Accuracy in Media

Elian Gonzalez’s name is back in the news since a new trial related to the custody drama got underway in Miami the last week of January. He was the Cuban boy who came to America when his mother died to give him freedom. Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno ordered him returned to the communist island prison nation. She had armed federal agents grab him out of a Miami home from his relatives.

A $4-million lawsuit was brought by 13 people who say they were injured or traumatized when machine-gun-toting federal agents stormed the house where Gonzalez was staying in Miami and snatched the boy at gunpoint in April 2000. Gonzalez, now 11, was one of three survivors of a makeshift raft carrying Cubans seeking refuge in the U.S. His mother died in the search for freedom from Castro.

One of the most controversial issues has received almost no follow-up investigative reporting by the press: namely, that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had a memo written before Elian was seized, indicating the INS was weighing political asylum for Elian days before the feds seized him.

Elian was returned to the Castro government and his father in Cuba. The father was depicted as a faithful communist who wanted Elian back with him. That line was accepted by the Clinton Administration. But the memo, authored by INS attorney Rebeca Sanchez-Roig, stated that Elian’s father may have made his “own attempts to depart Cuba,” and had made two phone calls “from a pay phone in Cuba” to let his family in Miami know that Elian was coming. In addition, the memo says that “the Cuban government installed what somebody described as a speaker phone” in the father’s home in Cuba so that Cuban government agents could coach him on what to say.

The memo said if coercion could be shown against the father then the INS could accept the child for entry into the U.S. Then-INS chief Doris Meissner ordered Sanchez-Roig to destroy the memo. The raid followed within days.

This is not the first time that news about the memo has surfaced. Christopher Caldwell, senior editor for The Weekly Standard, wrote an article, “The Elian Cover-up” back in 2002, citing evidence that INS chief Doris Meissner knew that Elian’s father was acting under duress and didn’t want his child returned to communism.

Actually, the memo’s existence was known at the time that Elian was in the U.S. If its contents had been exposed then, the reporting would have had a significant impact. I was told about it by an individual in Ft. Lauderdale who said he could not “get anyone at the Miami Herald interested in covering this.” Sanchez-Roig didn’t speak to the press, but surely some intrepid reporting could’ve led to uncovering and publicizing the truth about the real wishes of Elian’s father. Elian could be living and prospering in freedom today if the press had done its job.




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