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Suffer Little Children ...

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MORE than 3,000 Cuban children who set out for freedom's shores last summer are behind barbed-wire fences at United States military bases in Guantanamo Bay and Panama. Their imprisonment evokes memories of the internment camps for Japanese immigrants in the US during World War II and of an equally shameful chapter in Cuba's colonial history - the reconcentration camps of the Spanish Captain Generals.

Originally intended to be ``temporary safe havens,'' these detention camps have become human chess boards in a callous game of political brinkmanship between Cuba and the US in which the only losers are the ``huddled masses yearning to breathe free.''

The outcry from the Cuban American community for the immediate release of the children met with ostensible receptivity by the US, but the official policy pronouncement fell unacceptably short. On Dec. 2, Attorney General Janet Reno announced she will, ``at the direction of the president, ... consider for humanitarian parole, on a case-by-case basis, Cuban children for whom long-term presence in the safe havens at Guantanamo or Panama would constitute an extraordinary hardship... .''

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris Meissner explained that while a precise standard for ``extraordinary hardship'' has not yet been established, the quality of life in the camps ``does not in itself constitute a hardship.''

The number of children from the camps paroled into the US has been negligible. To assist the attorney general and the INS commissioner in determining the appropriate standard for the release of Cuban children, I refer them to the pertinent sections of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This Convention became international law in September 1990 after 20 countries ratified it, including the US and Cuba:

* Article 2. Guarantees protection against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.

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