A Boy, Not a Symbol

In 1962, Cuba and the United States nearly plunged the world into nuclear war. Today, most Americans see Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Communist dictator, and his dilapidated island as more of a historical curiosity than a threat to American security or world peace. If anything, our economic boycott of Cuba strikes many citizens as overkill against a doomed outpost of a discredited system. It is no wonder that most Americans find it difficult to understand the passions roused in the Cuban-exile community by the plight of Elián González, the small boy U.S. immigration officials are trying to reunite with his Cuban father. Why the threats of violence and civil disruption if Elián is returned, as the law stipulates he must be, to his parent?

One reason is that the Clinton administration has been pursuing, albeit tentatively, the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba. This policy is not based on any illusions about the nature of Castro’s regime, but on a recognition that the greater the contact between Cuba and the United States, the quicker and more peaceful will be the post-Castro transformation of Cuba. Part of any such normalization process entails the impartial enforcement of the law, and that means respecting the custody claims of Elián’s father.

A good number of Cuban Americans oppose any normalization of relations, arguing that Castro must be opposed in every way possible. Castro is...

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