Waving large American flags and singing patriotic songs, about 100 demonstrators rallied in downtown Manhattan to keep Elian Gonzalez free. This protest — staged on a blustery day in front of the cold, gray monolith known as the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building — was one of 14 actions across America designed to boost public support for preventing the six-year-old Cuban refugee from returning to the Marxist island he and his mother fled last November. These gatherings came on the eve of Gonzalez’s federal hearing on his political asylum application.
”If Elian’s father were from France, he should go back to France,” said the Ayn Rand Institute’s Harry Binswanger in his keynote address to the crowd assembled on lower Broadway. “But he’s from Cuba, and Cuba’s a prison. You don’t send a six-year-old to prison.”
Paul Blair, a computer programmer and one of the event’s organizers, said that “Americans should care that their government is not holding up individual rights. They should be concerned that Janet Reno violated the Fourth Amendment when she authorized the seizure of Elian Gonzalez in Miami.”
The April 22 raid on the Gonzalez family’s Little Havana home fueled the demonstrators’ frustrations. One woman wore a flyer on her jacket that read, “Bill Clinton’s America.” It showed AP photographer Alan Diaz’s now legendary image of a Border Patrol agent pointing a machine gun at Gonzalez and Donato Dalrymple, the Miami man who rescued him at sea. In this rendition, Attorney General Reno’s smiling face was substituted for that of the federal officer. A quotation over Reno’s head read: “Not to worry, dear. We’ve got Play-Dough on the plane!”
Lourdes Garcia, an Elizabeth, New Jersey theater costumer, showed three pictures of Elian. In the first, he smiled while sitting on the shoulders of his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. “He’s in his element here,” Garcia said.
In the second photo, as Gonzalez was abducted by a female INS agent, Garcia said, “Elian was taking his last few breaths of freedom.”
Finally, Garcia held up a large photo of Gonzalez taken as he left a dinner party last Saturday night at the Georgetown home of Elizabeth and Smith Bagley, high-dollar Democratic fund raisers and heirs to the R. J. Reynolds tobacco fortune. Head bowed and with his hands in his pockets, an uncharacteristically subdued Gonzalez is escorted from the mansion by three dark-suited federal agents.
“The light’s gone from his eyes,” Garcia said, as hers filled with tears.
Despite the group’s peaceful behavior, some onlookers responded with palpable anti-Cuban hostility. Such open ethnic animosity is rare in this supposedly tolerant metropolis.
“What are we going to do, give the kid back to those relatives in Miami?” one passerby asked. “They don’t work. They’d keep him as a political prisoner.”
Another man growled at a rally attendee: “You go back to Cuba. I don’t want you here.”
“I’m leaving this country. I can’t take it anymore,” said Jose Fernandez Badue, a New Yorker who was born in Cuba and moved to the United States at age six. Citing what he called a rising tide of anti-Cuban sentiments, he said he soon will move to Spain. He was especially bothered by U.S. media descriptions of “screeching Cubans” and “anti-Castro extremists” as the Elian story unfolded.
“It’s getting worse by the day,” nodded another man who called himself Jose.
Andrew Hazlett, the demonstration’s chief organizer, added an all-American note by reading Emma Lazarus’s famous poem excerpted on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”
“Liberty for Elian!” Hazlett added, his fist waved defiantly overhead. “Liberty for Elian!”