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Elian Gonzalez Essay, Research Paper

It seems as if the last five months has been an update of the latest news and developments in the story of the most famous six year old, Elian Gonzalez. To date, I must admit that I have been somewhat biased and inconsiderate by not paying attention to the most recent developments because of the simple fact that I believed from the beginning that the boy should be returned to his biological father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. With the timing of this assignment it has given me an opportunity to get caught up on all the facts of the Elian Gonzalez case and I’m glad I have taken this opportunity to do some reading of the last couple of reports by Newsweek. It also ties in well with a sociologist/theorist that we have been discussing in class by the name Baumgartner and the idea of “Social Control from Below”. The idea of social control from below is one that we as humans come across day-in and day-out. Some of the factors that we come across in social control from below are the idea that this concept deals with the powerful and the powerless, the powerful can use physical discipline to control the powerless, the powerful can control social resources to control the powerless, and the powerless don’t suspend their right to moral justice. These are just a few of the ideas that factor into social control from below, but if you look into them a little deeper you can understand why I would say that we as humans deal with this idea on a daily basis. In the case of Elian Gonzalez and his father’s attempt to regain custody, this concept of powerful versus powerless runs a whole lot deeper than just these two.

The idea of the powerful versus the powerless plays a major role in this idea of social control from below. The circumstances don’t change either when looking at the Gonzalez case. It seems as if these “subordinates” and “elites” were the major players from the beginning and still continue to be the major players to this day. If you had to put a label on who the “elite” group would be I guess you would have to say the Miami family, who consist of Lazaro, Delfin, and the surrogate mother, who currently have custody of Elian. In this same instance I would have to say that the label of “subordinate” or disadvantaged would have to be placed on Juan Miguel, Elian’s father, because he hasn’t had any luck in trying to regain custody of his child and bring him back to Cuba. On a much larger scale the idea of subordinates and elites is one that the governments of both the United States and Cuba will control. It seems that overall the United States government with the help of some major players that include Attorney General Janet Reno and President Bill Clinton and the Cuban government with the help of their major player, Fidel Castro, are in control here and will have the final say in the matter. With this being said, it seems the title of overall subordinates could be placed on all the other major players in this lasting controversy. These others include the lawyers that are representing both parties, the immediate family that includes Juan Miguel and his uncle Manuel, the Miami family who currently has custody of Elian and refuses to give him up, and lastly Elian who will have to live with the decision that should be rendered sometime soon.

The idea of social control from below, as discussed by Baumgartner, has many factors that influence the idea of being deviant behavior. There are four distinct factors that influence social control from below and Baumgartner labels them as the “Social Forces of the Powerless”. These forces include: rebellion, covert retaliation, non-cooperation, and appeals for support. All of these factors according to Baumgartner are a social attempt by the powerless to set the tables to an even scale. The most noticeable form of social control from below that we have seen in this case since November would be this idea of non-cooperation. For this concept to be true I must first explain non-cooperation according to Baumgartner. The first thing you have to try and understand is the fact that this is the single most available form of social control from below. All that is required is that the subordinate parties not do very much for that superior or elite party. This would be most evident in the fact that the Miami family hasn’t cooperated at all with Juan Miguel or even the American government. It seems as they are set in their ways and their opinion and they feel as if the best thing for Elian would be to raise him in Miami as opposed to sending him back to Cuba with his father. It seems as if this situation is best summed up in an article entitled You Live in Fear written for Newsweek as a Web exclusive on April 12,2000. It was an interview with Walter Polovchak, who went through the same thing Elian is going through back in 1980. The only differences were that Walter was twelve years old at the time and he fled the Soviet Union, which was communist at the time. I feel as if says it best in a statement that reads, “He (Elian) can always go back to Cuba any time-that option is always open to him. But he’ll never have the same opportunity to leave Cuba.” With this being said, I still feel it is up to his biological father to make the decision, which he feels is best for the son he seems to love so much. It c n also be said that the crowds that have gathered in Little Havana and the protestors that have gathered in Cuban communities all over the country have engaged in non-cooperation because of the simple fact that there not making the situation any easier. In Baumgartner’s explanation of non-cooperation it is clear that organized strikes are the most dramatic forms of non-cooperation.

Another way that the idea of non-cooperation is being portrayed is by Juan Miguel and Fidel Castro, but on a much smaller scale. It seems as if Juan Miguel stayed in contact with another uncle of his, Manuel, who also lived in Miami. Manuel felt the pain of his nephew and tried to work with him to regain custody of Elian. The other uncles, Lazaro and Delfin, thought their brother was a Castro sympathizer and closed their doors to Manuel. Manuel tried to convince his nephew all winter long to come to the United States himself to try and fight for the custody of his son in person. Juan Miguel refused for a couple of different reasons. The first was because he was confused and he didn’t know right from wrong in dealing with the situation at hand. Most importantly, he was a little suspicious of the American government, as is the case for most Cubans. The reason I feel as if Fidel Castro engaged in this idea of non-cooperation is because when Gregory Craig, the lawyer appointed for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, flew to Cuba to let him know that it was the time to come to the United States to gain custody, Castro was hesitant in letting Juan Miguel go. It took a three-hour meeting between Castro and Craig and some assurances by Gonzalez before letting him go with his wife and their son. He also did some little things to ensure Gonzalez would remain loyal to him and Cuba before he let him go like moving him from Cardenas to an apartment outside of Havana to keep an eye on him.

In relation to three distinct parties that have played a major role in the Gonzalez case, I feel as if they have each shown a distinct characteristic of social control from below, if not more than one. The first party that we would look at would be the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Alex Penelas. It seems as if Penelas has taken part in the idea of non-cooperation in respect to the idea of social control from below. This is made evident by the article in Newsweek entitled The Long Road Home. In the article Joseph Contreras and Evan Thomas write, “Having recklessly declared that he would refuse to help the Feds enforce the law two weeks ago, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas more sensibly called for calm last week.” It seems as if the mayor has come to his senses since then, but he has not fully cooperated with officials. The next group that we can discuss would be the local Miami supporters of the efforts to keep Elian Gonzalez here in the United States. The first act that of social control from below that they have taken part would be non-cooperation. This is quite obvious because they don’t make the situation any easier by threatening to not let the Feds get through to pick Elian up. The next act of deviance in respect to social control from below would be the idea of rebellion. The idea of rebellion is open violence against the social superiors. This is the most visible of social control from below, but it is also important for me to point out that this is also the least likely to occur. It is also important for me to point out that this has not happened yet, but it almost seems evident. Contreras and Thomas point out in their Newsweek article, “But the hotheads were still linking arms outside the modest bungalow where Elian lives, and his two great uncles and their phalanx of lawyers were in effect daring Attorney General Janet Reno to brave the mob.” If this doesn’t point out signs of rebellion, then I don’t know what does. Lastly, the actions of maybe the most important players have to be discussed. Elian’s U.S. family has definitely engaged in the concept of non-cooperation. This is a given. They have also engaged in a couple of other forms of social control from below. The first would be a form entitled covert retaliation. Covert retaliation is an active, aggressive form of social control from below. Baumgartner also considers it a “secret” form of social control from below. The actions that go into covert retaliation are so covered and so secretive, that people sometimes look past its aggressiveness. I feel this is a direct reference to Lazarus, one of Elian’s two uncles, offering money to Juan Miguel for custody of the boy. The Newsweek article points out, “His (Juan Miguel) uncle Lazaro began arguing that Elian should stay in Miami and even offered Juan Miguel money (reportedly $2 million) to give up his claim to the child.” It seems as if Lazaro is trying to buy Elian from his biological father to keep him from returning to Cuba. This action also points out Juan Miguel’s love for his son, because it should have been really easy for a man with nothing to accept this type of money. Lastly, I feel as if the family has engaged in a form of social control from below entitled appeals for support. This tactic sees the subordinate party to ally with a powerful third party. In the Gonzalez case it seems as if the Miami family considers themselves a subordinate party, as opposed to the governments of the United States and Cuba, and they have went out and retained the services of a credible legal team to help them through this fight. To this point it has apparently helped them because they keep prolonging the inevitable, and that is Elian Gonzalez will eventually be re-united with his father one way or another.


Newsweek. April 12, 2000.

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