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What's Best for Elian?

Trina Banick

Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, O.J. Simpson, Princess Diana, JonBenet Ramsey...the list of famous people who have captured media attention goes on and on. It seems that television news programs are always dramatizing and sensationalizing some controversial person or event in order to attract viewers. "Complete coverage" invariably includes public opinion polls, interviews with "the experts," and heated debates between loud-mouthed commentators who delight in interrupting each other and getting in the last word.

The current "hot story" featured on the nightly news in homes across the country centers on a little boy from Cuba whose father is trying to get him back home. By now, everyone in the country has heard the story of "little Elian Gonzalez." Just by watching the 10:00 news and clicking on the MSNBC "News Alerts" on my computer, I've been bombarded with so many repetitive arguments for both sides that my interest in the case has subsided to little more than a passive curiosity. I just don't understand why this simple decision has escalated into a major national controversy. What to do with Elian should be obvious to anyone who has thought about the situation logically and without bias--the boy should be with his father.

Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I am NOT a Communist or a Castro supporter. As far as I am concerned, the situation should not involve any political issues. If Elian were from any other country on earth, Communist or not, I would still say that he should be allowed to return to his father. The most important part of a child's upbringing is the bond that forms between him and his parents. Since Elian's mother is now dead, the only logical and sensitive alternative is to return him to his closest relative--his father. If he were to stay in America and live with his extended family in Miami, he may never have a strong attachment to a paternal or maternal figure. He would also be forced to live with the knowledge that he was denied the right to know his own father while he was growing up and may eventually resent the "good deed" that his relatives did for him, in an effort to "save him from Communism."

Obviously, if the boy were returning to a country in which he would be tortured and harassed by the government and live in abject poverty, then he should remain in America. Although the father-child bond is very important, it does not outweigh the child's physical safety and well-being. However, this is obviously not the case for the Gonzalez family. Elian's father, Juan Miguel, is re-married and has another baby, and he is currently living in one of the wealthiest and most luxurious neighborhoods in all of Cuba. Elian's life in that setting would be one of comfort and opportunity, and he would receive every benefit offered to the Cuban elite.

If Elian were to grow up in America, he would live much as he has for the past several months--as a political commodity and national hero, in an untraditional family, and spoiled and praised to the detriment of his psychological well-being. Indeed, Elian has probably already been emotionally damaged by this whole experience--first losing his mother, then being denied the right to see his father, and finally being placed among relatives whom he had never seen before, in a country that was completely foreign to him.

Hasn't enough damage already been done to the boy? Can't we put our political opinions and personal biases aside and do what's best for Elian? I hate to think of what the boy will go through if his relatives in Florida persist in refusing to release him to his father; the ensuing scene, as police storm the house and drag a weeping Elian away from his relatives, would be grimly reminiscent of the "Baby Richard" drama. Why must we put defenseless children through such misery? If you want to talk about politics, that's fine; just leave an innocent little boy out of it, and return him to his family.

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