April 27, 2000

In God and Elian, maybe. But who can trust this government of ours?

By Kevin Uhrich. Los Angeles Times. Thursday, April 27, 2000

There was an interesting juxtaposition on TV Easter Sunday.

On CNN, the dreadful Elian Gonzalez drama played out over and over, with scenes of more than 150 heavily armed government agents storming the Miami home of the boy's relatives, seizing the screaming child at gunpoint and then returning him to his father, who was in Washington from Cuba waiting to be reunited with his son.

After watching this display of paramilitary force, I flipped around the dial and landed on the History Channel. And there was the retelling of the Soviet Union's crushing of political dissent in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

I know it sounds weird, but not only did I see the parallels in the two scenarios, I just couldn't help drawing a fairly fat thread of reasoning to Census 2000, the effort now under way that's all about making people trust the government enough to let it in on who they are, where they live and how much they make.

More on the census connection a little later.

With the fall of monolithic Soviet-style communism, it's been no secret that the Unites States has been looking for ways to reopen that trade door with Cuba. They were praying for one of two things to happen. One was for Fidel Castro to die. If that didn't happen, wait for or create a media event with a situation so compelling that it would galvanize support for "doing the right thing," only mutually, on the part of the United States and Cuba. Along came Elian, literally floating on a raft to America's doorstep. The two nations found their common ground in the form of this innocent 6-year-old boy.

On Sunday, a crowing Castro went on TV and explained how Reno and her boss had done the right thing by returning the child to his father.

In this country, Reno went on TV and explained how negotiations between the kid's family and the government had broken down and that she had no other choice but to order the raid. Reno must be very proud of the high praise heaped on her by Castro, whose acts of political oppression, terrorism and chicanery are legend.

Now for the census string to all this geopolitical puppeteering.

A lot rides on an accurate head count during this decade's census. Billions of federal dollars -- millions for Pasadena alone -- hang in the balance of getting a complete count of people living here. Like other towns, Pasadena even formed a special committee, comprised mostly of people from the social service agencies dependent on that money, to ensure a complete count.

There's a catch, though. Not everyone wants to be counted. Not everyone can afford for the government to know where they live, how much they make or how many kids they have. They can't afford it because they rightly fear the government will find them, treat them like they did Elian and force them back to the countries they came from.

To allay those fears, local American governments have taken unprecedented steps in reaching out to these communities of mostly immigrants, encouraging them to trust them with their names and addresses.

That's right, trust them to not share their precious personal information with agencies like the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, the State Department, the U.S. Border Patrol. Right.

Anyone who watched that terrifying display of force to capture a little boy is no doubt thinking they could be next in line. And rightly so. This government of ours is apparently capable of just about anything.

But more to the point, why trust this government to do the right thing, all things regarding the Elian story considered?

During the History Channel show on the Prague Spring uprising, a witness was asked what the most terrible thing of all was in the Soviet crackdown on that onetime satellite state. The betrayal of trust on the part of the Soviet government, the man said.

The man said Czechs knew what they were dealing with when Hitler's Nazis came storming across their borders. The supposedly liberating Soviets were different, however. They were trusted. They were on the same side. That is until Czechs sought more freedom and the Soviets responded by sending troops to burn their cities.

So the question is who can trust a government like ours, one that stoops to using a virtual baby to play an entire nation like a fiddle?

Recent immigrants? Do they think government is on their side when they're filling out those census forms?

Do you?

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times



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