Cuban boy: A better life in homeland?

It was disappointing to see the Monitor publish John Hughes's view ("How little boy riles Castro," Dec. 15). Aside from political differences, let's not forget that we have 11 million neighbors in Cuba that are among the hardest-working and healthiest people in the hemisphere. That Cubans don't enjoy the material benefits Americans do is mostly a consequence of our embargo. In Cuba, Elian will be part of a society with first-rate, free health care, virtually no drugs, almost no crime, excellent education, wonderful biodiversity, and locally grown, organic food. He will have to face certain shortages - such as no Disneyland - but on balance, he will benefit from growing up with his father and grandparents.

Gerald Smith Chelsea, Mich.

I disagree with your editorial that demands the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba ("Send the Cuban boy home," Dec. 8). Would your view be different had the mother survived with her son? Does her intent have no validity? The boy chose to go with his mother rather than remain with his father in Cuba.

George F. Slusser Woodinville, Wash.

Is Syria being strong-armed?

The opinion article "Skepticism on Syria-Israel talks" (Dec. 16) is a cry of despair. Apparently the author wants negotiations to be delayed until Syria is weak enough to accept a peace imposed by Israel, which is no peace at all. Negotiation from strength is not negotiation but coercion.

I visited Quneitra in 1974 in the Golan Heights, where Israelis had destroyed almost every building by bulldozers or explosives. Muslim and Christian houses of worship had been looted and damaged, and many graves had been ransacked. Syrian civilians were thus unable to return to their homes, especially with guns overlooking them from nearby hills. How could the author - a purported "longtime Syria watcher" - have missed this Israeli violation of the agreement?

As for the "terrorist operations across the Golan Heights against Israel in the 1970s,"

a careful study of UN records will reveal that the vast majority of violations of the cease-fire were committed by Israel, and that Syria withheld its fire over long periods of time. In October 1973, Egypt and Syria responded by attempting to drive the invaders from their territories.

The defeatist attitude that demonizes individuals such as Netanyahu or Assad will never bring peace. Our best hope is to recognize that we are all of one family, and that our differences must not allow us to give up our search for justice and peace.

Peter Yff Muncie, Ind.

Religion in the classroom

Thank you for the article "Talking religion in the classroom" (Dec. 14). The experts you cite, Forrest Turpen and Charles Haynes, are leading a national discussion about what it means to develop a common vision for good in our society - and we can't do that without the participation of people of faith. At the same time, we must not exclude others from the public square. It is an exciting time to be thinking about these questions.

Julia K. Stronks Spokane Wash.

Ken Starr still on a mission?

Ken Starr still believes it was a crime for President Clinton to refuse to answer, or to evade, questions about his personal life ("A more appealing, but undaunted Starr," Dec. 14). The only crime committed was that the questions were asked in the first place. That Mr. Starr would consider a position on the Supreme Court should frighten any American who values his or her freedom.

Thomas W. Elliot Guffey, Colo.

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