Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Key point: Elian's just a little boy

        journey from Communist Cuba to freedom in America. Elian was almost lost at sea, too. A fisherman rescued him as the boy floated on an inner tube, all alone in a vast ocean.

        His rescue and coming to America set off a protracted tug of war between his relatives in Miami and his father in Cuba, as well as politicians in Havana and Washington.

        Over Easter weekend, Elian was seized at gunpoint by federal agents and finally reunited with his dad.

        Somehow, his age and what's important to a 6-year-old got lost in the hand-wringing that's followed the father and son reunion.

Just a kid
        Now Congress intends to climb aboard the Elian bandwagon. The House of Representatives plans to conduct an investigation into how and why he was taken by force from his great-uncle's house in Miami on Saturday and handed over to his father.

        That should be a treat. Congress is congenitally incapable of telling where the big and little hands are on the clock, much less determining what is best for a 6-year-old boy.

        “Being with his dad is best for this little boy,” said Dr. Dewleen Baker, a psychiatrist in charge of the post-traumatic stress disorder program at Cincinnati's VA Hospital.

        She told me Elian can get on with his life, begin to grieve for his mother and get over the stress of being adrift in the ocean “only by being in a relationship where he feels safe. That's not in the home of relatives in an unfamiliar setting. At the age of 6, that can only come when he is with his dad.”

Telling images
        A photo taken early Saturday shows Elian screaming as a helmeted, goggle-wearing Border Patrol agent points a gun in the child's vicinity.

        The picture clearly shows that the agent's finger is not on the trigger and the gun's safety is locked in the “on” position. So the weapon can't be fired.

        But those details would be lost on a frightened little boy hiding in a clothes closet. And, remember, Elian is a little boy.

        “No doubt, that gun was frightening to a 6-year-old,” Dr. Baker said.

        “But the stress of that gun was nothing compared to losing his mother, floating in the ocean and living with his relatives in Miami for months. The gun was only in his face for seconds.”

        Six-year-olds couldn't care less if the good guys act like bullies. Or if Congress investigates them. They don't know Uncle Sam from Fidel Castro. They're both just old guys with beards.

        Six-year-olds care about matters closer to the heart.

        “At the age of 6,” Dr. Baker said, “all that a little boy cares about is: Where is my mom, where is my dad and do they still love me.”

        She referred me to a photo taken after Elian was reunited with his father.

        “There's a gleam in his eyes that you never saw when he was at his great uncle's house in Miami,” she said. “Now when he smiles, his whole face lights up.”

        Elian feels safe. He is in the arms of the man who never forgot this little boy is 6 years old.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at (513) 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

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