Elian Nation

Scenes from a splintered city

To keep up with the groundswell of discontent among its listenership, Radio Mambí cancels scheduled programs on Saturday afternoon and evening. News about Elian dominates the airwaves. Nevertheless many regulars drop in. Roger Rojas Lavernia, who often is a guest on the Olga and Tony Show, which normally runs from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., recalls sadly how he helped out in an early political campaign of now-vilified Attorney General Janet Reno. He takes advantage of the moment to read a poem written in Spanish by one of his colleagues at the station about the former Dade State Attorney.
Her visits were frequent
to the offices of Mambí.
I'll never forget her smile,
which was about level with my forehead.
But one unexpected day
Washington called her.
Her Saxon blood boiled
and that good ol' gal
Turned into a soldier.

At 6:35 p.m. state Rep. Manuel Prieguez, whose district includes Little Havana, takes the microphone. "Representing my colleagues [in Tallahassee], I would like to offer these words. We are indignant.... How could this happen in our own back yard? How could they invade us as if we were not part of the United States?"

Declarations of hosts and invited guests alternate with telephone calls from listeners. Desperate rants are peppered with insults. "The United States government is made up of a bunch of hypocrites and liars," one caller says. Another terms the attorney general "Señorita serpiente" (Miss snake). For many others the president is a "Judas" and "a real son of a bitch."

"We must execute Clinton," one man shouts into his phone.

Calls for peace temper the invitations to violence. But in the minds of some angry members of the public, peace amounts to letting other communities do the dirty work. "Let the blacks burn Miami!" a woman yells into the receiver.

Much debate centers around a picture released by the government that shows a smiling Elian in his father's arms. How could Elian be smiling, ask announcers and listeners, when just a few hours earlier he was overcome by terror? Callers point out inconsistencies between the new photo and those taken during the early morning seizure: Someone claims there is a tooth in Elian's mouth where one was missing before; a Band-Aid is gone from his arm; hair suddenly seems to have sprouted on his head. Antonio Llano Montes, a Mambí news commentator, asserts the photo was "manipulated."

Perez-Roura concludes there are two possibilities; either the picture was taken in Cuba before Elian's departure or someone has generated a montage with a computer. After all, Perez-Roura ventures, the U.S. government has the means and propagandist intentions to fabricate such lies. "That is not Elian," Perez-Roura claims. "He doesn't want anything to do with his father, so how is he going to appear in that photo as if nothing happened? Let's not give any credence to this photo. Now it will begin to rain photographs," the station director warns. Referring to the Associated Press shot of the boy and the soldier, he proclaims, "The only [picture] that has any value is the one that is now circulating around the world."


As the streets grow dark around 8:00 p.m., Perez-Roura is joined by his sidekick, columnist and host Agustin Tamargo, and by Capt. Rene Garcia, whose show Points of View has been cancelled. Mayor Joe Carollo returns to the air, his voice worn almost to a whisper.

"Are you worried, mayor," Perez-Roura asks.

"Armando, what I am is tired," he responds. "I'm tired of seeing how a people that is suffering and has been suffering for 41 years keeps suffering."

Carollo recalls the traumatic afternoon he spent decades ago as a six-year-old in Cuba, standing on the front porch with his family in Havana during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. That event led Carollo's family to send him alone to the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan. Like Elian, the mayor recalls, he arrived in this country at the age of six. And like Elian he was separated from his family for nearly six months. "I could never do anything, at six years old, to fight for my homeland," he recalls. "That's why, at 45, I've fought so hard for this child and for our people." Carollo then promises to restore what has been lost. And he asserts Elian united the exile community as never before. "Perhaps this was the principle God wanted to use Elian to accomplish," he says.


As Easter Sunday dawns, the sun glints off the asphalt of the deserted parking lot outside Radio Mambí. A two-person cleaning crew works quietly in the lobby. Just before 8:00 a.m., an infomercial boasts of the curative powers of such medicines as uña del gato, cat claw.

In the prerecorded Family Encounter, Father Florentino Azcoita reads a biblical passage from the Book of Isaiah that seemingly describes the coming of Elian to the exile community: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light," he says slowly. "They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." He continues, frequently repeating the words to emphasize their uncanny significance: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

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