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House Legislation

House Legislation

April 13, 2000

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- We are here today because as Members of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights for the House International Relations Committee, we realize the profound importance the Elian Gonzalez case has had on all of us. You could say the whole world is watching us right now.

Issues regarding the rule of law, immigration, and foreign policy have risen to the forefront fueling heated debate from all sides of the political spectrum.

Today, our discussion focuses on the rights of the child in Cuba.

There is no doubt that in the course of this hearing that we will hear horror stories about the problems within Cuban society. But as in any society, a list of problems doesn't paint the entire picture.

Right now, any unarmed black man in America ought to be afraid to go to New York City. I know I'm afraid to let my son go there; he might come back to me in a body bag. But does that paint the entire picture of black life in America?

We can't deny that there are human rights violations within Cuba, and we cannot deny that people lack certain freedoms in Cuba that we enjoy in our own country. The question is, what is life really like in Cuba, and how do we measure the quality of life in a nation?

First, let me state for the record: I believe in America.

I believe in the America that puts the health and welfare of children first . . . the America that believes in the sanctity of family . . . the America that believes in the bond between a father and his child.

But, like many other Americans, I am forced to confront the stark contrasts between our rhetoric and our polices.

Here in Washington D.C., and in other cities across America, Latino children struggle to survive . . . they struggle against prejudice and discrimination . . .they struggle to stay out of prison . . .

They struggle to enjoy what white American children take for granted: neighborhood schools full of equipment, happy teachers, and high expectations . . .thriving neighborhoods with sidewalks, streetlights, open spaces, and parks . . .neighborhood sports programs paid for by volunteer parents . . .college . . .Instead, most Latino children in this country lead a different life . . .Where their ability to speak the Spanish language outside their home is assaulted by policy makers . . .

And their ability to learn English is defunded by those same politicians. If they happen to live in the vicinity of Vieques, they could even get bombed dead by live fire from the US military.

American children have easy access to video games whose objectives are to score as many kills as possible . . .And unfortunately, our children bring those video games to life and too often die at the hands of other children who take deadly aim at their schoolmates and neighbors with handguns and other weapons.

In our own country, children simply have too much access to guns. They bring them into the schools and, unfortunately, we know the rest. Yesterday, President Clinton highlighted again the need for America to tighten its gun laws and to close the gunshow loophole. We can't get that through Congress. In the meantime, however, every day our children walk into school concerned about their personal security. This simply doesn't happen in Cuba. Children don't have access to guns.

Cuba is no paradise. But, neither is Cuba a place where the health and welfare of children is ignored. Just as we use health, education, and family life statistics to assess life in America; we too, can use them to help tell us about life in Cuba.

Cuba is one of the privileged nations in the world that has virtually 100% literacy. By every standard and in every reference work, literacy in Cuba is as high as it is in the United States.

In Cuba, university is fully funded by the government and students don't face obstacles based on race or socioeconomic status, unlike in the United States, where affirmative action programs that embrace opportunity for America's minorities are being wiped out by political decision makers. Unfortunately in the United States today, Latino children are still far less likely to go to college than their white counterparts.

A recent report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and

Cultural Organization (UNESCO) concluded that the public educational

system in Cuba is the best in Latin America. In the case of Elian, straight from Cuba's educational system, he was so advanced for a six-year-old, that his Miami school promoted him to the first grade.

Despite the debilitating effects of the US embargo, Cuba has tightened its belt in other areas in order to ensure that Cuban children receive a quality education.

In our own country, we have over 40 million Americans uninsured, and millions more who are under-insured. We have a health care system in this country that provides excellent care for the rich, but too many Americans have health care options that are limited.

In Cuba, however, there is free and universal health care for all citizens. There is no need for an insurance card, or lengthy phone calls over whether your HMO will pay for a certain procedure. Instead, Cuba has to deal with the thorny issue of health care tourists who come to Cuba to get medical attention lacking in their own countries.

The Cuban government takes full responsibility for the health of its people. The population receives free preventive, curative, and rehabilitative services, which range from primary care, routine medical attention, and dentistry to hospital care requiring the use of highly sophisticated medical technologies. In addition, all necessary diagnostic testing and drugs are provided free of charge to pregnant women.

Perhaps, this is why Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than we have right here in Washington, D.C.

Because of the Family Doctor Program, every Cuban neighborhood has a physician and a clinic. There are almost three doctors for every 500 Cuban citizens. In the United States our rate is just over one doctor for every 500 US citizens. And we know the areas that are likely to go underserved; the preponderance of those doctors are in the swanky suburbs and not in our central cities and rural areas.

Now, because the Cuban government prioritizes education and health care for its citizens, it has produced for them solid, recognizable results.

However the Cuban health care system does experience a lack of medicine.

Medicine that is desperately needed to ensure the health of Cuban children.

Medicine that United States policy restricts from reaching the Cuba's shores.

Pay attention to the current policy:

We currently send medicine to Vietnam, China, North Korea, and Iraq.

Vietnam is a Communist country with a government that we went to war against.

China is a Communist country with a deplorable human rights record, and now with stolen military secrets that threaten our national security.

North Korea is a Communist country that will get two nuclear reactors from us.

And Iraq, our former ally, is now an enemy that we are in a state of war against!

They all receive medicine from the United States.

If we are truly concerned about the status of children in Cuba, the first thing we should do is allow medicine into the country. We should, today, devote ourselves to making the lives of all Cuban children better. Representatives Jose Serrano and Charlie Rangel have introduced bills that will allow food, medicine, and supplies from the United States to enter Cuba. We need to support them.

The second thing we should do is lift the embargo.

The economic embargo of Cuba has not produced the desired result. Oh, it might serve as salve on the consciences of those who have problems with the current government, but it certainly hasn't produced the results that they or we want.

In addition, the embargo has been condemned by Pope John Paul II as "oppressive economic measures [that are] unjust and ethically unacceptable."

Congressman Ron Paul has introduced a bill to lift the embargo and we need to support it.

Mr. Chairman, to merely denounce the Human Rights record of Cuba in order to justify the hard-line approach of US policy is insufficient. If we are serious about making a positive impact on human rights in Cuba, we need to re-examine our policies.

And, by the way, if the law is changed to allow Elian to stay in the United States, then all the children from Chiapas, Mexico; Kosovo, Yugoslavia; Beijing, China; and Iraq need to be included in that law. And certainly we wouldn't leave out the Rwandan orphans who lost their parents in the genocide that Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton wouldn't stop.

And let's make sure that we find that 16-year-old Chinese girl who was crying and shackled as she was sent back to China. Let's go get the 409 Haitians and Dominicans who entered the U.S. on New Year's Day and who were promptly sent back. Let's go get the children of the indigenous people who are negatively impacted by our insatiable thirst for oil, uranium, and diamonds. But let's go further back and find all the children who tried to enter our country during the days of Latin America's US-supported despots.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I'm concerned about the rule of law.

Do some people in this country think they are above the law?

Doris Meissner, Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, stated in a press statement on January 5, 2000, that "this decision has been based on the facts and the law." Attorney General Janet Reno has shown tremendous restraint, grace, and courage in the face of mob intransigence.

Today is April 13th and still the child is not with his father.

Let me conclude this way: as a mother, I grieve for Elian's mother . . . who gave her own life to try to bring Elian to America. And had she lived . . . this would be a different story.

But, she did not.

And now we are left with a child--a little boy--separated from his father by a series of tragic events.

We must not lose sight of the facts, however:

Elian's father also had custody of Elian in Cuba.

Elian's mother took Elian away from his father and illegally left Cuba's shores for America.

Elian belongs with his loving father who wants him.

Think what will happen if we don't return the boy to his father.

How many American children have been snatched by one parent and are now in foreign countries? Don't we fight to get our own children back?

Don't all parents have rights recognized by international law?

And the last time I checked, fathers are parents, too.

False principle destroys all credibility and wisdom. And at the end of the day, the arguments that favor keeping Elian here in America, away from his father, are all built on incredibly transparent false principle that destroys all credibility and wisdom in their position.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

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