The Elian Gonzalez Travesty: Where Was Hillary? - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Elian Gonzalez Travesty: Where Was Hillary?

It was 16 years ago this spring that the Clinton administration handed over a six-year-old boy named Elian Gonzalez. Elian, his mother, and a dozen others had escaped the communist tyranny of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul. They attempted to do what an estimated 100,000-plus Cubans have risked since the Castro brothers began destroying that beautiful island nearly 60 years ago: they headed into treacherous, shark-infested waters in search of freedom. Tens of thousands have perished in that process.

In November 1999, Elian’s group pushed off in a shaky aluminum craft. It was the best thing they could find in this surreal island without boats. Boats are banned by the communist regime.

Like a scene right out of Hollywood, a storm hit, waves began crashing, the motor failed, the escapees profusely bailed water, and Elian’s mom clutched her son as the boat sank. Elian was placed in some sort of inner tube before passing out from exhaustion.

Elian awoke to be spotted by two fishermen. He was brought safely to American shores, vindicating the sacrifice his mother made. She literally gave her life for him. He was free at last.

Or so he hoped.

Elian was taken in by relatives honoring his mother’s wishes. The story immediately made international headlines, and then Fidel descended, holding a staged press conference in Havana with Elian’s (divorced) father. Obviously not free to speak his mind, Elian’s dad demanded the child’s return.

What would the Clinton administration do? What would President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Attorney General Janet Reno, do?

As the media assembled in profusion outside the tiny Florida home in Little Havana where Elian was staying, we got our answer. Reno issued an edict to the family to surrender the boy by April 13. The family refused.

And so, late at night on Good Friday 2000, while most of America slept, as did Elian, armed federal agents from the INS grabbed their gear and guns and got ready. As the night grew late, they stormed the one-story house before dawn, broke down the door, and seized the screaming Elian, whisking away the terrified child.

The Clinton gang was handing over Elian. They were sending the boy back to communist Cuba. His late mother’s wishes be damned.

Another great victory for Fidel.

The incident perfectly symbolized the warped political prejudices of the American left: the child is rescued from the menacing hands of the anti-communists (the bad guys), turned over instead to the communists, the side where enlightened “progressives” rarely discern any great evil.

It was a revolting display. And the people of Florida, especially the wider Latino community, were appalled at the Clinton administration. In fact, many observers to this day are convinced that Al Gore lost Florida in the 2000 election, and thus lost the overall election, because of that seizure of Elian. In a margin of victory for George W. Bush of a few hundred votes, the dark-of-the-night snatch of Elian by Vice President Gore’s boss arguably cost him the presidency.

I mention this now because I’ve heard nothing about it while Hillary Clinton campaigns in Florida for the presidency. Surely many Florida Latinos are pondering the question: What was Hillary advising on Elian?

Well, we do know that Hillary Clinton was on the side of sending Elian back to his father, and to Fidel and Cuban communism.

“I believe personally that this little boy should be with his father,” said Clinton in April 2000. At the time, the First Lady was running for the U.S. Senate seat in New York, where her opponent was Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who she accused of trying to “politicize” Elian. It was an amazing charge. Giuliani was defending Elian, not politicizing him.

More than that, both Giuliani and (ironically) even Vice President Al Gore supported legislation to grant Elian permanent resident status in the United States. Hillary Clinton not only opposed the legislation but accused Giuliani of “turning this young boy into a political football.”

Quite the contrary, it was Fidel who was playing football with the young boy—and with the Clintons. He kicked their butts up and down the field.

Three weeks after these Hillary comments, Elian was nabbed by the feds. Seven months later, the voters of Florida registered their protest at the ballot box—against Al Gore—even as Gore had been captive to the decisions of the Clintons.

Hillary must have learned from this, because she has ceased to raise the Elian saga since. She is silent on the fiasco in her memoirs. There’s certainly nothing in It Takes a Village. She has avoided the issue like the plague. Surely, she does not want to be associated with it in a run for the presidency, as Al Gore was.

With Mrs. Clinton looking to woo Florida voters right now, someone should ask her about her support of the Good Friday grab of Elian. I doubt that Bernie Sanders will. I imagine that Bernie enthusiastically recommended sending Elian back to Fidel for that world-class healthcare, education, and other “free” stuff. But I bet Marco Rubio would like to know the details of her thinking. Rubio watched all of this intimately. In his memoirs, An American Son, Rubio writes: 

The notion that he [Elian] be forcibly returned to a regime his mother had given her life to rescue him from was unfathomable to us [the Cuban exile community]. In the 1960s, hundreds of Cuban parents had sent their children to live with foster families or orphanages in the United States to save them from life under communism. For those who had lived through the experience, returning a child to Cuba against his dead mother’s wishes was too much to bear.

Rubio revisits the episode in detail. He recalls how Janet Reno’s deadline of April 13 had come and gone. On the evening of Good Friday, April 21, he and his wife Jeanette were talking about the case when he shared his hunch that the authorities might act the very next morning, so as to avoid apprehending Elian on Easter Sunday. They went to bed. He awoke at 4:00 a.m. to feed his baby daughter. After getting her back to sleep, Rubio had a sense that something might be going down. He hopped in his car and drove to Little Havana on empty streets. When he reached the neighborhood of Elian’s relatives, he saw a police car with lights flashing, blocking the intersection. Seconds later, several vans sped past Rubio toward the house. He describes what happened next:

I parked my car and sprinted the three blocks to the house. Hundreds of people were wandering around in disbelief, many of them coughing and looking for a hose to wash pepper spray off their faces. Media trucks and camera crews were everywhere. Reporters interrupted early-morning broadcasts with breaking news that Elian Gonzalez had been seized in a predawn raid by a Border Patrol SWAT Team.

I, too, was in disbelief…. The Cuban exile community had always been a bastion of pro-American sentiment. Exiles loved America and Americans. My grandfather and parents had been deeply patriotic, and regarded their new country with reverence and gratitude. Most Cuban Americans were pillars of their communities, deeply invested in our nation and always on the side of law and order. Now, perhaps for the first time in their lives here, they felt like they were on the outside looking in: raided by federal agents….

As for Elian, he returned to his father and Cuba, where he became an active member of the Communist Party and loyal supporter of El Commandante.

Rubio makes no mention of Mrs. Clinton. But I’m sure he has suspicions and questions.

And so, could someone in Florida with a camera ask Hillary Clinton about this? It shouldn’t be too difficult to track her down. Does she have any regrets about sending this little boy back to this communist police state?

Paul Kengor
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Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., and senior academic fellow at the Center for Vision & Values. Dr. Kengor is author of over a dozen books, including A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism, and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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