The Great Divide

The tale of Elian Gonzalez has generated more comment and created deeper divisions among New Times readers than any subject covered by this newspaper since it began publishing twelve and a half years ago. As revealed by the letters that follow, those comments and divisions extend well beyond the facts of the Gonzalez case, just as Elian himself came to represent much more than a child at the center of a custody dispute.

We considered for publication in this special letters section only correspondence from local residents and only from among those who allowed their names to be used. These were significant criteria in light of the fact that many readers, fearing retribution, did not want their names published, and also because a substantial percentage of those who wrote to us live outside South Florida and followed the case via our Website.

Though the letters included here are but a small fraction of the total we've received, they vividly convey the range of feelings and opinions evoked by the events of the past several months.

Jim Mullin

Having been born in the United States and lived here for all 23 years of my life, I often wondered how it was possible for me to feel such a strong bond with my Cuban heritage. Pictures of this once-beautiful island sadden me. The music and the language inspire me. As an adult I have grown to value my culture, and I now see how fortunate I am to be "Cuban."

I grew to love Cuba and hoped that one day I would be able to share that rich culture with my children and grandchildren. But with that love also came hatred, hatred of a man and a way of life I have been fortunate enough not to know or experience. I do not remember being taught it, but I learned to hate communism and love democracy and the wonderful country in which I live.

My family left Cuba more than 25 years ago, seeking the same thing most Cubans today risk their lives and their children's lives for: freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech -- these are the things our founding fathers came to this great land looking for and have succeeded in establishing. Freedom of speech, in my opinion, is the most beautiful of all of these rights under the Constitution. However, it seems that these days many Cubans are taking that right without giving it in return. I have had my own opinions about the Elian Gonzalez controversy. While my greatest wish would be for the child to stay in this country and be able to experience the quality of life I have enjoyed, there is the rule of law in this country, law that must be followed whether it agrees with our emotions or not. The laws are here to protect the rights of all people. At times we may not agree with them, but nonetheless they must be followed in order to keep an orderly government. That is not to say we cannot speak out against it and show our disapproval. But speaking out must be a two-way street. We cannot speak out on an issue and then expect others who disagree with us to keep quiet on the same issues. Since the removal of Elian from his Miami home, I have witnessed behavior that is very disturbing. I have seen people physically attacking others with opposing views and not allowing them to express their feelings on the matter. People have disrupted the daily lives and violated the rights of others while trying to get their points across. There have been threats made against business owners who refused to support the "Dead Tuesday" cause. It is a grave problem when people are forced to support an issue they do not believe in, when they are forced to give up their livelihood and income because of terrorists in their own city -- the same terrorists who fled a communist country and the monster who occupies it because they wanted to be able to speak freely. By forcing their views on others, they are practicing the communism they were trying to escape. The beauty of this country is that everyone is entitled to have an opinion and no one opinion is right or wrong. Everyone has the right to speak their minds without being silenced by the government or anyone else.

In addition to this violation of others' rights I have also seen very upsetting behavior from Cuban Americans toward the United States and its government agencies. I have witnessed the defacement of the flag they fought so hard to be able to live by, while parading the one from which they fled. While I strongly believe in my Cuban heritage, I also strongly believe in my heritage as an American. The flag of the United States is a symbol of our liberty and our freedom. It is very wrong for someone to mar it simply because they do not agree with something the government has done. There are other ways to express disapproval without showing disrespect for a country that has given Cubans and other immigrants the opportunity to live a better life, a country whose government works to protect the rights of all who live under it.

During the protests against Elian Gonzalez's removal from his Miami relatives' home, there also were very disturbing acts of violence. Much of this violence was directed toward the police department. These people must remember that in this country they have the right to protest peacefully and in a manner that does not infringe on the rights of others. When they cross the line and violate others' rights, the police department and its officers must take action to control situations that have the potential for becoming very dangerous for the protesters, nonprotesters, and the officers themselves.

In the past few days I have heard many disturbing things being said to police officers, even when they are off-duty. They have been called assassins, abusers, monsters, and much worse. People must remember that these officers have a job to do: protect the lives and rights of the people of this city. But police officers are human too, and no human is perfect, so sometimes errors are made. People must also remember that when their own rights are violated by criminals, they immediately call the police, who are there in an instant to assist them and apprehend the criminals.

I am proud to live in Miami and to be a Cuban American. I love this city and all its flavor. In the past few days, though, I must admit I have been quite disappointed with the behavior of my fellow citizens. We live in a beautiful city that is home to many wonderful people with a lot to offer to its culture. As much as we may be hurting over everything that has taken place in the past five months, we must keep the peace in our community. This issue has divided family, friends, and community leaders. It is time to end the violence and separation and come together as a community. It is time to end the "them versus us" point of view. We must unite once again and work toward bettering our community and our government so it works for everyone, as our founding fathers intended.

Monica Bover

As painful as it may seem, we understand the U.S. government was forced to act with determination by those who have hidden behind the Miami family in using them to defy the law. Members of the Gonzalez family in South Florida have been manipulated by some elements who, from the beginning, were interested in using Elian for their own political marketing rather than the defense of his rights or his well-being.

Once again this case was politicized by elements who constantly toy with the idea of starting a confrontation between Cuba and the United States. These elements are mainly headed by the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), whose altruism in this case is at least questionable. The CANF is part of a group of frustrated individuals who have no ties to the Cuban people on the island and whose disconnection from Cuban reality has left them with an almost psychopathic desire for a confrontational incident between our two countries.

If during the span of more than two decades they had achieved -- through their lobbying skills, financial muscle, and threatening tactics -- a virtual kidnapping of U.S. foreign policy, they were now attempting to kidnap the law and the very ability of the government to act on legal matters and domestic situations. The showdown in Little Havana had to come to an end.

We respect Attorney General Janet Reno in her decision to take the extreme measure of entering the house, and we know, as thousands of Cubans in Miami know, that the INS was forced to act in that manner by the foolishness of those who briefly saw themselves above the law. They misread the patience of the government, became emboldened, and acted in defiance. We congratulate Ms. Reno and the government on the harmless result of this inevitable operation. Additionally we recognize the courage shown by President Clinton in acting regardless of the many pressures from these elitist groups.

It is important that the media and the U.S. government finally understand that thousands of Miami Cubans have full comprehension of the tragedy of Elian Gonzalez. These Cubans also understand the opportunistic and callous behavior of a diverse group of pseudo-leaders who are intent on changing the Cuban situation only by destructive means.

A peaceful solution to the Cuban drama is possible and necessary. Those of us who seek such a solution have had to face the wrath of the same groups that now cannot let go of Elian Gonzalez, seeing in him the perfect flag they need for their demagoguery. We call on all Cuban exiles to reflect honestly and in a fashion deeper than the oversentimentalizing that has distinguished this case.

I have met with President Fidel Castro and discussed the possibility of a democratic transition. As a former leader of the revolution who later opposed it and spent 22 years in prison, I am regarded as a political adversary, not as an enemy. I insist that a democratic opening in Cuba is entirely possible.

It is my wish that the Cuban government opt for a subtle treatment of the conclusion of this Elian saga and desist from any further exploitation of an innocent child. It would be improper, tasteless, and useless for the Cuban government to try to use him as a flag behind which it might attempt to hide the enormous failings of the Cuban system or the urgent needs for change that exists in Cuba today.

It is time for the paternal rights of Juan Miguel Gonzalez to be recognized. Furthermore it is time that we recognize the moral responsibility we all share for thousands and thousands of Cuban children, just like Elian, who are victims of obsolete policies such as the U.S. embargo. It is time to find ways to put an end to that embargo of the island; and also to find the proper political climate in Cuba so that the embargo imposed by the Cuban government on some precious freedoms can be lifted.

Thousands of Miami Cubans do not feel they are represented by a vociferous minority that controls some of the local media. There is an evident divorce between these self-appointed leaders and a silent majority that travels to the island for family visits and defies rhetoric by showing generosity to those relatives left behind. This should send a clear message to Washington. The time for change is here.

Eloy Guitérrez-Menoyo, president
Cambio Cubano

What was the point of your "Elian Nation" issue (April 27)? Was it to show how ignorant and blind to the facts is the Cuban community? Well, good job. I get the point. Like the ridiculous arguments spouted by Cubans all over Miami, your stories were one-sided and had nothing to do with the facts of the case. I thought reporters were supposed to be impartial and unbiased when covering a story.

I didn't know that New Times was owned by Radio Mambí and is published just to spread Cuban propaganda. In your stories people repeatedly referred to the return of a son to his father as "kidnapping." The boy was kidnapped twice, but not by the federal government. First his mother kidnapped him and fled the country without the father's permission. That is kidnapping. Then the Miami relatives held him for ransom, saying they would not return the boy to his father until their demands were met. That is kidnapping. Reuniting a father and son is not kidnapping.

In your articles we read that many Cubans felt they were lied to and manipulated by the government. We did not read about how the Miami relatives lied to and manipulated the government. First they said they would return the boy to his father if he came to the United States. He did, and they made other demands. Then Marisleysis was supposedly hospitalized and too ill to fly with the boy to Washington. Miraculously, a few short days later she was on a plane to Washington to try and spoil the reunion of Elian with his father. She didn't look very sick when she was ranting on television for the next couple of days. (Maybe sick in the head.)

Had the family returned the boy when they were supposed to, none of this would have happened. As far as I am concerned they broke the law and should have to stand trial. But that would just upset more trouble-making idiots like the guy called "Chocolate" in one of your articles. Then we would have to endure these protests and the one-sided media coverage even longer. And Joe Carollo might fire the few non-Cubans left who still work for the city.

Soon this will all go away and we will never hear about the Miami relatives again. They had their fifteen minutes of fame. I know they are upset. They won't have celebrities and politicians hanging out at their house anymore, and they will have to go back to work (if they ever did have jobs). But they will get over it and Elian is back with his father, where he belongs. I guess there are happy endings after all.

Greg Napier

I offer my sincere thanks to New Times for taking a sane and reasonable look at the big picture of what is happening in our city due to the Elian Gonzalez crisis. I cannot tell you how pleased I was to read "Elian Nation" and Jim DeFede's columns. To see everything brought forward in such a clear manner is wonderful, especially after suffering through lengthy biased exposure from local TV news and the Miami Herald. It is shocking to learn how our frightened elected politicians are pandering to the exile community. I thank you for helping me confirm my suspicions about this with your investigative reporting.

Ann Petrina Aguila
South Miami

As a Cuban American, I am offended by Jim DeFede's claim that Elian Gonzalez has proven to be the single greatest destructive force in South Florida since Hurricane Andrew. The case of Elian Gonzalez has brought to the attention of the world the basic rights of individuals to due process under the law, and it has raised the question of basic freedoms. If you cannot see this on its merits, I feel sorry for you.

Maybe if the world had not been blind during the Holocaust, it might have been avoided. Cubans want world attention on human-rights violations in Cuba. Sending the boy back would be an unforgivable crime.We believe New Times's articles about Cubans are filled with bigotry. Open your eyes, bigots.

L. Doural

New Times does not present the news fairly and unbiased. All your stories relating to the Elian case and most of its players are unbalanced. Locally you are at the top of the list of those engaged in bashing Cuban Americans simply because they do not share your views. Has it ever occurred to you that you have greatly contributed to the splitting of this community by throwing jet fuel in the fire? You do this in exchange for more readership from a part of the community that, for whatever reason, is extremely opposed to anything the Cuban-American community does or says. Is this underlying racism? This bashing may now be the politically correct thing to do, but your freedom stops when you tamper with mine.

I strongly believe that Cuban Americans have a point for one simple reason: They have lived it. They know what Cuba is like. Just see their predictions coming true in front of your eyes. "Doctors," "teachers," and of course "schoolmates" of Elian are making sure he gets "readjusted" to life in Cuba. Why hasn't the media been allowed to see him, as was the case in Miami? Yet New Times insists that this is a matter of reuniting a son with his father, and that a six-year-old doesn't know the difference between communism and capitalism. I have a funny feeling he will know what communism is when he gets forced to work in the fields and gets enlisted in the young "pioneers" in Cuba.

You should be looking at why this situation occurred and educating people rather than entertaining the masses with your ignorance and ill-intentioned opinions. Whenever you use force, you must admit that you failed somewhere.

I doubt that without demonstrations and civil disobedience, slavery would have been abolished or the Vietnam War would have been stopped. But it is the responsibility of government to prevent demonstrators from being tear-gassed in their faces. Why didn't the Miami police simply arrest those demonstrators who were causing havoc, rather than using pepper spray even on the news media?

Good newspeople should be asking these questions instead of complaining about a "banana republic." New Times shouldn't be behaving like a "banana republic" publication and should instead strive to be in the leagues of the Wall Street Journal.

Amneris Pedroso

Although I understand that some people are upset over the manner in which the INS retrieved Elian Gonzalez, the truth is there was no other way to transfer custody to his father. I applaud Janet Reno for having the courage to take firm action after having given the Miami family plenty of time for a peaceful transfer.

Regardless of the larger political issues that corrupt politicians like Penelas, Carollo, and Castro have tried to insert into this situation, the fact is this remains a federal immigration matter. I also applaud New Times for its coverage of issues in this unfortunate Elian episode. It is very hard to find news coverage in Miami that is not heavily biased in favor of the Miami relatives. New Times is one of the few exceptions.

It was regrettable that this poor child had to witness a law-enforcement action by armed federal officers. However, his distant Miami relatives were intransigent and openly defied the federal government for weeks. They are the ones who should be held ultimately responsible for the forceful transfer. It was not a pretty sight, and people have the right to be disturbed by the images that have been published. They should also assess blame in the appropriate places, not with the attorney general or the president.

Cuban Americans who vilify Janet Reno and Bill Clinton should keep things in perspective. They live in a country of laws that has given them extraordinary immigration privileges enjoyed by no other immigrant group in the world. They have the right to express concern and frustration, but they should do so with restraint and respect.

I am a federal officer with the Department of Justice and I applaud the manner in which our attorney general acted in what has been a very difficult situation. She has the integrity and honesty lacked by many in Miami and Cuba who have taken advantage of this poor child's misfortune. Janet Reno, you are welcome at my Miami home anytime.

Gons Nachman

Uncle Sam's response to the "Forgive Us for Being Cuban" letter from Jorge Benitez Sagol (April 27):

I'll forgive you of all you've asked if you'll forgive my people for actually expecting immigrants to their country to make an effort at adapting to American society. Forgive them for expecting that they actually be addressed in English, the language adopted and used by their fathers and forefathers over the course of 224 years as an independent nation. Forgive their immigrant ancestors for adapting to the same linguistic culture.

Please forgive American capital and American, African-American, and Bahamian workers for building Miami. Forgive my people for then inviting Cuba's disenfranchised "Spanish-speaking Caucasians" to make a new home for themselves in Miami. Forgive them for expecting that in so doing, these invited guests would actually become a part of Miami's community rather than an enclave.

Please forgive my American people for actually enjoying their bland meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy; their hot dogs, apple pie, and lemonade. Forgive my people for preferring their cup of American coffee in the morning, however watered-down it may seem. And forgive my people for their willingness to enjoy cuisine brought to America by their ancestors from Europe, Asia, Africa, and other parts of Latin America.

Forgive my businesses for wanting to conduct free trade with Cuba. Forgive American tourists for wanting to travel without restrictions to Cuba without running the risk of falling victim to terrorist bombs planted by radical exiles in Cuban hotels.

Please forgive my American people for actually expecting representatives elected to government to represent the interests of the United States of America, as opposed to the narrow interests of a disaffected exile enclave.

Forgive my people for expecting their elected representatives to be Americans -- not Cubans, Russians, Germans, Irish, Italians, Chinese or any other nationality. Forgive the American majority for supporting the laws legislated by those elected representatives. And most important, please forgive my people for accepting and respecting the rule of law.

Please forgive my people for presuming to disagree with policies that do not benefit the interests of the United States of America. Forgive them for demonstrating through words, actions, and tolerance that freedom of speech actually means something. Please pardon my people for having the nerve to believe that a difference of opinion with the Cuban-exile community does not make one a communist spy or an agent of Castro. Forgive my people for their open disgust whenever they are confronted with the intolerance of others, particularly those whose politics run counter to the best interests of the United States.

Finally, forgive my people for presuming to think that U.S. citizenship means far more than merely paying taxes and voting. Forgive them for actually having the audacity to believe that being an American means pledging allegiance to no other flag. Forgive them -- natural-born citizens, immigrants and their children, one and all -- for calling their homeland the United States of America and paying homage to no other. Forgive them for their willingness to die for their country and for their flag. And forgive them for their righteous indignation whenever they hear their country demeaned or see their flag desecrated or placed below that of any other country. Please pardon my people for expressing pride about their own country in their own country.

By the way, when you've finished forgiving my people, try forgiving your own -- namely, those Cubans back in Cuba who have conscientiously embraced the Cuban revolution. You might start by forgiving your beautiful Afro-Cuban brothers and sisters for having -- by a vast majority -- decided to stay in Cuba and participate in a revolution that actually improved their standard of living and their standing in Cuban society. Forgive them for not accompanying a group of disenfranchised, elite "Spanish-speaking Caucasians" (their former owners and taskmasters under one of the longest-lived slave societies in the hemisphere) when they abandoned their country because of their inability to accept social reform and equal opportunity. It is not their fault they had to overcome centuries of slavery only to be reduced to poverty and marginalization under one dictatorial "Spanish-speaking Caucasian" regime after another. Nor can they be blamed for preferring Castro's Cuba over the "Spanish-speaking Caucasian" society that predominates Miami's Cuban community and perpetuates racial stereotypes.

You might also want to forgive the Haitians, Nicaraguans, and other non-Cuban immigrants for wanting the same freedom from oppression the Cuban-exile community so forcefully decries at the expense of anyone who is not a Cuban. Consider forgiving them for not being treated with the same favoritism as Cubans when they arrive in this country. And please forgive them for perceiving it as a personal affront whenever Cuban-elected, Cuban-interested congressional representatives work to prevent their entry into the United States. And while you're at it, forgive them for coming from so-called democracies that in practice are far worse than Castro's so-called communism.

Ian Janssen
Chanelle Rose
Michael Paul

As far as this white, non-Hispanic, monolingual Miami boy is concerned, we forgive you, Jorge Benitez Sagol, for being too Cuban. It wasn't easy, but we got used to light-skinned people speaking with a Spanish accent. And dark-skinned people speaking with a French accent. And even pale-skinned people speaking with New York accents in which every sentence sounds like an invitation to pick a fight.

We will give you credit for transforming Miami from a sleepy Southern town into a world-class joke. But keep in mind that many of us moved here because it was a small Southern town. We liked the quiet, the lack of traffic and crime, the wide-open swamp. It was a slice of paradise before you turned it into the crazy city it is today, with pollution and loco politicians and a handgun in every Happy Meal.

We do enjoy your entertainers, singers, artists, and ballplayers. Thank you for them. We also appreciate how well you fix our cars, program our computers, and take care of our precious children. We also like the way you tell jokes, the way you make love.

And we forgive you for loving freedom, for risking your lives to come to a city we take for granted and often despise. But sometimes we don't think you get the most important benefit of freedom: the right to disagree. We get the impression that some of you wouldn't object to a dictator who held the right opinions.

But we will forgive you for being too Cuban, as you have so humbly requested. We have no choice. You are our friends and partners, our wives and husbands. Your blood runs in the veins of our sons and daughters, even our grandchildren. So don't get mad and go away when you finally regain your homeland. Stick around for a while. We've gotten used to you. All we ask is that you find it in your hearts to someday, somehow forgive us for being too American.

Doug Shear

This letter is directed to Jorge Benitez Sagol, who resides in Richmond, Virginia, from the traffic congestion and rock-throwing Cubans cause whenever there is a problem in South Florida due to the United States of America.

Forgive us for taking you in so you may have a better life. Forgive us for giving you shelter and food stamps so you may exist while you seek employment. Forgive us for not pissing on your flag. Forgive us for not understanding that Cubans think they have more rights than others. Forgive our anger when it's difficult to get to and from work because of Cuban demonstrations. Forgive us our feelings of anger when loved ones do not get home until after midnight because Cubans are blocking the MacArthur Causeway. Forgive us for paying taxes so the government can clean up after all your demonstrations. Forgive our anger at the Cuban elected officials who are so corrupt the whole country is laughing at us.

Forgive me, but I wish all the money we have spent on Elian Gonzalez had been spent instead to send Cubans back to Cuba to re-evaluate themselves. And you, Mr. Benitez Sagol, stay in Virginia and watch all the Cuban demonstrations on TV in the comfort of your home.

Forgive me for expressing my opinion and for being an American.

Karla Hudson-Vassell
Miami Beach

I know that being an American means different things to different people, so I would like to express what it means to me, in my own "Forgive Us for Being American" letter.

Forgive us for being proud of our country. Forgive our ancestors who gave their lives (more than 500,000 killed in action) in major world wars in order that many Cuban people could raft to freedom. Forgive America for opening its arms so thousands of refugees could have food, clothes, education, housing, and medical care before they ever worked a day in this country.

Forgive us for not inventing Cuban toast, Cuban coffee, pastelitos, and frijoles negros, all of which we survived without until your arrival. Forgive us for not recognizing earlier the benefits of clogged arteries and irritable bowel syndrome. Forgive us Americans for having to witness firsthand the prejudice you display toward other Hispanics, other cultures, but more important the Americans who gave you a safe haven from communist Cuba.

Forgive us for feeling some resentment when we frequent businesses on American soil and are not able to communicate because so many Cuban people refuse to learn English. Forgive us for creating successful corporations such as Coca-Cola and General Motors and giving you the opportunity to have a successful career in them. Forgive us for embracing your talented actors, musicians, and artists, for without the support of Americans they would not be where they are today. It wasn't Cuba or the Miami Cubans who put Gloria Estefan on Star Island.

Forgive us for thinking that should there be another major war, we could count on the Cuban community for support, as we have witnessed firsthand how you abandon your birthplace rather than fight for freedom. Forgive us for believing that freedom is something worth protecting, worth fighting for. Forgive us for risking our lives in battle for our freedom, not risking our lives at sea for freedom that was handed to us on a silver platter.

Forgive us for being bitter when we see a group of people to whom we have given that freedom rip up our flag in our faces. Forgive us for not sharing your enthusiasm for your communist flag, the flag that is the symbol of oppression and communism, as you say.

Forgive us for feeling that if we have somehow let you down, you are welcome to leave at any time. Forgive us for believing that America is a land of laws that must be obeyed by all. Forgive us for wanting you to respect all that we have made possible for you. Thank you in advance for your forgiveness.

J. E. Tyson
Coconut Grove

After reading the letter from Jorge Benitez Sagol, I was convinced it was a put-on. So I decided to pen an equally divisive and misguided rant of my own. Here goes:

I forgive you for being too ethnocentric, too obtuse, too myopic, and too strident. Welcome to our soil. We call this place the USA. I also welcome your Afro-Cuban brothers and sisters. May they learn to assimilate and lawfully and peacefully coexist with those of us fortunate enough to already be here.

On a collective level, thank you for working hard and paying your taxes. A good American would do nothing less. Thank you for answering the call to military service and sacrificing lives in the process. This is a tradition dating back 200 years. Every immigrant group fortunate enough to arrive here has felt honored to contribute.

I also want to thank you for transforming my home town into what it is today. We were bored with having one of the first nationally televised TV shows based here (Jackie Gleason), being ridiculed as the "world's playground," and being forced to suffer through such second-rate performers as Elvis, Frank Sinatra, and Count Basie. Why, if not for you we toothless bumpkins would have never known the wonders of indoor plumbing! I'm sure that of the thousands of people from around the world who have visited Miami, not one would have settled here without your civilizing influence.

I thank you for not being a burden on our social-welfare system (not like those lazy blacks). I'm sure the rush on the INS a few years ago when Congress required residents to become citizens in order to receive assistance was just an anomaly. Your overwhelming representation in subsidized elderly housing units must also be a mirage. Social Security? Never heard of it. I'm sure that Miami's Nicaraguan and Haitian communities were overwhelmed when, in sympathy for their cause, you held up traffic and burned Dumpsters.

I thank you for the many Cuban-American entertainers and scholars you have given us. They help to make this country a great place to live. Thanks for the Cuban food, too. Love everything but the coffee. I applaud you for loving your family. Anything less would be un-American. I especially appreciate your zeal for the political process. Not only do you travel long distances to vote, you're even willing to vote from the grave! You have helped bring a stability, professionalism, and honesty to the political process rarely seen in this country. Keep up the good work.

Lastly, I thank you for making me realize what an ethnically insensitive and fractured community I live in. But not for long.

Mark Corlazzoli

To Jorge Benitez Sagol: I forgive you for being so full of yourself.

Christine King
Miami Beach

If someone stages a strike and it doesn't affect the people it's supposed to, is it really a strike? That's what I'm asking myself after the underwhelming effects of the Cuban-exile-led "Martes Muerto" or "Dead Tuesday." The idea was to express displeasure with Janet Reno and the INS for snatching Elian and reuniting him with the father he hadn't seen in months.

In protest the Cuban-exile community leaders asked people to skip work, not open their stores, and basically stay home. Because Cubans make up most of Miami-Dade County's population, it was thought that if they all stayed home and got some help from other sectors of the population, they would be able to create a dead Miami and Greater Miami, where the emptiness of the streets of Little Havana and Hialeah would reflect the sadness and outrage the Cuban community felt over this "crime."

So they did just that. They shut down Little Havana and Hialeah.

And nowhere else.

Most news reports showed that the rest of Miami kept right on hustling and bustling. Yeah, traffic was a little less congested on I-95 and the Palmetto during rush hour. The school hallways were a little less jammed. But outside of the Cuban-exile communities, it was business as usual. Tourists didn't notice any strike. There were no staff shortages. The city was not paralyzed. The airport was still open.

In other words, if there was a strike, no one noticed.

Why? Because outside of the Cuban community, the attitude of blacks, the group referred to as Anglos, and a lot of other Latinos can be summed up in one word: Whatever.

It's a word the Cubans should be familiar with. It's the same attitude they've had toward the rest of the South Florida community. The same attitude as when they started treating black Americans as they had black Cubans in the days before Castro, as second-class citizens. The same attitude as when they snubbed Nelson Mandela and as when they began following blacks around stores. And when the Cubans were told in no uncertain terms how that was not appreciated, they said, "Whatever."

When Haitians were escaping the Duvalier regime and continued risking their lives to come to the United States yet were sent back to Port-au-Prince, the Cuban exiles said, "Whatever."

When Cubans began generalizing about whites and collectively referring to them as Anglos, regardless of their ethnicity, and when Cubans began requiring that others learn a foreign language in order to provide for their families and then began hearing complaints, the Cuban exiles said, "Whatever."

When the Nicaraguans were lobbying for a bill that would allow recent immigrants to remain in the U.S., the Cuban exiles largely said, "Whatever."

When other Miami Latins looked to forge Latin unity with their successful Cuban neighbors, the Cuban-exile community said, "Whatever."

Now a crisis has developed in the Cuban community. We hear comparisons to slavery and the Holocaust. Freedom! Liberty! These are their cries. You must understand us! You must support us in our struggle! Stand with us, Jews! Stand with us, black people! You Anglos who are about freedom and democracy, we want this too!

Now the rest of the South Florida community, in fact the rest of the nation, is saying, "Whatever."

The African-American community knows a whole heck of a lot about unfair and random persecution. The Haitian community knows about escaping oppressive regimes and wanting a better life. The Jewish community knows about being rounded up for no reason. Many in the so-called Anglo community and the non-Cuban Latin community know about coming to a land of opportunity. Maybe if the Cuban-exile community had come out of the confines of their own arrogance and indifference, if they had dared to come out of their world to bond with their fellow South Floridians instead of looking down upon them, "Martes Muerto" would not have felt so alive.

Andrew L. Dixon, III

After reading Jim Mullin's "The Burden of a Violent History," Jim DeFede's "Elian's Legacy," and Brett Sokol's "Kulchur" column (all three in the April 20 issue), some questions come to mind:

1) Given New Times's passionate defense of the rights of others to express their opinions without intimidation, please point out the times you have quoted or otherwise represented the opinions of those on the other side of the Elian debate (i.e., those who think the boy should stay in the U.S.) without derision or condescension. I don't recall any in your copious coverage and commentary on the Elian affair, but I may have missed those rare instances in which you practice what you preach. In this last issue alone, Juan Carlos Espinosa's comments on ABC's Nightline have been dismissed as the "prattlings" of a "right-wing ideologue masquerading as an objective academic." You have defamed Espinosa simply because he has dared to express opinions different from yours. This is your idea of "tolerance?"

2) In the past you have vilified other news organizations -- including the notorious Miami Herald -- for not doing their job. Imagine my surprise when I called Espinosa and he told me that no one from New Times even bothered to call him, at the very least to get the facts straight. For starters, Espinosa told me the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami doesn't get any funding from the Cuban American National Foundation. The UM's North-South Center does, and their spokesperson on the Elian affair is Max Castro, hardly a "right-wing ideologue." Espinosa also told me that he has been showing movies made in communist Cuba at events and festivals he's organized since the early Eighties, including Lucía, Memories of Underdevelopment, Strawberry and Chocolate, and others. The most recent festival, referred to by Sokol, focused on exile films because these usually get ignored at festivals, which would explain to a rational mind why there weren't any Cuba-produced films in it (same as there wouldn't be films by male directors in a festival dedicated to movies by female directors; I hope such difficult concepts are within your reach). Finally Espinosa told me he's not involved in "producing policy reports." In other words, you have published a string of lies to defame someone whose opinions you don't agree with. Where did you people study journalism -- the Mussolini School of Communications? Perhaps the Goebbels Institute?

3) In Mullin's ardent roll call of violent acts presumably committed by Cuban-exile zealots, there is no mention of the names of persons who have been indicted or convicted for the bombings or murders. In the U.S. responsible organs of the press simply do not attribute crimes to people unless there has been a conviction, and never are these crimes attributed to entire communities. Causes, movements, or political factors are not held accountable without hard evidence or a group's taking responsibility for the crime in question. With your same dearth of facts, someone could "argue" that the murders and bombings you list were perpetrated by Castro agents, or by American liberals sympathetic to Castro and seeking to smear the exile community. That is, anyone could claim you were responsible for these crimes, for if you don't need evidence to support accusations, then neither does anyone else. If you know who committed these crimes, please call the FBI immediately. If you don't know, can you explain to your readers why you abandoned basic rules of journalism -- the ones about establishing the facts (who, what, where, when)?

4) You know perfectly well that the demonstrators who for months gathered down the street from Lazaro Gonzalez's home were mostly old women with rosaries. They were peaceful if passionate, and there were no ugly incidents. Even after the INS unlawfully and brutally invaded the Gonzalez home to snatch Elian, the demonstrators were remarkably restrained. Trash was burned in a handful of intersections, but no businesses were looted or torched, et cetera. The videos do show law enforcement officers clubbing old men and women and committing other abuses against peaceful demonstrators. Compare that day's disturbances with any other civil unrest in this country in recent years (the riots in L.A. and Liberty City, the WTO conference mayhem in Seattle, any number of sport-related riots, the latest Woodstock). How on earth can you say the Cuban-exile community is "lawless" and "proto-fascist?"

Have you absolutely no conscience? New Times has become the embodiment of what it hates and condemns in others.

Ricardo Pau-Llosa
Coral Gables

I carefully read Jim Mullin's article regarding Cuban-exile violence. He advises that "if Miami's Cuban exiles confront this shameful past -- and resolutely disavow it -- they will go a long way toward easing their neighbors' anxiety about a peaceful future."

I survive in the same community as my neighbors. I have a hunch, not a dream, that nonpolitical criminal activity causes my neighbors far more anxiety about a peaceful future than the demonstrators, overwhelmingly peaceful, recently conducted by the Cuban-exile community. Yet the real issue is to what extent civil disobedience or violent activities of a political nature can be morally justified.

Blocking bridges during rush hour, quite simply, is not morally abhorrent. It is just inefficient political action. On the other hand, the Nazi gas chambers were almost conclusively efficient but morally abhorrent, in the extreme. The Allied fire-bombing of Cologne, which was of no military value whatsoever and where some 80,000 civilians were incinerated, was also very efficient. But it would have been morally preferable to use those same bombs to destroy the train tracks leading to the death camps.

Mullin's long litany of exile violence begins with Dr. Orlando Bosch's bazooka assault upon a Polish freighter in 1968. Pointing out that he is a pediatrician has the effect of suggesting to your readers that if a pediatrician, of all people, could do that, what can we expect morally and intellectually from the rest of them? Perhaps Mullin has never met Dr. Bosch. He should. I think he would be impressed.

That year -- 1968 -- was a great one for violence. Under the color of law (the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed on evidence manufactured by the White House and for which President Johnson should have been impeached if discovered), B-52s and operatives of the Phoenix Program were indiscriminately and selectively murdering mostly innocent and unarmed civilians throughout Vietnam. If U.S. citizens had "resolutely disavowed" this "shameful past," would that have kept the U.S. from invading Panama at night by surprise, with the resulting death of several hundred innocent Panamanian civilians? I trust you will agree that if President Bush had ordered a similar action to capture a drug lord in Liberty City, the president and his entire cabinet would have had to tender their resignations (or their heads) the next day.

If U.S. citizens had "resolutely disavowed" their "shameful past," would that have kept the U.S. from carrying out Desert Storm in 1991? In all fairness, the U.N. resolution sufficed to legally justify the slaughter. But was it moral for the U.S. citizenry to celebrate with ticker-tape parades in New York and Washington the fact that they killed 150,000 Iraqi soldiers to "liberate" Kuwait's oil fields? There was nothing else to be liberated. Kuwait was, and still is, a reactionary monarchy.

Back to 1968. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated that same year the Polish freighter took a shot on its side. Since 1962 Bobby had been coordinating from the White House the CIA's secret war against Castro. Hundreds of Cubans were trained, risked their lives, and were often jailed or killed for the sake of liberating their country from a military dictatorship which many, unfortunately, find perfectly acceptable even to this day.

Thus Cuban-exile violence predates Dr. Bosch's bazooka attack by several years. Why didn't Mullin's litany of Cuban-exile violence, justifiably, start from the very beginning, perhaps as early as 1959? The reason is that before 1968 Cuban-exile violence was, in effect, state-sponsored, and therefore no one needed or bothered to raise a moral eyebrow.

Cuban-exile violence does not exist in a vacuum. The nature and extent of that violence has to be evaluated in a broader context, which is that the Cuban nation, both in Cuba and abroad, has been engaged in a low-grade civil war for 41 years. To ignore that historical reality would be intellectually dishonest. This is not to justify indiscriminate violence, which I would define as acts directed against noncombatants, even if they are military personnel. What it should suggest is that when peaceful means of changing any dictatorship are practically nonexistent, violence will be inevitable. Outsiders will view it as unjustified violence only because it is happening within their county's boundaries, a place from which that perceived unjustified violence can be sanctimoniously sanctioned. Oppressed people lack the luxury of such a perspective. Just to compare, I have little doubt the Kuwait monarchs had any moral qualms about the fate of the 150,000 dead Iraqi soldiers.

The Cuban-exile community does not have to disavow its violent past just to make claim to some sort of moral equality with one of the most violent societies and aggressive nations ever to roam the face of the Earth -- namely, these United States. Start with your very own Declaration of Independence and the conclusions just flow, rather naturally. Your pulpit is anchored on that paper.

Personally I don't think violence is radical enough, just stupid. In this world of high tech, it is inefficient and obsolete. But I do not question its morality under certain conditions and when peaceful means of change are denied. Therefore no apologies need be tendered.

One last thing: "Lawless violence and intimidation" have not been the "hallmark" of the Cuban-exile community. The hallmark of this community has been that 700,000 Cuban immigrants generate $10 billion of wealth every year, while 11 million Cubans back home generate only $3 billion, of which $800 million comes from their brethren in the exile community.

Another hallmark is its political success, as lobbyists and as candidates, in this country. Some non-Cubans in this community refuse to so much as acknowledge, much less appreciate, these historical footnotes. In fact I think deep down they must resent it, because otherwise they would not be constantly harping that we apologize for this or for that as a means of putting us in the place they think we belong.

Eduardo J. Navarro

Jim Mullin conveniently forgot to mention the violent history of the most violent people on earth. The people who murdered all the Indians upon arriving in this continent. The people who enslaved blacks. The people whose country was the last in this hemisphere to make slavery illegal. The people who lynched and murdered thousands and thousands of blacks in this country as recently as the early 1960s (sporadically it still occurs in different forms). The people who murdered hundreds and hundreds of Chinese-Americans after they finished building the railroads in the West and demanded certain equal treatment. The people who killed millions and millions of Vietnamese simply because they have a different ideology. The people who created bigoted names such as Spic, wetback, Guido, Mick, and Kike as part of their vocabulary (when no one is looking). The people who create serial killers more than any other group. The people who go to their high school and murder their classmates by the dozens. The people who rioted in Seattle and riot after each football or basketball championship.

I could go on, but you get my point. These people are the real violent ones in our society. I think this puts into perspective the Cubans blocking a little traffic and turning over some Dumpsters. Unfortunately I am sure you don't have what it takes to print some or all of these very real facts. It probably hurts you too much.

Maria Gonzalez

It is extremely ironic that New Times constantly criticizes the Cuban-exile community for its lack of objectivity, among other things. New Times, however, shows no objectivity at all when writing on "Cuban issues."

I looked closely at the acts of violence by the Cuban exiles cited in "The Burden of a Violent History." I found most of them to be threats and minor acts of vandalism. In fact I counted a total of five deaths as a result of the violent acts cited. The last one was more than seventeen years ago, and that was a self-inflicted accidental death. The next violent act that led to a death was more than 24 years ago, in 1976.

You have approximately two million people in the U.S. of Cuban descent and more than 40 years of exile activity fighting a "cold war" and that's all that you can come up with? It seems to me the Cuban people are actually quite peaceful considering all the circumstances over the last 41 years. Sure, there has been some violence by some Cubans, statistically speaking. That is expected and applies to all people of all races, ethnicity, and origin. If you look on a proportional population basis, you will find that Cubans have committed fewer acts of violence and criminal acts than the U.S. national average.

There has been more violence and death at the hands of the two Columbine High School students than the "violent acts" cited in Jim Mullin's article. You should concentrate on the much more violent acts that are presently occurring throughout this nation than the random and infrequent violent acts of Cuban exiles twenty-plus years ago. Print that!

Juan Gonzalez

I am writing to protest the constant hyperbolic generalizations of New Times against the Cuban community. The use of innuendo goes all the way to the top. This week's prize goes to editor Mr. Jim Mullin and music editor Brett Sokol for portraying the Cuban exile community as uncivilized, violent, and lawless, and thus contributing to a climate of Cuban-bashing.

In "The Burden of a Violent History," Mullin states, "Lawless violence and intimidation have been hallmarks of el exilio for more than 30 years. Given that fact, it's not only understandable many people would be deeply worried, it's prudent to be worried." If he does not explain what he means by the singular token-term el exilio, he is then alluding to a whole community referred to by that term. In fact that's how the expression is commonly used. When someone talks about el exilio, one is referring to most people in the exile community.

In the next paragraph Mullin states, "Of course it goes without saying that the majority of Cuban Americans in Miami do not sanction violence, but its long tradition within the exile community cannot be ignored and cannot simply be wished away." With this second phrase he sends a veiled "downplayer." Though the majority of Cuban Americans do not sanction violence, they are guilty by association of a tradition of violence perpetrated by some within its ranks. Why am I guilty of "violence" because of what a negligible minority within my community may do? Is the Italian community an extension of La Cosa Nostra, or are African-Americans intrinsically violent because of some incidents of violence within a minority in the ghetto?

Brett Sokol doesn't perform much better. In his "Kulchur" column ("How to win friends and influence people, el exilio style"), he targets Juan Carlos Espinosa (a Cuban featured in Ted Koppel's Nightline). Sokol: "While Espinosa's playing of the race card is a welcome step up from the usual ploy of labeling anyone who dissents from exile shibboleths a communist, it also serves as a sad reminder of just how debased academia in South Florida has become." He compares the attitude of the typical intransigent exile who cannot discuss issues without the tempting ad hominem ploy. Unfortunately Sokol re-enacts the same ploy when (in the same column) he accuses Espinosa the person, not the issues Espinosa raises. Sokol: "We also saw the prattlings of Juan Carlos Espinosa, who, thanks to the funding largess of Jorge "Baby Mas" Santos and his Cuban American National Foundation, is just one of a growing number of right-wing ideologues masquerading as objective academics." That seems to be a tirade against the person, not the issue, something like: "If you agree with me, you're good; if not, you're corrupt." Sorry, Mr. Sokol, but don't you think you may have to take a bit of your own medicine when referring to el exilio?

I find this kind of journalism highly questionable. New Times should make an effort to mend and to change this type of questionable journalism in order to bring more balance to discussion of the issues affecting all of us -- Cubans as well as other communities in South Florida.

Peter Tedras
Miami Beach

I have become a greater fan of New Times in the past few weeks because its writers have the fortitude to present our ugly, sordid, and distorted Cuban dilemma as it truly is. More specifically, I send a well-deserved thank-you for "The Burden of a Violent History." It not only unmasks people like Joe Carollo, Gloria Estefan, Jorge Mas Santos, and Ramon Saul Sanchez, it clearly points to what most of our exile leaders refuse to admit and most of the press is simply ignorant of: A faction of the Cuban exile community is too closely linked with terrorists.

This makes it very difficult for people to express themselves in our Cuban community, a community so obsessed with its version of history that it suffers from a most perverse form of selective perception. How can we peacefully co-exist with people who do not know the meaning of the word tolerance?

While it doesn't amaze me that any Cuban can stand in Little Havana with signs criticizing the president of the United States or the attorney general, calling them the worst kind of obscenities, I cannot abide in the fact (as evidenced by Mullin's article) that anyone who does not cater to this brand of right-wing Cuban demagoguery is not only branded a communist, a spy, an infiltrator, but is terrorized and intimidated and threatened with violence. Yet these local politicians and celebrities and self-appointed exile leaders get on television and call the Cuban community "peaceful." It is beyond hypocritical.

I cannot accept that I live in a community that collectively subscribes to the notion that violence is a form of free speech. What kind of community do we live in when intimidation and the threat of violence is such an integral part of the Cuban exile's right-wing? It has gotten to the point that people with varying points of view do not speak up for fear of retaliation. I am not exaggerating when I say I am afraid to commit this to paper because Cuban-style demagoguery has gone way beyond name-calling. Perhaps that is the irony of exile. Right-wing Cuban exiles have mistakenly confused freedom with totalitarianism. They simply do not know the meaning of the word tolerance.

The article captured the right-wing Cuban community at its darkest. What is most disturbing is that it is 100 percent accurate. There are many Cubans in this community who, like Orlando Bosch, believe that violence will give them back what they have lost: a sense of place, identity, and a country that, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. Worse yet, they will continue to do what they have always done -- intimidate the opposition or eliminate it. Ironic, isn't it? Right-wing Cuban exiles slam Fidel for his tactics, while theirs smell and taste the same.

Alexa Rae

I am basically a newcomer here in Miami (from Connecticut) and was wondering why all the fear. "The Burden of a Violent History" made it understandable. I have sent it to all the Cuban radio stations I listen to and to Attorney General Janet Reno.How are we as a community going to begin healing when a powerful organization such as the Cuban American National Foundation is running the show in Miami? It is involved in everything from electing our politicians to, recently, trying to write U.S. law. Will it succeed? Should I just sell my new home and move to Broward?

Leyda I. Wagner

Thanks for the article on the history of violence attributed to the so-called Cuban exile community. By the way, using the "exile" tag to describe their situation is all wrong. Most of them left Cuba of their own accord. I don't recall reading about Castro "exiling" anyone from the island, not even during Mariel. His men helped load the boats!It is high time the Cuban Adjustment Act be revisited by the appropriate government agency. After 41 years it ought to be adjusted.

Mark E. Carswell
Miami Lakes

Thanks for the public service of "The Burden of a Violent History." Until the lid recently came off the pot of the frenzied, frustrated Cuban hard-line community, few people were willing to talk (much less rant) about it in public. A generation or more has not been privy to much of the information regarding the past necessary to form an opinion, much less an understanding of how we got where we are today. This history reminder is indispensable to the possibility of there being any progress away from the brink of mindless chaos.

My impression of New Times, I must say, has gone up and down over the years. But recently, and most certainly with the publication of this article, I have come to see it as a real newspaper -- in fact the only one with credentials in town.

The final entry on the list, however, was missing. April 28, 2000, parking lot of Miami New Times: Jim Mullin gets trampled by totally nonviolent crowd seen visiting the offices of the much-beloved Miami New Times.

Alan Kobrin

I thank Jim Mullin for his reality check on the "nonviolent" streak of the Cuban anti-Castro mob, a mob that preaches democracy and chants "freedom, freedom" but has no clue what these words mean. Over the years I have personally seen this anti-Castro mob brutally attack anyone who opposes its views. So much for democracy.

It is also sad to see how my city has buckled to the pressures of this undemocratic minority and enacted into law the suppression of free speech when it comes to Cuban artists who have not disavowed their homeland. So much for freedom.

Furthermore it is sad to see my country buckle to the mob law that held a six-year-old child hostage, a prisoner inside an agitated circle of Castro-haters. Kidnapping would be the word used anywhere else in the world to describe what happened here.

If those Miamians like myself, who see beyond the shroud of hypocritical rhetoric that this dangerous mob spouts, were to march on behalf of reason, our numbers would set the record straight as to how Miamians feel. As for me, I invite you all to run for office -- Colombians, Peruvians, African Americans, good-old Americans. Anybody! I will not vote for another Cuban politician for as long as I remember these days of insanity.

J.A. Murcia

I find it personally offensive as a taxpaying, voting resident of both Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami that two mayors have become involved in a federal matter. Mayor Penelas and Mayor Carollo have superseded the authority granted them by the Florida Constitution and limited by the United States Constitution.

Rather than spending countless hours standing in front of one home in Little Havana giving their opinions on federal matters, they should have walked a few blocks from the Gonzalez house. There they would have seen roads, schools, and health care that are inadequate, graffiti that is rampant, and iron bars on windows because the police are insufficiently funded.

Since the two mayors appear to have an abundance of time on their hands, they might consider taking a ride on the county's Metrorail to the northern parts of the county and city, and walk through Liberty City, Brownsville, Opa-locka, and Little Haiti, where there are just a few problems, such as crime, education, housing, and employment. Then later they could take a bus to the southern part of the county and city, where housing shortages are commonplace, transportation is limited, unemployment is prevalent, job opportunities are scarce, and unemployment offices are closing because of insufficient funding.I implore the mayors to get back to their jobs and allow the federal employees and elected officials to do their jobs. The City of Miami and Miami-Dade County have many problems that should be addressed by these mayors, since that is within their authority. I hope the citizens of Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami realize that when election time comes, city and county elections only affect city and county issues.

Edgar Belaval

I'm writing just to let you know that not all Cubans are as hysterical, ignorant, and irresponsible as Alex Penelas was when he gave his March 29 press conference and made those indelible, destructive comments. Thank you, New Times, for giving a voice to us, the beleaguered people of Miami who have no other forum for addressing the negative impact raging exiles are having on our city.

Why can't Cuban exiles resolve their issues peacefully, sensibly, and according to law like everyone else? And why do our public officials continually succumb to these radical demands at the expense of the welfare of the rest of the community? We've never seen Alex Penelas or Joe Carollo as passionate about issues such as providing better schools or affordable health care or safeguarding our Everglades or not raising our taxes or any of the other myriad things that affect all of us here in Miami, not just the Cuban interests.

Clearly something is wrong, and clearly many people contributed toward voting these officials into power. It is incumbent upon us now to vote them out.

Mayor Penelas, you owe the citizens of Miami-Dade a big apology for addressing the nation as if you spoke for all of us and then deciding to let your emotions stand in the way of your duty to this county and to us, its law-abiding citizens. Shame on you.

José Gonzalez

Why don't you go right ahead and change the name of Jim DeFede's column to "The Anti-Penelas Weekly Rant & Rave." I'm starting to think DeFede's obsession with Penelas has something to do with the mayor being named sexiest politician by People magazine. Otherwise it's hard to explain his pathological fixation on Penelas. DeFede's hatred of all things Penelas blinds him to the point of writing ridiculous diatribes, consisting mainly of wishful thinking masquerading as political analysis.

Not content to only use words anymore, DeFede now cries for candidates to run against Penelas this fall. That is not only premature (not one of the three potential candidates he trumpets -- Ron Silver, Katy Sorenson, Maurice Ferre -- has announced any intention of running against Penelas), but it is also shortsighted and biased. He also compromises the journalistic integrity of the paper (not that there's much left) by suggesting he will play kingmaker and host a meeting among those candidates.

With the mayoral campaign just months away, Penelas looks unbeatable. Despite the efforts of the national press to ridicule and berate him for his (misconstrued) statements regarding the Elian issue, Penelas is doing what he does best: letting the criticism run its course while managing to stay in the public eye. And what happened the day before Easter has vindicated him to a point. After all, the federal marshals came in, took the kid, and left the mess behind for Penelas and Carollo to fix. They knew there would be demonstrations. It's a bit of a stretch to blame Penelas for them, much less disqualify him as a mayor as DeFede does. As for seeing his appeal to Cuban voters diminished: Get real. Cubans will rally behind him as they have done in the past, especially against a non-Cuban candidate. His appeal among Cubans of all stripes is the very reason Miguel Diaz de la Portilla won't be able to beat him.

The three candidates DeFede hopes for won't have enough time to mount a significant campaign against Penelas. The best of the bunch, Sorenson, knows she doesn't have the political capital or the popular support to win, and that Penelas is a better alternative than Diaz de la Portilla for the issues Sorenson cares about. Ron Silver is a virtual unknown south of Aventura. And Ferre, though still enjoying a good reputation and name recognition, had a rough time the last two times he tried to run for elective office. He will not spend any ammunition he has left in a long and bloody battle with Penelas, instead saving it for the day the mayor decides to leave for a cabinet appointment or a congressional race.

So I look forward to another four years of how-much-do-I-hate-Penelas-let-me-count-the-ways columns from DeFede. That is, if he doesn't break down and seek professional counseling before it's too late.

Alejandro Barreras
Biscayne Park

I've read all the letters that demonize Jim DeFede and raise Mayor Alex Penelas to the level of Christhood. Here's my take on it: The mayor has never really represented the majority in Miami-Dade. He is a puppet owned and paid for by the Latin Builders Association, the Cuban American National Foundation, and other fascist "exile" organizations. Those of you who disagree either haven't noticed or don't care that he is usually televised giving some kind of pro-Cuban-exile discourse on Spanish-language television, or at the radio stations, where he shows up weekly. He spends more time on Castro than on matters of this county.

For those of you who agree with him, I give you this to think about: The real Cubans on the island (11 million strong) have maintained Castro for more than 40 years. They are the only ones who hold the key to their destiny. If you are among the well-to-do Batista lovers who ran away a long time ago, you have forfeited your right to participate in that nation's destiny. Protesting and harassing the American public within our safe borders is most cowardly. Hell, even Castro returned to his homeland and changed the authoritarian government that had ruled there. Though I don't support his tactics or all his policies, he is the head of state of a sovereign land and we should deal with him as such, just as we do with China, Vietnam, and countless other countries.

If Ramon Saul Sanchez, Jorge Mas Santos, and the others want to bring change to Cuba, they have two options: Fund a revolution (though everyone knows that for each dictator dethroned another waits in the wings) or form a delegation to speak with Castro at the United Nations, pushing capitalism before democracy. When you look at the past 50 years, you can see the United States has influenced more nations through commercialism and pop culture than through presidential ramblings and cover CIA actions.

As long as so-called Cuban exiles insist on using motherless little boys and useless embargoes to combat Castro, they absolutely are guaranteed to fail. When the old man dies, the next dictator will retain a tight grip using speeches about starvation at the hands of the Americans. But by then, fourth-generation Cuban Americans won't even care about Cuba. It'll be just another Third World country over which their deceased relatives obsessed. Mayor Penelas, as a patriotic American of Latin descent I want to say I have never supported you. Janet Reno may have let you off easily, but like Ted Koppel, the rest of us in Miami-Dade County won't let you get away with it. It's time we all stand united for a truly diverse South Florida!

M. Cordero

An open letter to Mayor Alex Penelas:

Allow me to thank you for providing to the world a perfect example, caught in a photograph for the history books, of what is wrong with Miami. Our "leaders" have no concept of democracy and one's obligations as elected officials in a democracy. Our "leaders" (you and the rest of the mayors who stood with you in front of the whole world on March 29) announced that in Miami the Cuban-exile community is not bound by or subject to the Constitution of the United States, and that if the exile community should be incited to violence (by your political cronies) it would be the fault of President Clinton and Attorney General Reno, and local law-enforcement agencies would do nothing to assist federal government in enforcing the law against the wishes of the exile community -- at least that segment of the exile community represented by the large number of consultants, advisors, attorneys, parasites, and other hangers-on who attached themselves to the Elian fiasco.

Well done, Mr. Mayor. In one brilliant moment you appalled and alienated the entire nonexile community, a good percentage of the exile community, the rest of the United States, and the entire world, while at the same time flushing your political future down one of those $8000 MIA toilets.

Howard F. Scott

To Alex Penelas and Joe Carollo:

You, the Miami politicians, are the ones who should be indicted for inciting this behavior, for disregarding the law and tolerating this behavior from your community. I am sick of being an American and "living" in Cuba. I am embarrassed to say you are the leaders of our community. You should be ashamed! Both of you made the whole situation worse, and I can see clearly that you both only cater only to your Cuban constituents and couldn't care less about the rest of the community. There is a non-Cuban community here, if you didn't notice.

I am scared for my safety, and you two do nothing to reassure me. Cuban exiles and their leaders I beg, please stop disrupting our lives! You are all bullies. The Gonzalez family is sick, literally. Their dependence on that child, their unstable behavior and lawlessness -- Penelas and Carollo stood by their mistreatment of Elian in spite of the Miami family's obvious exploitation, because all you two care about is your Cuban vote. You are the ones who made this all about politics.

I would not consider either of you for re-election and I'm ashamed of you, Mr. Penelas, a man I could have seen as president one day. No more!

And Mr. Carollo, thanks for being so nonbiased, nonviolent, and for not playing the race card. Thanks also for supporting your own police officers.

None of this has been about freedom or family. It's been about politics and votes. I am appalled that you two mayors participated. Neither one of you has any business in public service. I see no public service, only provocation of an already angry community.

I have always loved the Cuban community but now feel that if I express my opinion, I will be threatened and degraded.

Aimee Fournier-Kitchens

An open letter to Mayor Joe Carollo:

As a citizen of the City of Miami, I am deeply troubled by your recent trip to Washington, D.C., to investigate the Cuban diplomatic mission attack on Cuban-American protesters. This has nothing to do with the governing of Miami. And I am appalled at your behavior during the entire Elian Gonzalez affair.

Are you so delusional that you think Janet Reno has deputized you as a federal investigator? As an elected official, you represent all of Miami, not just the Cuban Americans. This trip has made it clear to many, not only in this city, that your true mission lies in furthering your political agenda, not with the operations of the city.I will surely not vote for you, and I will urge others to do the same.

Tom Cook

An open letter to Mayor Joe Carollo:

Your lack of leadership and respect for the rest of the city's citizens is appalling. You need to concentrate on the tasks at hand, which should be the unification of this city and not the divisive attitude that you are encouraging by adding fuel to the fire. Are you only representing the Cuban-exile community? The police have been doing a wonderful job in keeping the peace and minimizing vandals from taking advantage. You have the gall to criticize such an extremely difficult job that they have!

Has it occurred to you that you were done a favor by not being notified of the INS raid? What would you of done if you had been notified? Have you or Alex Penelas tried to uphold the laws of the United States? Or have you and Penelas contributed to this political circus that has and is continuing to enrage the rest of the citizens of this state? We may be but one e-mail to you right now, but remember that one can easily turn into two and so on. We are not alone in feeling indignant.

The Miami family was to blame for the raid, and you and Penelas have also a responsibility in the whole mess. As a leader you have failed us. We saw your interview on Channel 23 this morning and were disgusted by your intentions. We will be mobilizing many people to show the support of the Miami police chief and the city manager. Our hands are not tied.

The only positive angle to this whole ordeal has been the eye-opening experience for the voters of this city. We have now attained knowledge of our representatives and who is really running the mayor's office. Our voices will be heard. We are not alone.

Claudia Failla
Richard Failla

Joe Carollo had absolutely no grounds to fire City Manager Donald Warshaw. Nor would he have had grounds to fire the police chief if had had been able to. He is behaving exactly like the dictator he hates but obviously admires.

Jody Schenk

Jacob Bernstein and Victor Cruz's overview of responses to comments made by Mayor Alex Penelas ("You Have Mail!" April 13) should serve as a much-needed call to action for all citizens who are fed up with the constant turmoil and strife that has enveloped Miami-Dade County ever since Cubans decided to make it their new homeland.

Granted, Cubans have had a significant and positive economic impact and have added to the cultural diversity of our landscape. But these improvements have come at a price: a transmogrification of the democratic process via corrupt politics that spans everything from code enforcement to city management and now extends to the mayor's office.

It is reprehensible that Mr. Penelas had the audacity and poor judgment to let his emotions stand before his duty and obligations to serve in the best interests of this county. I wonder what the chief of police would have done, whether he really would have stood by and let innocent citizens and neighborhoods be imperiled by the mayor's absurd call to arms.

Mr. Penelas should have used his influence as an example to inspire the Cuban people to be more respectful and grateful that they have had the opportunity to live here freely and prosper. But rather than take a true leadership stance and ensure that peace is kept while our laws are observed, he publicly denounced our government and president. That should propel everyone to demand this man be removed from office immediately.

It's sad that this crisis has brought out the worst in everyone, not least of all the mayor. It certainly has brought out the patriotism in me, even though I am of Cuban descent. It has, however, also made me resentful that our tax dollars are being used to maintain the security of the Elian media circus while the City of Miami hypocritically tries to recover costs for protecting citizens who chose to see the Los Van Van show. Perhaps come election time, someone will run for office who can objectively put these issues in their proper place and vow to return a sense of order and harmony to Miami, which is still (barely) part of the United States.

If the Cuban exiles feel the need to continue this fight against Castro, perhaps they will muster the courage to return to Cuba and do it at the frontline, not from the cowardly comfort of their living rooms in the U.S.A.

Barbara Gonzalez

I have lived in Miami since 1957, when I left Cuba and obviously was not able to return. I had no choice but to accept that I now lived in a new country, and even though my sisters and other family members remained in Cuba, I embraced my new home with loyalty and respect and have done everything possible to live according to its laws and customs.

Over the years I have seen Miami gradually change, becoming more and more influenced by the Cuban migration. I was proud when Cubans started to become a powerful force in politics, and hoped this would have a positive impact that would shape our city into a wonderful place to live. But progressively things have only become worse, with corruption and greed nearly bankrupting us and turning our once beautiful Miami into a joke across the nation.

After enduring the scandals of former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez and former city manager and convicted felon Cesar Odio, I never would have imagined the day a Cuban mayor would embarrass and shame his own culture, and country, the way Alex Penelas has with his comments asking people to turn to violent behavior, willfully break the law, turn against this country, and do so with the tacit approval of the Miami police force.

I was afraid for my safety and that of my neighbors on the night of March 29, and couldn't understand how the police might stand by and let us be victimized by the crazed mob-rule mentality the exile community is notorious for. Who was going to protect us in the event of a real riot? And who was going to answer for this when people were injured or killed and our city was destroyed again?

Just what kind of message is that to the people who voted for someone they trusted and in whom they believed? What kind of behavior is that for an elected public official? In effect Mayor Penelas was asking us to take sides, pitting us against each other instead of guiding us toward peace and proving he had the leadership qualities to control this crisis. He should be arrested for inciting to riot. I think he not only owes Miami an apology but resignation from his position. If he really was ready to act according to his emotions and flout the rule of law, then clearly there is no place for him in public office. He is not worthy of our respect or of being addressed as mayor. He's shown himself to be a hotheaded punk with self-serving interests. I'm sure the citizens of Miami-Dade County would never have elected a traitor. I only hope they remember this blatant abuse of power when they return to the polls this fall. I certainly will.

Elena Marin

I read with great interest Jim DeFede's and other journalists' attacks on Alex Penelas and their pompous defense of the "rule of law" in Miami. Frankly I would have laughed if not for the horrible thoughts that came to mind.

I wondered if those journalists from prestigious papers were idiots or just ignorant, because every major atrocity visited upon the human race was firmly grounded in the "rule of law." Stalinist Russia's murder of 20 million of its own citizens, the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany, and apartheid in South Africa were all committed in conformity with the "rule of law."

Closer to home we have had the institution of slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, the imprisonment of innocent Japanese Americans, and the oppression of women -- again, products of the "rule of law." When civil-rights marchers were brutalized in the Sixties, it was done with billy clubs, fire hoses, attack dogs, and guns held by defenders of the "rule of law."

These arrogant journalists compared Mayor Penelas to Gov. George Wallace, who similarly defied the feds. What they didn't tell you was that Wallace was defending Alabama "rule of law." Finally I remind you that the "rule of law" and its cousin, "following orders of the chief executive," were featured defenses at the Nuremberg trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann.

These episodes also remind us of other "rule of law" violators, people like Schindler, Mandela, Martin Luther King, and the nameless thousands who gave haven to and refused to return runaway slaves, contrary to the "rule of law."

Don't get me wrong, the rule of law is a great thing, but it can never replace plain old morality and a fundamental respect for what is right and wrong. Although Mr. Penelas did not express himself properly, sending officers from the Miami-Dade SWAT team to storm the Gonzalez's house to remove Elian and send him back to totalitarian Cuba would have been a wrong he could never live down, no matter how justified legally. Next time you journalists get caught up in righteous indignation over the rule of law, remember that during the sad events described in this letter, you and your brethren supported those committing the atrocities and ignored your responsibility to the human race, who needed you to stand up for what was right.

Juan de Jesus Gonzalez

I am one of those few patriots who stand with the Cuban American National Foundation and Mr. Lazaro Gonzalez as they struggle against the power and might of the American government. Determined that Elian shall not be condemned to life in Cuba's gulag, my brothers have truly come to the rescue.

But there also is frustration at my brothers' lack of genuine militancy, their failure to take fullest advantage of this opportunity. You see, Juan Miguel Gonzalez has another son! We've all seen him since he arrived in the United States, the smiling little bundle on Juan Miguel's hip everywhere he goes. You could look upon little Hianny as a communist prop, fattened up by Castro's security forces. But I see a precious child condemned to life as a slave in Cuba.

And so my outrage at myself, at CANF, even at the very busy Lazaro Gonzalez family. Why in God's name has there been no operation mounted to abduct Hianny! The best defense is a good offense. We cannot be satisfied with saving only Elian. Hianny no se va! Paul A. Moore
Miami Lakes

I am Cuban American (born in Cuba) and I think it is time someone in a leadership position in this city make the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez accept full responsibility for the so-called "excessive force" used in the removal of Elian from that home. Can someone please remind that family that they were the ones breaking the law? That they basically gave Janet Reno no other alternative. I think it is time that this sector of the Cuban-exile community be reminded of how this country has opened its doors to us all for the past 41 years. Is this the way one shows respect and gratitude?

Furthermore, will someone please shut up that hysterical, angry, and obviously psychologically challenged Marisleysis. It is an utter embarrassment every time she opens her mouth to lash out at this country, its laws, and its leaders.

Esther Castro

While many Cuban-owned businesses were closed Tuesday, April 25, to protest Elian's "rescue," one such business remained quietly open: Gloria and Emilio Estefan's Bongo's Cuban Café in Orlando. How do I know? I called.

Like so many of the Cuban-exile community leaders, Gloria Estefan has proven to be just another hypocrite who claims to be acting in the "best interests" of Elian. While many Cuban Americans stayed home from work on Tuesday, giving their full support for this cause, the Estefans were lining their pockets with tourists dollars. It's this type of hypocrisy and half-hearted effort that makes me realize why Castro has survived all of these years.

Raul Fernandez

As a Cuban American I am appalled by what this terrible wave of hatred, fanaticism, and political manipulation is doing to our community. Any sensible human being will have to admit that Elian is now far better off with his father and family in a peaceful setting surrounded by trees and serenity than in the circus atmosphere that prevailed during his months in Little Havana, surrounded by the media, hysterical people shouting slogans day and night, politicians, people coming in and out of the house, no privacy at all, being manipulated and shown to the populace like a little animal in a zoo, with distant relatives who smoked in front of him, a hysterical woman and an out-of-control mob, and being dressed like a teenager instead of the child he is, wrapped in tacky golden chains and permanently connected to a cellular phone.

I left Cuba because I was against the manipulation of the media in Cuba, the totalitarian regime, and communism in general. But I can see that the manipulators behind the mob don't give a damn about democracy in Cuba, the welfare of Elian, or his personal well being. It is a shame that every time the media refers to them, they generalize and call "the Cubans" and "el exilio." It's not true. Many, many Cubans do not agree!

There are more than 800,000 Cubans in Miami-Dade County. What percentage went to those demonstrations and took part in that unbearable display of insults, bad taste, hatred, fanaticism, and lack of respect for the president of our country and our attorney general?

I have many Cubans friends who certainly do not agree with those narrow points of view. But unfortunately the lack of freedom of expression in our community, the fear of being fired from a job if you think differently, and the constant lack of respect for other people's opinions have transformed Miami into a dictatorial fascist banana republic.

Luis Rodríguez
Miami Beach

I was born and raised in Miami, and I lived there until I was 26 years old. My parents still live in the same house in which I grew up. My partner and I fled Miami after Cuban exiles blocked I-395 leading to Miami Beach in 1999. At that point it had become obvious to me that the tension of an intensely segregated city would only get worse. I now live in Denver, Colorado.

I must say that there is no healing for many of the nonexile, nonfanatic people of Miami. They are leaving. My parents are making plans to sell the house in which they raised their kids. The line has been crossed. When your local government shows signs of communism, when you're afraid to voice your own opinion in public for fear of retaliation, when 1700 teachers don't show up to work to teach the community's children it's time to call Mayflower and get the hell out of Dodge.

If the exile community wants to rant, they will soon be the only ones remaining to listen. My sympathy goes out to the Haitian community of Miami. I know this whole Elian thing has been a real kick in the teeth for them for obvious reasons. My sympathy also goes out to my brilliant Cuban friends in Miami who have been libelously misrepresented by the masses.

Daniel Burg
formerly of Miami

June 11, 2001: The Miami Herald today reported that a Cuban-American woman who recently traveled to Cuba with her son to visit her parents was killed in an auto accident in Havana this past weekend. The seven-year-old boy, who was in the car with his mother, is in stable condition in a Havana hospital, where he is being treated for unspecified injuries.

June 12, 2001: The Miami Herald today reported that the Cuban-American divorcee who died in an auto accident in Havana this past weekend was Maria Eloisa Delgado, 35, and her seven-year-old surviving son is Hector Sanchez. Delgado's ex-husband and the young boy's father is Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada, a prominent member of the Cuban American National Foundation. The Herald also reported that Delgado's funeral is being held in Cuba at the request of her parents and family.

June 13, 2001: According to the Miami Herald, the funeral for Maria Eloisa Delgado will be held today in Havana, where her elderly parents live. Delgado's son is still being treated at a Havana hospital for the injuries he suffered in the auto accident that took his mother's life.

June 14, 2001: The Miami Herald reported that Maria Eloisa Delgado, the 35-year-old Cuban-American woman who was killed last weekend in an auto accident in Havana, was laid to rest yesterday in the Cuban capital's Colon Cemetery. Delgado's parents and other relatives attended the funeral.

June 17, 2001: A front-page story in today's Miami Herald has focused attention on the case of Hector Sanchez, a Cuban-American boy who is hospitalized in Havana as a result of injuries he suffered in a car accident that took his mother's life a week ago. According to the Herald, Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada had no knowledge that his son had traveled to Cuba with his mother, Sanchez-Estrada's ex-wife. Sanchez-Estrada, who is a member of the Cuban American National Foundation, told the Herald that he is growing impatient and concerned because he has not been able to obtain any information about his son.

June 19, 2001: The Cuban daily Granma issued an official statement today in response to an article in last Sunday's Miami Herald about seven-year-old Hector Sanchez. According to Granma, the boy is recovering at a Havana hospital where he is receiving "the best medical care available in Cuba." The statement went on to question the concerns raised in Miami by the boy's father who, according to Granma, has not applied for a visa to travel to Cuba to see his son.

June 20, 2001: The Miami Herald today reported that, in an interview conducted with Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada, the father of seven-year-old Hector Sanchez said that he has asked the State Department to work out arrangements with the Cuban government for his hospitalized son to return to the United States as soon as possible. Sanchez-Estrada indicated that he does not intend to travel to Cuba, because the Cuban government cannot be relied upon to guarantee his safety.

June 22, 2001: In an official statement published in Granma today, the Cuban government lashed out at Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada and labeled him an uncaring father who is using his personal safety as an excuse to avoid traveling to Cuba to see his hospitalized son. The statement went on to say that the Cuban doctors attending to Hector Sanchez have ruled out any move of the boy for medical reasons until further notice. Granma also published today the first picture of Hector as a patient in a Havana hospital. The boy is reported to be making good progress in his recovery from the injuries he sustained in the car accident that took his mother's life.

June 27, 2001: The Miami Herald today reported that Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada met with State Department officials yesterday to try to expedite his son's release from a Cuban hospital and his return to the United States.

July 2, 2001: Granma reported today that seven-year-old Hector Sanchez was released yesterday from the Cuban hospital where he had been hospitalized since he was injured in a car accident in Havana on June 9. The Cuban-American boy's mother died in the accident. According to Granma, Hector was released to his maternal uncle, thus raising concerns about the boy's return to his father in Miami. Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada has been unwilling to travel to Cuba out of concern for his safety.

July 3, 2001: The Miami Herald today reported that Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada is upset with the State Department for not having brought enough pressure to bear on the Cuban government for the prompt return of his seven-year-old son. Sanchez-Estrada for the first time accused the Cuban government of seeking to keep his son in Cuba as retribution for Elian Gonzalez's stay in the United States last year. Hector Sanchez was released from a Havana hospital two days ago but, instead of being returned to his father in Miami, he has been staying with his maternal uncle, Carlos Delgado, who is a professor at the University of Havana and a member of the Cuban Communist Party.

July 6, 2001: The Cuban American National Foundation today held a press conference and blasted the Cuban government for seemingly trying to hold on to Hector Sanchez, the seven-year-old son of foundation member Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada. Foundation spokeswoman Ninoska Perez-Castellon denounced Cuban President Fidel Castro for cynically using the boy as a political pawn to try to create another crisis and rally the Cuban people behind him, now that the Elian Gonzalez crisis has cooled.

July 9, 2001: The president of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, today responded in an interview with CNN to the charges leveled against Cuba that the government is using Hector Sanchez as a political pawn. Alarcon suggested that it is not Cuba that is trying to create a crisis but the Cuban American National Foundation because it wants to keep the pressure on Cuba. The Cuban official went on to say that Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada's refusal to travel to Cuba is owing to the fact that he has been involved in "counterrevolutionary activities." Alarcon then went on to reveal that Hector Sanchez's uncle, Carlos Delgado, has filed a petition in Cuba for legal custody of the boy. Alarcon said Cuba would never use a seven-year-old boy for political purposes, despite the fact that the United States illegally kept Elian Gonzalez from his father.

July 10, 2001: The Miami Herald today reported strong reactions in the Cuban-American community to Ricardo Alarcon's interview with CNN disclosing that Hector Sanchez's uncle has filed for legal custody of the boy. The boy's father, Virgilio Sanchez-Estrada, was quoted saying that his son was born in the United States and was visiting Cuba for the first time with his mother, who never intended to remain in Cuba. Sanchez-Estrada accused Alarcon of lying and said that he has only engaged in ideological activities of a nonviolent nature.

July 15, 2001: The New York Times today reported the results of a nationwide opinion survey about the Hector Sanchez case. The survey revealed that 34 percent of Americans agree that the boy should be returned to his father in Miami, 20 percent disagree, and 46 percent have no opinion.

July 19, 2001: Today President Bush took questions about Hector Sanchez in his first press conference since the situation developed. The president used strong words to criticize the Cuban government, referring to the failure to return the boy as a "cruel, deliberate, and uncivilized play." The president did not commit to any specific steps despite calls from the Cuban-American community for decisive action. When pressed for an answer as to what the United States would do if Hector Sanchez is not returned to his father, the president said, "We are prepared to wait for the Cuban government to come to its senses and do the right thing, but we are not going to wait indefinitely and we will keep all our options open, diplomatic and otherwise."

July 26, 2001: In a six-hour speech commemorating the 48th anniversary of a military barracks attack that marked the beginning of the Cuban revolution, President Fidel Castro blamed President Bush and the "Cuban-American Mafia" for trying to manufacture an excuse to take hostile actions against Cuba. Without mentioning Elian Gonzalez, Castro declared that the Hector Sanchez case would be handled in strict accordance with Cuban laws, and he added that if Hector's father wants to contest the uncle's custody petition, he will have to do so in a Cuban court. At one point Castro said, "We know that the boy's father is in Miami, but we have questions he will have to answer in Cuba if he wants to petition for Hector's custody."

Frank Rodriguez

If love for Elian meant exploiting and parading him day after day (and night) before the cameras and never-ending crowds, letting him be touched by complete strangers as if he were a religious object; if it meant being surrounded by a steadily growing number of lawyers, politicians, celebrities, spokespersons, and more relatives; if it meant living in an unreal world of shouting and prayer circles in the street on a daily basis, then I must admit that the Miami relatives gave him more love than needed to last a lifetime.

This boy never had a day of peace. Even Marisleysis had the luxury of rest, when conveniently collapsing to be brought to the hospital. I hope the Miami relatives come to their senses and let Elian be happy again with his father.

Oh, so the photos of Elian reunited with his father were fakes? But the Virgin Mary on windows and mirrors was for real?

Jeannie Baum

When the jack-booted thugs of war were unleashed on the little house of the Gonzalez family by Bill Clinton (not Janet Reno) to take by brute force a six-year-old named Elian, the U.S. Constitution so treasured and revered by some Americans was trampled and crushed right before the eyes of America.

The Constitution of the United States of America was created with incredible vision by our forefathers to protect Americans from the government, not to give the government rights over its people. This is what makes America unique from any country in the world.

Thank you, 40 percent of Americans, for understanding and recognizing this. You make the Constitution and America strong. For the 60 percent who don't realize what happened, please read the first and second paragraphs again. If you still don't get it and approve of government-led commando raids on private homes of law-abiding citizens, try living in Cuba, Iraq, Iran, or any other repressive regime where you witness these kinds of raids on a regular basis.

And to the "Americans" who think that all Cubans should be sent back, try this: If your name isn't Osceola, Cochise, or Sequoya, you have no basis to say this. Remember, we are a nation of immigrants and exiles, and that the original exiles seeking freedom were the Pilgrims.

Rafael Contreras, Jr.

To Clinton (you do not deserve to be called by any decent title, much less president, and you definitely are not to be addressed as dear):

As usual you have proven yourself to be the yellow-backed, spineless coward who has incessantly betrayed all the United States has stood for. You have trampled on the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. But then, what can be expected of a filthy mass of meat and bones who had the disgrace of burning his country's flag and who was (and still is, according to your medical records complaining of "sinus problems") a drug abuser? You who are responsible for the murders of your own acquaintances and staff. You who are responsible, together with that shaky piece of repulsive, vile, nauseating, abhorrent so-called organism from the female species who goes by the name of Janet Reno, who is also an embarrassment to our gender and who is just as much a degenerate traitor and murderer as you -- you together with all your staff have made this country a latrine, a brothel, and a nest of corrupt, perverted, and debased creatures with no morals, no integrity, no dignity, no respect -- not just for the country but individually.

The reason the blacks and "other" groups have the respect of the government (actually it's fear) is because the minute a "human right" has been violated they take to the streets to burn, sack, and murder wherever they are. And they get what they want.

I pray to God and all the saints in heaven that the same will happen here in Miami.

Rosamaria Paniagua

New Times and most of the media have been participating in a stone-throwing party with its target being the Cuban-American community. Jim DeFede's poor attempts at satirical comedy are cruel and insensitive, and heartlessly disregard Elian's plight. Jim Mullin's conviction of Cuban exiles for acts of violence without a trial mirrors Stalin, Mao, and Castro's view of due process.

The truth is that if it weren't for people like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and others who participated in acts of civil disobedience, immoral segregation laws might still be around today.

The basic fact is that Elian's father, either by force or conviction, has given away all his rights, including his parental rights, to the Cuban government (a.k.a. Fidel Castro). Now, just because Juan Miguel is either a) a mindless twit, b) scared out of his mind, or c) a sado-masochistic commie, does that mean we must at all costs toss Elian back across the Florida Straits? Just because some people who have taken up this cause have done it for the wrong reasons, or said the wrong things, does not erase the fact that this is about a six-year-old's life.

Janet Reno, Bill Clinton, Hillary, and Fidel discussing the rule of law. Now that's comedy.

Emiliano Antunez

I want to ask: Why would Cuban exiles believe that someone who thinks differently than them must hate them? In this shameful saga of Elian Gonzalez the whole world has been against them, not because the world hates them but because the world hates ignorance and evil hidden behind a mask of "good intentions." Most people saw with horror that the Cuban Americans were cowardly using an innocent child to fight Castro, using any dirty trick to impose their will.

Where are their moral principles? How much are they worth? They obviously didn't learn from their experience with Castro. The opposite of a tyranny is not another tyranny in the opposite direction, as they want to establish in Miami, where one wins only by imposing his own rules.

The opposite of a tyranny is democracy, which means the enlightened coexistence of opposite opinions, where everybody wins. Obviously they are not used to dissent. They either rule or are ruled upon. They misunderstand freedom as their chance to establish their own rules. Elian's mother died because the world needed to know this truth -- all the bias, the manipulations, the pettiness, the demagogic politicians, and the corruptibility of the media in Miami. All this for the sake of wisdom for everybody, Americans, Cubans, and Cuban exiles. So nod your heads, shut up, and grow up.

Myriam Ensling
Miami Beach

I'd like to share some thoughts regarding life in communist Cuba, important to know and understand prior to formulating further opinions on the Elian Gonzalez case, or life in the Island. In totalitarian regimes, whether they be of a rightist or leftist persuasion, children do not "belong" to their parents as they do in free, democratic societies like ours. Children are wards of the state. Period. The state decides everything, including schooling, when they stop drinking milk (seven years of age in Cuba), career choices, and job opportunities.

In Cuba, for example, at the age of eleven children must leave their homes for periods of time, unaccompanied by their parents, and are forced to do "voluntary" work for the regime. This may happen even earlier. One need only note the ease with which Castro offered to send children from Elian Gonzalez's first-grade class in Cardenas for a 30- to 60-day period stay in Washington, D.C., or Havana -- without their parents.

It is stated in today's Cuban constitution that parents shall raise their children within communist ideology. Any divergence is dearly paid for. Government-organized rowdy crowds (brigadas de respuesta rápida), for example, are organized and directed by the regime to harass families suspected of anticommunist ideas or behavior. Stones are thrown at the "culprits'" homes, breaking windows, in many cases causing physical harm to their victims, and derogatory and insulting remarks are painted around their dwellings, making their lives pure hell -- for adults at work as well as for their children at school.

Regarding the large crowds we see in Cuba via television, it is very difficult for someone who has not experienced life in a totalitarian regime to imagine, but those concentrations of people are government-organized and controlled to the tee. Participants report at certain times and places, where they are picked up by vehicles made available by the regime so they can be transported to wherever rallies will be held. Records with names and addresses are neatly kept. For participating in these rallies, people score points with the government, the goal being to obtain "luxuries" such as a refrigerator, a fan, government-controlled food, or clothes, to name a few.

These are a few of the facts that have not been clearly explained by the U.S. media, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps not, creating an atmosphere of misinformation leading to uneducated opinions and remarks that have adversely affected Cubans and Cuban Americans for more than four decades.

I'd like to encourage my fellow citizens who are not familiar with life in present-day Cuba to become more informed on the subject. Hopefully there may be more people who would be able to see that the case of Elian is not a "custody" matter (since custody belongs to the state) but rather another ploy by Castro to further engage his lifelong phobic foe, Uncle Sam, and divert the Cuban people from the misery to which he has subjected them since January 1, 1959, for the simple and unequivocal sake of holding power.

José Manuel Alvariño
Miami Beach

A bright, shining star has come from our community and we should be singing her praises, not rendering silence. I speak of an outstanding lady who is also a master of diplomacy: our nation's attorney general.

A short time ago our streets were blocked with protesters who later castigated Janet Reno for announcing that she would uphold immigration laws. Our mayors received international attention for doing their part in shaming Miami-Dade County. At news conferences concerning these incidents, and even with baited questions from journalists about the potential crisis here, Ms. Reno was extremely generous in her responses. During Ted Koppel's Nightline town hall meeting, she soothed angry questioners for the better part of an hour. She has never uttered one unkind word about this community, its leaders, or any of those people who have painted her as an agent of the devil.

We should be very proud of Janet Reno. But our silent majority says nothing. We should be calling or writing to let her know that although we have been very quiet, we support and appreciate her efforts to enforce the law.

And in the future we might take a lesson from our Cuban-American fellow citizens -- that is, to speak up for those things we care about in our community, our state, and our nation.

Errol L. Clark, Jr.
South Miami


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