And, just in case you are wondering about Elian Gonzalez’s fate since returning to Cuba, be advised that he has been well attended to by the Ministry of the Interior. Indeed, just today the Cuban Communist Party announced that Elian had just joined Cuba’s Youth Communist Union. The Medal of Freedom for Shalala? Come on.
While reading National Review Online this past weekend I noted a piece I literally had to read twice. It could not be true, I said to myself, lest my mental angst verbalize and awaken my neighbors. The Bush Administration had decided to award the nation’s highest civilian honor to none other former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala. There are plenty of deserving Americans of all political persuasions that could be given the award; how did they settle on Donna Shalala? Why? To what end? It also took me back to my time on Capitol Hill and an issue that I would just as soon forget, the forced extradition of seven-year old Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, a state sponsor of terrorism and Caribbean gulag.
According to the official website of The Medal of Freedom, the medal is awarded to Americans that have made “specially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” We are a nation of few such honors, rightly so. And University of Miami President Shalala may be a good person in her own right. She has also been a dedicated public servant for most of her professional career. However, a stellar career in public service alone should not give rise to a most prestigious award that places a premium on advancing the cause of “freedom”. Even less so from a Republican Administration.
If a Democratic Administration wants to honor her, so be it. But why should a Party scrambling to find a message further muddle things by reaching back to honor a political figure from the most politically controversial presidencies in modern times? Yet again, there appear to be many Republicans in this town suffering from short- and long-term political memory problems. I expect there will be other attempts by NRO and other media to refresh their recollections on this matter. I will add my two cents.
The Donna Shalala I remember worked closely with then-Attorney General Janet Reno to take a child from his adopted home by force during one of the most important and solemn of days on the Catholic calender, Holy Week, just a few days shy of Easter. On April 22, 2000, using tactics that resembled a police state and based on dubious legal grounds that only a federal bureaucrat could have dreamed up, a swarm of federal and local police officials conducted a pre-dawn raid of a home in Little Havana in South Florida.
It is ironic that Elian’s mother died attempting to bring her son to freedom, only to have the same tactics that are used by Fidel and Raul Castro’s secret police used on her son and family members. In the weeks that followed, Elian was a ward of the federal government and under the legal moniker of the “best interests of the child” HHS-selected experts saw to his care and processing for a return to Communist Cuba. I recall that then-HHS Secretary Donna Shalala assisted in this process that included coordinating or advising on doctors and other health care professionals to look after the boy.
Most people in this town do not understand what it means to live in Communism or in a police state. Hence, they will never really appreciate why large segments of the South Florida Cuban-American community, rallied to Elian’s defense for so many weeks. Most of the DC-based media and political elites do not understand it either; their fascination with all things Castro and Guevara blind them to reality. Rather than focus on facts and good, the Clinton Administration, supported by the media, saw an opportunity to exact political revenge on the overwhelming conservative, Republican, and American flag-waving Cuban-American community. The boy was going back to the Cuban gulag, no matter what, even if they had to use force. All of this played right into the Cuban Communist Party play book.
As soon as the boy was snatched from relatives, the federal nanny state kicked into high gear. Attorney General Reno, INS Commissioner Doris Meissiner, Shalala and a few other cabinet officials hatched this scheme to contain the matter. In reality, if Donna Shalala had been an advocate for freedom during this dark moment of the Clinton Administration, she would have stood up and said, no more, this ends now and the boy should stay in the U.S. in freedom. Rather, as she did when she defended President Clinton during the impeachment mess, being the first Cabinet Secretary to stand and defend the president, she went along and said nothing about how damaging this matter was becoming for the boy and for our country.
During the planning of the raid, Shalala reportedly recommended child psychiatrists and health care providers for screening Elian and his family after the raid. I was working on the Hill at the time and know, first-hand, that HHS was involved. As do many other folks – Democrats and Republicans – that assisted in this matter on the side of freedom during a span of several months. A trusted colleague in the Clinton Administration that did not support efforts to take the child by force told me, among other things, that there was the “INS for immigration, HHS for health and counseling … and a whole host of other people including lawyers in private practice” that make up the large inter-agency extradition team led by Janet Reno. About those lawyers in private practice, one was Gregory Craig, currently an advisory to the Obama for President campaign.
It is not as if every Medal of Freedom recipient does not have something in his or her past that we may take issue with; we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. What President Bill Clinton and his team did to Elian Gonzalez was a travesty of justice and an abuse of federal power. Shalala may have found acceptance in a community that once shunned her, and she may have even found some people to forgive her past acts in this matter. As part of the Clinton extradition team, Shalala will need to live that mistake for the rest of her life. However, this does not mean that a Republican Administration should honor Shalala with the Medal of Freedom.
There are plenty of Democrats that could have been recognized that were not involved in sending a child to an atheist, communist Potemkin Village. And, just in case you are wondering about Elian Gonzalez’s fate since returning to Cuba, be advised that he has been well attended to by the Ministry of the Interior. Indeed, just today the Cuban Communist Party announced that Elian had just joined Cuba’s Youth Communist Union. The Medal of Freedom for Shalala? Come on.
P.S., As if this were not enough, Shalala’s name surfaced this week in the Countrywide loan scandal. On this latter point, I will leave for someone else to write.