You know you've got an image problem when ...

If tossing rocks at the police in the streets didn't bring back Elian; if a general strike intended to create a "dead Miami" didn't bring back Elian (it should be noted that Castro's guerrillas also called an islandwide general strike against Batista in April 1958, with similarly ineffectual results); if last Saturday's mass march didn't bring back Elian, then what will? Well, if history is any guide, chanting the mantra of "betrayal," el exiliowill return to the instruments of influence it knows best: the bomb and the bullet. The last time the federal government made overtures toward a less-strained relationship with Fidel (the 1978 efforts of the Carter administration), Miami was drenched in a subsequent frenzy of violence. Several exile terrorist groups emerged, most notoriously Omega 7, which bombed embassies, newspaper offices, a cigar store, shipping agencies, a TWA airline terminal, and Lincoln Center up in New York City, as well as gunned down liberal community figures such as Carlos Muñiz Varela and Eulalio José Negrin. (It's also worth remembering that the FBI believed Ramon Saul Sanchez was an Omega 7 member; it was after refusing to answer questions about his involvement with the group that Sanchez was jailed in 1982.) As on-air callers to Radio Mambí began ominously name-checking Omega 7 this past week, one protester, Isis Cardoso, seemed to capture an emergent mood when she pointedly told the Heraldthat "as long as we can't fight in our own homeland, all we can do is fight on the streets of Miami."

"What frightens me is the day the kid gets on a plane with his father and goes back, despite the marching and protests," sighs Elena Freyre, Miami director for the Cuban Committee for Democracy (CCD), one of the few Cuban-American groups to take a principled stand in favor of reuniting Elian with his father, a part of their continual activism toward ending the Cuban embargo. As for that specter of violence-stymieing progressives, Freyre concedes, "It worries me, but I feel it's extremely important not to let that kind of element hold us back. Bullies are bullies. The crucial thing is that people don't chicken out." Freyre can hardly be accused of that, braving all manner of public abuse and threats by making frequent media appearances to explain both the CCD's position, as well as the daily inanities of Elian's Miami relatives. Beyond being a voice of reason, however, Freyre's own life stands as a guide for ending any future Cuban intrafamilial squabbling.

On a recent Fox News Channel broadcast, there was Elena Freyre. To her literal right sat her debate opponent, a man who as the head of Facts About Cuban Exiles, was solidly in favor of keeping Elian in Miami. It was Pedro Freyre, her husband. "From the day we met we've known we have very different political views," Elena explains warmly of her off-camera relationship with Pedro. "He made the decision to marry me knowing full well that, number one, nobody shuts me up, and number two, I have different views. But we came out publicly together with this, because it's necessary for people to understand that it ispossible to have opposing political views and not throw furniture at each other. The more pressure we get, from friends and family members, the closer we get. We both want the same things; we both care about democracy in Cuba. We just take a different path to get there. And we have some specific core values that glue us together; we've been married for almost 30 years. " Still, the two are constantly trying to sway each other's stance. "We discuss [Elian] inside the house," Elena admits with a laugh. "Our fourteen-year-old is the referee. When she can't handle any more debate, she'll go, 'Okay! That's it!'" Elian's Miami relatives are clearly losing the battle for America's hearts and minds, as a brief scan of late-night TV reveals. When Conan O' Brien stops comparing Marisleysis Gonzalez to pop diva Jennifer Lopez, and instead switches over to photos of a tearful Tammy Faye Baker, you know you've got image problems. Always willing to lend a hand, Kulchur convened a blue-ribbon panel of runway-conscious women, all offering free makeover advice for the Gonzalez clan. Our style mavens, appropriately snuggled around a table inside the Van Dyke Café, included Blaire, 28, a lifestyle-magazine editor living on South Beach; Leigh, 27, an entertainment-magazine editor also residing on South Beach; and Rachel, 28, a tourism-industry executive hailing from Brickell (to provide some fashion-forward geographical diversity). First up for critiquing was Donato "the Fonz" Dalrymple. "Talk about fashion faux pas," sniffs Blaire in reference to the full-color tattoos covering Donato's forearms. Body art being way out of season, Rachel suggests a long-sleeve Calvin Klein V-neck -- in black, of course. Citing his career as a rustic fisherman, Leigh opines, "I think he's more of a Structure guy." Marisleysis Gonzalez received points on the charisma front, clearly knowing how to work it for that camera lens. She was docked a notch, however, for hysterics; nobody looks good screaming into a loudspeaker. "She has chunky shoulders," notes Blaire, "so you can't put her in a tube. I see a cute little short-sleeve oxford, with a necklace." As for pants, leather is most definitely out. "We don't want Cha Cha DeGregorio from Grease," warns Leigh, instead suggesting something classy from Bebe, as well as black snakeskin shoes "with just a little heel." As for the Messiah (a.k.a. Elian), the consensus was a trip to Baby Gap, which should provide just the right appearance for his upcoming asylum hearings. But our group was sharply divided over footwear. "Prada makes these little black sandals," enthuses Rachel. "They would look so hot on him." At that, Blaire rolled her eyes and insisted firmly: "It is so inappropriate to wear sandals in court." As for the government side, attorney Gregory Craig received unanimous thumbs up for his always-tasteful Italian-cut suits, tortoise-shell eyeglasses, and foppishly grown-out Wasp hairdo. The mention of Attorney General Janet Reno, though, brought our roundtable session to a grinding halt. Amid a chorus of groans, Blaire threw her hands up and declared, "We do not have enough time for Janet. Marisleysis is easy, but with Janet, I don't even know where to begin." Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail brett.sokol@miaminewtimes.com

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