"...Frontline, a respected news show produced for PBS by Boston television station WGBH, tends to lean to the left on most issues -- the death penalty, drug prosecution, gun control -- so it's not surprising 'Saving Elián' doesn't mirror the views of the Cuban American National Foundation.
The show comes to the conclusion that the fight over Elián had very little to do with what was best for the boy. The drama was about power, politics, and a community's anger that Castro is still in power.
Only avid students of the Elián saga will find the hourlong documentary compelling. For the rest of us, it's just another show about an event that we're all too familiar with. ..."
"...A new Frontline documentary...exposes a dissension within the Cuban American community during the seven-month ordeal that was kept out of public view - a dissension arising from the belief of many community members that the familial bond supersedes politics.
PBS's 'Saving Elián' may not be well received by South Florida's most powerful voting bloc, but the show provides a critical insight into the highly charged relationship between Cuba and the United States. ..."
"...One group that surely hasn't forgotten [about Elián Gonzalez], however, is Miami's fervently conservative Cuban exile community, which is the subject - and victim - of tonight's Frontline episode, 'Saving Elián.' These partisans are portrayed as having their own little totalitarian empire functioning within US borders, ruthlessly suppressing dissent, bullying opponents, and flouting the law in their unquenchable hate for Castro.
'It may have ended for America,' one of them says, 'but the Cold War didn't end for us.' Making no secret of its disdain for such view, Frontline succeeds with the near impossible - making the Cuban dictator seem more sympathetic than his foes in Florida. When, during one speech, Castro refers to them as the 'Miami Mafia,' is strikes a surprisingly resonant chord.
Any real editorial nuance in 'Saving Elián' is dispensed with early on in the hourlong program. Several Miami Cubans persuasively explain their visceral connection to Elián, how they thought of their own freedom and escape from communism when they saw his face on the TV screen. And Castro's initial ultimatum that the United States return the boy to Cuba within 72 hours is depicted as a tactical blunder than galvanized Miami's Cuban community.
Much of the rest of the hour, however is dedicated to indicting the anti-Castro forces for the kind of intolerance and repression that one would usually associate with the Cuban dictator. The best explanation, offered by several observers, is that the Miami Cubans are not immigrants by any traditional standards, but exiles, who have not come to the United States to integrate into the melting pot but use it as a base of operations against Castro. ...
All of Frontline's focus on Miami's Cubans leaves little time to examine the little boy at the core of this dispute with anything more than glancing superficiality. Instead, Elián is caricatured as the unwitting icon he became. ..."
"...tonight's gutsy Frontline, 'Saving Elián,' by producer Ofra Bikel, suggests that there actually were substantial numbers of Cuban-Americans who believed that Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba. They were just afraid to speak out.
Bikel's report acknowledges the powerful symbolism -- protected by dolphins, plucked from the sea, brought to freedom -- of the child's story and its impact on Cuban American's of all ages.
And Bikel certainly cuts Fidel Castro no slack, portraying him as a savvy manipulator who exploited the boy's plight for his own political advantage.
But Bikel also gives voice to those in South Florida who dared challenge the position of the Cuban-exile power elite that Elian must remain in the United States, no matter what. ..."
"...For South Floridian's, the PBS documentary will be numbingly repetitive. ...
However, Frontline has to be revealing to that part of America familiar with only the headline edition of the story, those who don't appreciate how a relatively small band of highly motivated exiles, through intimidation and terrorism, control the politics of an entire region and, arguably, the nation.
Perhaps the show's most noteworthy achievement is that it demonstrates that not all Cuban-Americans are like-minded and speak with one voice. ...
[It] is not a screed against the exile community. It notes Cuban-Americans' many achievements and illustrates how many of the things they were saying during the Elián debate, especially regarding the political indoctrination the youngster would undergo under Castro, are valid. ..."
"...If you expect the documentary to come down hard on one side of the issue or another, you're bound to be disappointed. And no matter what side you supported, you'll probably feel a sense of embarrassment over what you and your fellow partisans did and said. Writer-producer Ofra Bikel gores a lot of sacred cows here, but intelligently, methodically. The goal is to critically examine the various forces that combined to transform a child into a puppet. ...
Frontline does a fine job of cutting through the nonsense, reminding us that a child's emotional health was at stake. It also explains that it is possible for both sides in an argument to be correct in their feelings but wrong in their actions. ..."
"...Viewers are likely to leave with more mixed feelings after seeing 'Saving Elián.' Never has the Cold War appeared so done with as in this Frontline story, which pins much of the blame for the standoff over 6-year-old Elián Gonzalez on Miami's increasingly isolated, diehard block of anti-Castro Cuban exiles.
Though the production is a bit unfocused by Frontline's ususal standards, 'Saving Elián' takes us into a critical, neglected aspect of the struggle: the powerful Cuban-American Community that has used its donations and influence to guide U.S. policy since the Bay of Pigs. ..."
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