MIAMI — Former President Bill Clinton said Saturday he had no regrets over sending Elian Gonzalez back to live with his father in Cuba, and would order a federal raid on Little Havana all over again.
"I did everything I could to try to have this resolved in a peaceful way,'' he said, even with the hindsight of a decade after the episode sparked an international crisis between Cuba and the United States.
It also stoked tensions in Miami and roiled many in the Cuban-American exile community, who saw the Clinton administration decision to reunite the 6-year-old boy with his father from Cardenas, Cuba, as tantamount to turning his future over to the Fidel Castro regime.
But Clinton said both international and U.S. law made clear what he had to do about the boy who was found clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day in 1999. His mother and some 10 other Cubans in his group perished while trying to reach the United States on a raft.
Clinton made his remarks in response to an Associated Press reporter's question at the University of Miami's Coral Gables campus, where his Clinton Global Initiative has convened college students to encourage volunteerism and engagement.
"We had children, American children, who had been kidnapped. They were in Iran. They were in Germany. They were in country after country,'' Clinton recalled. "If I had said, because we don't like the regime in Cuba, even though no one disputed the fact that Elian Gonzalez's father loved him and was a responsible father, . . . if I had said, I don't like Cuba and I like America better than Cuba and I don't care what the international law is and I don't don't care that his father wants him back, then not only me but no other American president would have been able to say with a straight face, you can't kidnap my child and keep him in Germany and have some German court say we just like our German parent better.''
Moreover, he noted, U.S. courts had decided the cross-Florida Straits custody issue in favor of the boy's father, who had said he wanted to raise the child in his native Cuba, and the White House could not ignore the law "even if we don't like the results.''
Federal agents descended on the Little Havana home of young Elian's uncle Lazaro, cousin Marisleysis and other kin on April 22, 2000, and seized the boy before dawn to resolve the crisis.
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