F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
May 28, 2000
Why Cubans Risk Their Lives to Leave

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

To appreciate the horror of repatriating Elian, one has to have some understanding of the wretched conditions in which Cubans live.

With six children of my own, I am an adamant supporter of parental rights (and responsibilities) and have no desire to see any precedent established for the abrogation of them. But the case of Elian Gonzalez, as Rush Limbaugh clearly and emphatically articulated, is not about parental rights. Elian's father had relinquished custody of his child before he left Cuba, and Castro -- not Juan Miguel -- would assert authority over the boy upon his return.

Even more shocking than the Justice Department's armed abduction of Elian was the nonchalant reaction of the American people. My own brother, calling to wish me and my family a happy Easter, regurgitated virtually verbatim the agitprop put forth by Reno's raiders, suggesting -- among other absurdities -- that life in Cuba was really not that bad. Does he know any Cubans? No. Well, I do, and they have described in appalling detail just how bad conditions are in the hellhole from which they've escaped. "That's what you'd expect from people who've left," my brother responded, dismissing the testimony of self-avowed malcontents.

"Why do you think Elian's mother risked her life -- in fact, sacrificed her life -- in an effort to reach Florida with her son?" How would my brother answer that one? "You've got to wonder," he snorted, "about a mother who would endanger her child like that."

For my benighted brother, and all the other Americans who should know better and care more, I offer the following brief summary of conditions in Cuba, excerpted from a recent issue of Ideas on Liberty, published by the Foundation for Economic Education: "Cuban elections are neither free nor fair," observes Patricia Linderman, who lived in Havana from 1995 to 1998 with her husband, a Foreign Service officer. "The media are controlled by the state and permit no alternative views. . . . Dissidents are regularly jailed on vague charges." Linderman confides that she "found the Cubans' lack of economic freedom to be even more injurious to their dignity and aspiration than the denial of their political rights." The Cubans, she reports, "spend each day scrounging to provide a level of subsistence for themselves and their families, often by illicit or illegal means."

When its subsidy from the Soviet Union vanished with the collapse of that Evil Empire, Cuba expanded its rationing system to include "nearly all basic goods," Linderman recalls. "Cubans' ration books now promised them a few pounds of rice and dry beans a month, along with a few other foodstuffs and personal necessities that might or might not be available."

The Cuban government's "monopoly on employment" serves as "an effective means of control," Linderman notes. "In 1990, 95 percent of employed Cubans worked for the state; some 80 percent still do. The rest depend on the government as well," she affirms, "for their ration books, their housing, their children's educations, and even their right to stay out of prison -- since nearly all Cubans are breaking the law in some way as they seek to provide for their families."

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