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Throwing fuel on the fire

By Lora J. Mackel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 26, 2000
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Since his dramatic rescue at sea last Thanksgiving, Elian Gonzales has been a Republican godsend. Now that the attorney general has "rescued" the little Cuban boy from the home of his Miami relatives, the real Republican bloodletting will begin. Instead of a happy ending for this little boy, because of the willingness of the Republican party to latch on to the sensational story, Elian's case will continue to provide fuel for partisan contention.

Beginning with the boy's arrival in the United States, Attorney General Janet Reno has been clear about the federal government's position on the boy's status. The administration has always maintained that Elian Gonzales belongs with his father. They reminded the Miami relatives time and time again that Elian's stay with them was temporary, and that the boy would be returned to his father as soon as the arrangements could be made.

The Miami relatives wasted no time in declaring Elian's right to stay in the United States and to grow up in freedom. Though their legal right to keep the boy has always been in dispute, the family decided to keep Elian, no matter what the stakes were. Not surprisingly, the family's decision was supported by a long litany of Republican legislators like George W. and Connie Mack (R-Florida), who also said that the decision ultimately should lay with the family courts in Florida. What is also not surprising about this Republican support of the family's cause is that Florida is a key state in the presidential campaign, and that the Cuban voters in Florida hold tremendous clout.

In recent weeks, this has made the situation outside the Gonzalez home incredibly tense. Not a day had gone by without there being a threat of the boy's removal from the home, or of retaliation by the Cuban-American community in little Havana. This tension made life for the little boy far from normal, his every movement was recorded by the ever-present media and made in the presence of the constant protesters.

Once Juan-Miguel Gonzalez arrived in the United States, he was also thrust into the glare of the press. His position bolstered by the Clinton administration, he appeared on 60 Minutes, begging to be allowed to speak for his son. He refused to meet with the Miami relatives, and it looked like there was going to be a long, drawn-out battle over Elian. Neither side was willing to relinquish or compromise over the custody of the boy.

So, early Saturday morning, someone in the Justice department issued the okay for the raid on Lazoro Gonzales' home, and the seizure of Elian from his Miami relatives. The INS agents went in with MP-5's and riot gear, and took the boy. The raid was safe and swift, but pictures taken by an AP photographer have left the Clinton administration under heavy fire from Republicans, eager to demonize Clinton and Gore in the election year.

Whether raid of the home was justified or not, Republicans in high places have wasted no time denouncing the "Clinton-Gore Justice Department tactics." Republicans lined up eagerly on Sunday morning talk shows, weighing in on and criticizing the raid- sometimes without all the facts. As Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said in his Monday morning press conference, "There were number of prominent Republicans who have some out and just made what I view as wild statements." The most memorable of these statements was made by majority whip Tom Delay (R-Texas), who claimed that the INS had not obtained a warrant to go in after Elian Gonzalez.

As expected, the Republican candidate for president wasted no time in issuing his own statement about the matter. In an incredibly ironic statement, given George W.'s record on gun issues, he said, "Ours is a nation of laws, not guns. Custody disputes are resolved in the calm of the courtroom, not in the terror of middle-of-the-night raids." Bush did this because it has come time for him to morph into the perfect middle-of-the-road candidate, and he is having a hard time creating a persona that is distinct. And nothing helps a candidate look more self-righteous then denouncing the actions of the current administration.

The sentiments of the Texas governor are also shared by an increasing number of Republican heavy-hitters. Justice committee chairman Orrin Hatch has announced his intentions of investigating the raid, and has asked Reno to turn over all the papers she has to him. Henry Hyde, of Clinton impeachment proceedings fame, has also added his name to the list of those suspicious of Clinton's administrators.

Those who thought that Elian's removal from Miami would end the national discussion of his fate are in for a bitter disappointment. As more and more politicians jump into the debate, the longevity of this issue increases. The life of Elian Gonzales is no longer his own, but is now a hot political issue that will be talked about and debated throughout this election year.

Lora J.Mackel is a history junior. She can be reached at Lora.J.Mackel@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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