cuban-American community -- a voting bloc that produces quantifiable results at the ballot box. But if these hypocritical American lawmakers were truly concerned about the children of Cuba, why have they maintained a completely pointless and politically ineffective embargo of the tiny island for four decades? Why have they disallowed the exportation of food and medicine that Cuba's children need to thrive and be healthy? Because they, too, cannot let go of their fanatical devotion to the tenets of their cold-war rhetoric.
And just as Marisleysis Gonzalez cannot believe that the pictures of a happy Elian with his father are not doctored, there are those in this country who simply cannot believe that there are people in the world who are not held in thrall by the American dream of endless trips to Disney World and a cell phone for every member of the family.
Likewise, there are those who don't understand that Fidel Castro, in spite of all his defects, brought universal literacy and free health care to a nation that was under the thumb of another dictator before the revolution -- when the good life in Cuba was reserved for the very, very few. Nor can they understand that whatever a man's political beliefs may be, his love for his child is a universal constant in a very inconsistent and turbulent world.
And so Janet Reno also said it best when she declared that the Elian Gonzalez case is really about the bond between a father and a son. And regardless of the political circus that swirled around the pair, that's also true and perfectly to the point.
When I was 8 years old, I lost my father to cancer. One day he left to go to the hospital and I never saw him again. For some time afterward, I tried to assuage my loss with the notion that he was still alive -- that there had been some mistake and that I would, some day, have him back again. I'm certain that the nightmares I had at that age would have gone away -- if only my dad had been there.
So, whatever nightmares young Elian might have in the days to come, whatever trauma he has suffered at the hands of all the adults who purported to put his best interests first, he's now with the one person who can help him through. And it really doesn't matter how big his room is or in what country he grows up in. He's with his dad. And that means he's home. Good night, Elian. Pleasant dreams. He'll see you in the morning.