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27 January 2000 Edition

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Send Élian home now

And so Elián González has finally been reunited with his father, Juan Miguel, after five months of legal, diplomatic and political activity, culminating in the intervention of the US federal police.

Elián González was denied access to his father for more than five months because his father wants to live in Cuba, and Cuba does not allow US interference in its political and economic affairs. Those Cuban-Americans who have worried so puiblicly about the supposed ``hardships'' that Elián will have to endure if returned to Cuba, are the main promoters and supporters of the US economic that deprives Cuban children of medicines and food, deliberately damaging Cuba's living standards. They focus their hatred on Cuba's socialist government and Fidel Castro's leadership, ignoring that this is the only government that facilitates free education and health services for its population.

Anyone visiting Cuba will realise it is not a rich country. But in comparison with the living standards of its closest neighbouring Central American and Caribbean countries, Cubans are very fortunate. Health services are not only free, but also easily available; there are resident doctors in each street or block of flats. There are no people living in the streets of Cuba, no homeless children. No one is starving in Cuba.

Elián's situation in the US has been, and still is, a central issue in Cuba. Every single day, there were open discussions on television. This is an important case for Cubans, as they feel that the Miami-based exiled organisations want to humiliate them, declaring them unfit to bring up their own sons and daughters.

The Miami groups allowed a media circus to develop around this case, disregarding the needs and well-being of a six-year-old child who witnessed the death of his mother. He was given no time to grieve, as the cameras where ready and the sponsors' money was waiting. Politicians also saw an opportunity to gain votes from the crisis. Bopth presidential election candidates, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, supported the Miami position, hoping to win the large Florida Cuban vote. This was not a surprise from Bush, as the Cuban-Americans are in many ways his natural constituency, but Gore chose to take a politically expedient position divergent from that of the Clinton administration. President Clinton welcomed the reunion of Elián and his father and backed the decision taken by Attorney General Janet Reno to move in and take the child from Little Havana.

For Elián's relatives in Miami, this child did not need a father or a mother, but toys and Disneyland. By their actions, they displayed an attitude that his love and allegiance could be bought. They even offered $2 million, a house and a car to Juan Miguel González in exchange for his defection.

The fact remains, however, that this case should never have been allowed to drag in five months. As the assistant secretary for consular affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Mary A. Ryan, pointed out during her testimony before federal judge William Hoeveler on 24 January 2000: ``In the case of a young child, a US citizen, being found in a foreign country in similar circumstances to those of Elián González Brotons, we would expect the government of that country to immediately seek out the surviving parent, if there is one, and to contact US consular officials to offer assistance if it were required. We would expect the government to swiftly return the child to his parents, unless the parent expressly requested that other arrangement be made.''

Bill Clinton and Janet Reno should now follow the logic of their actions and return Élian and his father to Cuba at the earliest opportunity. Otherwise, the Miami sound machine will seek to stymie that return, using every means at their disposal to delay and obstruct.

Elián's situation has revived memories of what Cubans describe as the ``case of 14,000 Eliáns'', what was known as the Peter Pan Operation. Just after the Revolution, the CIA and contra-revolutionary groups outside Cuba spread the rumour that the revolutionary government would transfer parental rights over their children to the administration. More than 14,000 children were taken to the US, where they were interned in orphanages, confronted by a strange language and abandoned by the system.

Cubans believe that the fight for Elián is the fight for all these other children. But the reunion of father and son is not the end of the Balsero boy saga. All concerned await the resolution of an asylum appeal before a federal appeals court in Atlanta on 11 May.


At least 20 people were injured and 160 arrested by Brazilian police during peaceful protests organised by indigenous, black and landless organisations against the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Brazil's `discovery' by the Portuguese. The President of the Indian National Foundation, Federico Marés, spoke out against Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who, he said, was responsible for the police repression against the demonstrators.


The ethnic group U'wa celebrated Earth Day as part of their struggle to stop US oil multinational Oxy from taken their lands. The Colombian state-owned oil company, ECOPETROL, is appealing a court decision calling for both it and Oxy to end their activities in the traditional lands of the U'wa, who know that oil prospecting will cause irreparable environmental damage and could bring about the genocide of their people.


Prosecutors will impound former President Suharto's assets in connection with an investigation into high-level corruption during his rule. Suharto is a key suspect in a corruption scandal involving the misuse of millions of dollars from charitable foundations he managed during his 32 years in power. Suharto was ousted from power in 1998 but left a legacy of endemic corruption and nepotism. President Abdurrahman Wahid has reiterated his promise to pardon Suharto, who has denied any wrongdoing, if he returns any ill-gotten gains.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that the ongoing war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is deterring donors from sending aid to famine victims. ``As long as the war goes on I have to admit it makes it difficult to raise the money as quickly as we would want to raise it,'' Annan told reporters after meeting UN special envoy Catherine Bertini, who has just returned from a fact-finding mission to East Africa. In Ethiopia, diplomats estimate the government is spending a million dollars a day in its conflict with Eritrea, dwarfing its expenditure on famine relief.

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