"To everyone who is here, if we would have had weapons, this would not have happened." -- Lazaro Gonzalez, addressing a crowd of supporters outside his house following the removal of Elian
Now that el exilio has ended its attacks on Miami's beleaguered tires, newspaper vending machines, and Dumpsters, the only question is: What's next? The local mainstream media has been joined by a chorus of elected officials in calling for "dialogue," "healing," and "building bridges" between aggrieved communities. Frankly such talk is asinine; returning to the pre-Elian status quo does no one any good -- except of course, those who seek to keep the city's political and cultural life under the thumb of rightist Cuban exiles.
Bishop Victor Curry, head of Miami's NAACP chapter and a rare voice of unvarnished truth of late, summed up the current state of affairs during WPLG-TV's (Channel 10) April 26 "town-hall meeting." After listening to fellow panelist Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas deliver a string of pieties to the greatness of diversity, and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle salute exile tire burnings as something we should be "proud of," Curry had heard enough. He explained that had it been Miami's black community that was setting fires and running amok, and not Cubans, commentators would have been quick to brand blacks as "animals" engaged in a riot, instead of making apologies for a saddened ethnic group engaged in a civil disturbance. "When you're in power, it's easy to overlook racism and just say we're a diverse community," Curry said bitterly. "We're not going to build bridges. The bridge is burnt.... The problem is we are in denial. We paint it over. We cover it with niceties like 'We are [a diverse community of] 156 different languages.'"
The next move for disgusted Miamians, then, isn't to waste any more time breaking bread with Cuban-exile leaders, but to take decisive actions to finally free this city from the grip of the last remaining Cold War holdouts. Ending the nonsensical trade embargo against Cuba would be a welcome first step, whether or not you agree with Kulchur that such a move and its resultant flood of foreign influence would do more to bring down Fidel Castro than any amount of flag waving in Miami. Certainly if we can normalize relations with dictatorial regimes such as China and Vietnam (a nation, lest we forget, with which we were once openly at war, an example that surely dwarfs the legacy of the on-again, off-again CIA shenanigans and proxy soldiers we've thrown at Fidel), we can do the same with Cuba.
From a national perspective, the outlook for tossing the embargo aside looks rosy. Public-opinion polls conclusively show overwhelming support for such a move. Moreover, in 1999 alone, nearly 200,000 Americans voted with their feet, visiting Cuba in spite of travel bans to the island. And the details of the INS raid on Lazaro Gonzalez's Little Havana home demonstrate that the federal government is listening to this groundswell. By 2:30 that fateful morning, a sizable contingent of Miami police officers had fully cordoned off the eastbound side of the MacArthur Causeway, providing a safe getaway route to a helicopter on Watson Island for the federal agents returning Elian to his father. At least three hours before authorities first knocked on Lazaro's front door, word of said raid's imminence had been dispatched throughout a significant chunk of the Miami Police Department. Yet no call was put in to either Miami Mayor Joe Carollo or Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas. The implication is obvious: Had they been so alerted, either official would have tipped off exile leaders (and by extension, Spanish-language radio), thus sparking a mass mobilization of protesters around the Gonzalez house. But the deeper meaning here shouldn't be lost on anyone. In the eyes of Washington, D.C., there is no longer any difference between street thugs such as Vigilia Mambísa's Miguel Saavedra or the Movimiento Democracia's Ramon Raul Sanchez and supposedly responsible elected Cuban-American officials like Penelas and Carollo. Consider that it was only this past fall that Penelas's name was being bandied about the beltway as a serious contender for the Democratic Party's vice-presidential slot alongside Al Gore. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Of course all of this is the perspective from outside Miami. Back here in the (ahem) Magic City, the prospects for positive social change seem downright gloomy. There is a terrific amount of reactionary energy within the Cuban-exile community right now, particularly among a younger generation that had previously shown little enthusiasm for la causa. Yet few of these new recruits show any interest in the established exile organizations or their philosophies. Indeed the leadership of such groups was practically invisible in the streets of Little Havana two Saturdays ago; even when they did surface, it made little impact. As Kulchur threaded his way through the afternoon demonstrators that blocked off Seventeenth Avenue at Flagler Street that day, a bellowing eighteen-wheeler horn blast rang out. A cluster of police looked on tensely as a Mack truck roared into view. On its back stood a group of Alpha 66 members, vigorously waving its outfit's flag and haranguing the crowd through a megaphone. Yet none of the demonstrators paid it any mind at all.
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 exilio will 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 Herald that "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 is possible 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."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org