"The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds." ~ Isaiah Berlin
The Resurrection of Elian
Exclusive to STR He's back! Remember Elian Gonzalez, the 5-year-old Cuban rafter who survived crossing the Florida (dire) Straits and was found by two 'fishermen'? Unfortunately, Elian's mother perished during the voyage, and that's where his well-documented troubles really began. This week Elian returned to US national TV on CBS's Sunday news magazine 60 Minutes. CBS found it necessary to include the almost surreal (but definitely asinine) statement 'no government officials monitored the interview and there were no ground rules about what questions could be asked.' None of that was necessary; the Cuban government has terrorized its citizens to the point that most of the time they 'watch' themselves. Elian's life as portrayed on 60 Minutes would make the Cleavers' of "Leave It to Beaver" look like the Osbournes'. He attends a government school (everyone does) where he and all the other children wear perfectly pressed uniforms and are taught in sterile classroom environments. Elian, the announcer tells us, rides his bike to school every day. His family lives in a modest, clean little house and his father has a fairly new Russian-built Lada. It all looks and sounds too good to be true. Elian sits down for an interview (flanked by his biological father) and tells us that he sees Fidel Castro not only 'as a friend but as a father as well.' Castro is 79 and Elian is 11, shouldn't Elian perhaps view Castro as a grandfather (maybe even a great-grandfather)? When you speak in Cuba --especially about Castro--you must be very careful not to insult the virile and narcissistic tyrant. Also consider that some of Castro's own biological children have fled the island and that he put his eldest (Fidelito) under house arrest for an extended period of time, and you start to worry for Elian. Elian makes speeches sometimes in Castro's presence, and in his hometown of Cardenas, there is a statue of him tossing a Superman doll (a representation of the US ) into the sea. This is ironic since the intervention of the US state Attorney General and gun-toting US federal agents expedited Elian's return to Cuba . Elian is only Castro's latest (hopefully last) symbol of how he has been able to outmaneuver his enemies, both homegrown and foreign, for decades. Back in Miami, Elian's great uncle Delfin has set up a museum of his own. Here Elian is enshrined like some sort of religious icon; a large black cross marks the spot in the house were Elian was taken by an MP5-toting federal agent. Elian's stay at this house was marked by a circus-like atmosphere with well-wishers and camera crews from TV networks worldwide camped out on the street 24 hours a day. It is hard to argue that these conditions are either normal or optimal for any five or six year old. There is no doubt that what we saw on 60 Minutes was sanitized. Most of Cuba looks nothing like what was filmed for the segment, and Elian's father's (Juan Miguel Gonzalez) house and car are perks reserved only for those who have curried favor and shown loyalty to Castro. A great majority of Cubans live in abject poverty caused by the state's control of the entire Cuban economy. CBS, in order to land this exclusive interview, more than likely traded away what little journalistic integrity it might have left, and presented an unrealistic picture of life in the communist gulag. Elian's life was negatively affected by the death of his mother; as soon as he arrived in Miami, politicians saw the value in the rafter boy. With little thought about his welfare, Elian was paraded in front of the media. Politicians well aware of the media exposure paid regular visits to Elian, bought him gifts and granted interviews outside the house. Even his Miami relatives seemed to be so overwhelmed by the media frenzy and attention that they put Elian's welfare second to their new-found celebrity. Not to be outdone, Castro forced tens of thousands of Cubans (who had never met Elian) to march in demonstrations outside the US Cuban Interest Section in Havana demanding Elian's immediate return. Elian's father may have thought his son was better off in the US, but the media attention ultimately irked Castro, who knew the father held the key to winning this political tug-of-war. No one knows for sure the reasons why Juan Miguel Gonzalez insisted on Elian's return, but to deny a father the right to his child--regardless of political ideology--is unconscionable. In Cuba, parental rights are second to the rights of the state, which always has the last word. Here in the US, in a more insidious fashion, the state also has the last word in the 'welfare' of our children.