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Editorial Notebook: A Boy Named Elián

By Marc J. Ambinder

Regardless of what we all might think about whether little Elin Gonzlez should return to Cuba, it seems to me that his Miami family is egregiously exploiting the media for their own gain, and at the same time, prostituting the dignity of a six-year-old boy whose mother recently died. The latest image: Elin exiting his home, holding in his hands the subpoena from House Government Oversight Committee chair Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and giving the assembled television cameras a peace sign with his left hand. How happy he looked!

The facts of the case that aren't in dispute should temper any suggestion that Elin is truly pleased with his situation. He survived, barely, a harrowing ordeal en route from Cuba to Florida. His mother died, likely in front of his eyes. Days later, he became enmeshed in an international controversy over his fate. His American family, which purports to have his best interests at heart, quickly lost the moral high ground. Elin was paraded before Miami television cameras on a daily basis. Invited by the family, the cameras followed the boy to school, to Universal Studios, on shopping outings. Cameras surround his house at all hours of the day. His status--not his welfare--became the subject of intense protests by the Cuban-American, anti-Castro community in America. Cold-hearted politicians, eager to exploit the situation for political gain, quickly joined in the fun, subsuming the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Service's ruling that Elin be returned to Cuba. The media, too, deserve approbation for easily falling prey to savvy citizens' image-fashioning.

Clearly, poor Elin will have severe emotional and psychological problems when he grows up. At the age he's at now, he's probably just becoming aware that he's not on an extended vacation. At six years, he is barely of the age when he can decipher whether those around him have his best interests at heart.

I don't think they do. What any child who has lost his mother needs is solace, counseling and time. Elin has been given none of these. If we were all utilitarians, or disciples of Princeton's Peter Singer, we might say that the exploitation of Elin is justified if it transmutes a significant political point to Castro's Cuba. This rationale seems to me to be the subconscious moral calculus of those who see Elin as a hero. To me, this is shameful.

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