Monster trucks? Winner!
Monster trucks? Winner!
Bill Cooke

Losers, Schmoozers

Now that our little Cuban refugee is back in his homeland, quietly becoming a role model for other young communists, it's the season in Miami for Elian retrospectives. It seems every local publication has compiled a list of winners and losers from the protracted custody saga. Regrettably these indexes tend to focus only on the big names, the Janet Renos and the Greg Craigs. Overlooked have been some of the more compelling players in the drama. A complete list is impossible to compile -- Aaron Podhurst's maitre d', the pet rabbit, and Andy Garcia's mustache are all conspicuously absent -- but here's the very best we could come up with.

Winner: Light Cicles

Even without their miracle child, the Gonzalez family sure knows how to maintain the spirit of Christmas. Well into the dog days of summer, the Gonzalez stronghold on SW Second Street still sports the icicle-style holiday lights invented in 1996 by a small Indiana company. It is not known whether the international attention lavished on Camp Elian has spiked sales of the Light Cicles line. A spokesman for the parent company, Tisket-A-Tasket, could not be reached for comment.

Loser: Carlos Rigau

In April, during the frenetic celebration that followed a court ruling extending Elian's stay in the United States, New York Post reporter Maria Alvarez allegedly used a pen to stab the back of Rigau, a WTVJ-TV (Channel 6) cameraman. When he realized blood had been drawn, Rigau alerted police, who arrested Alvarez and charged her with aggravated battery and simple battery. Afterward Miami police spokesman Delrish Moss announced he was seizing all pens and pencils from reporters and issuing them Crayola crayons.

Winner: The Montreal Canadiens

In the flurry of Elian-related product endorsements for Tommy Hilfiger, Etch-a-Sketch, Play-Doh, and even the Lincoln-Martí conservative indoctrination camps, one endorsement stood apart for its capitalism-free purity. When Elian and his inner tube were plucked from the sea on Thanksgiving, the refugee wore a pair of bright orange pants and a tiny T-shirt clearly indicating his support for ... the habitantes of Montreal. No wonder the little guy floated past Miami and into the Quebecois stronghold of Broward County. Alas community pressure grew too strong during his stay in Florida; Elian eventually began sporting Panthers paraphernalia.

Loser: The Miami Heat

Not only did Pat Riley's team have to host a playoff game as angry exiles burned tires in the streets, the Heat also suffered another, greater indignity. Rookie Rodney Buford smuggling marijuana into Canada? Zo's Summer Groove? No, Elian's wandering loyalty. The pawn in an international custody dispute had no problems choosing sides when it came to his basketball loyalties: He's a fan of the Seattle Supersonics, whose team sweat jacket he repeatedly wore.


Two of the soft-porn megasite's employees, senior copywriter Chris Lathrop and Web designer Sean Bonner, created a flash animation parody of the ubiquitous Budweiser commercials inspired by the famous Associated Press photograph.

“Yo, whassup?” shouts the rifle-toting federal agent.

“Watchin' the game, havin' a Bud,” replies a closeted Donato Dalrymple, Elian in his arms.

The 38-second video features cameos by Bill Clinton, Janet Reno, Doris Meissner, and others. Marisleysis Gonzalez cries out the catch phrase as she testifies before Congress. Although AP immediately demanded removal of its copyrighted raid photo, it was too late. Internet copycats and unstoppable e-mails ensured it would remain in the public domain.

Loser: Walter Polovchak

Anyone who lived in Chicago in 1980 quickly tired of Walter Polovchak. The Ukrainian boy had moved to the United States with his parents as a twelve-year-old. Although his roditeli soon moved back, the brat decided he wanted to remain in the land of Pac-Man. Ronald Reagan's Justice Department granted him political asylum, and then sued his parents for custody. After six long years of legal wrangling, when Polovchak turned eighteen, the case became moot. This is the future Polovchak wished on Elian. The now middle-age middle manager from the Midwest visited Little Havana, chatting with Elian via an interpreter. “I believe the family should stay strong and hang in there,” he pronounced. “I believe in their cause and that eventually they will prevail.” Sorry, Charlie, er, wrong, Walter.

Winner: The Virgin Mary

What a PR coup for the 2000-year-old religious icon! The beatified beauty maintained a strong presence throughout the ordeal. Protesters at the Gonzalez compound waved her portrait. Delfin Gonzalez claims when he first heard Elian was at sea, he grabbed her statue and prayed for the boy's safety. The Madonna appeared as an oily apparition on a nearby Totalbank branch window, then revealed herself on a mirror located in the room where Elian slept. Her loitering bolstered arguments for Elian's divinity. All was not heavenly for God's mom, though. During the raid INS agents smashed a Virgin Mary statue in the foyer and toppled a miniature Mary that had guarded a coffee table.

Loser: Ly Tong III

On New Year's Day, the Vietnamese-American pilot from New Orleans flew a rented airplane for twelve minutes over Havana, releasing pamphlets that advocated the overthrow of Fidel Castro. In recognition of his patriotism, the self-styled “commander in chief of the revolutionary anti-communist forces of the world” was granted a float in Miami's Three Kings Parade. Unfortunately all eyes at the procession focused on Elian, who played in the bleachers with a can of Silly String. Tong's attempt to supersede the boy as an anti-commie symbol came up short. He would still be eating for free at Versailles if it weren't for that darn kid.

Winner: Metro Ford

This Miami car dealership operated shorthanded for months, unable to find two desperately needed employees. Then Elian arrived and dealership owner Lombardo Perez, a Cuban American National Foundation director, learned Lazaro Gonzalez lacked a steady income. Perez needed a body worker. Lazaro needed a job. Let's make a deal! For good measure Perez also hired Nivaldo Fernandez, another survivor of Elian's raft. And he treated both men to extremely flexible hours. What luck!

Loser: City of Miami Police Department SWAT team

In early January, long before Miami Mayor Joe Carollo promised that his police department would “not participate in taking Elian Gonzalez away from his Miami family to be sent to Castro's hell,” members of the city's SWAT team visited Elian at his temporary home in Little Havana. In a televised gift-giving fete, they presented the smiling child with a black SWAT team shirt. Emblazoned on the chest, fittingly, was a giant white bull's-eye.

Winner: City of Miami zoning code

Cash-strapped Miami has long struggled to maintain order in Little Havana, a neighborhood populated by driveway mechanics, haphazard home repairs, and streets strewn with broken glass. The extent of the lawlessness grows glaringly when one crosses into Coral Gables, where code inspectors act like imams enforcing Sharia law. Yet when Lazaro Gonzalez began erecting a makeshift privacy fence to shield Elian from the world's eyes, Miami swiftly cracked down on his unpermitted construction project. The rule of law, Lazaro, cannot be avoided.

Loser: Easter

Winner: Thanksgiving

Loser: The Miami Herald's Elian winners and losers list

What was up with this? Published on the front of the local section on Sunday, July 2, Miami's paper of record advertised its Elian retrospective as “Wins and Losses.” Yet the paper failed to pronounce judgment on any of its 22 listees. For example Lazaro and Marisleysis “will likely remain heroes among Cuban exiles and objects of derision to many others.” How wishy-washy can you get? A much better job was published immediately after the raid by Tony Doris of the Daily Business Review. We've got the stones to say it: He's a winner.


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