saving elian
a protest in havanadiscussion: What are your reactions to this program? Surveys show most Americans want a new approach to Cuba?  What are your views?


Prior to visiting Cuba in December 2000, I was totally convinced that Elian belonged with his father and could not understand the passion behind the protests of the Miami Cubans. After seeing first hand the conditions under which children in my family have to live, I now understand that it was not just about the past but about the reality of life in today's communist Cuba. The Cubans are second class citizens and prisoners on their own island. There is plenty of medicine, milk, fruit, vegetables, and meat for the tourists but not for Cuban children. South Africa was boycotted because of their apartheid system. Apartheid exists in Cuba today but it is not reported. I wish Frontline had probed beyond the usual stereotype of ordinary Cuban Americans as right wing fanatics. The young, well educated Cuban Americans "of course" agreed that Elian should be returned. Too simplistic.

Harmony Rodriguez
oxnard, ca


Cuban-Americans being protrayed as obsessive right wing intolerant bafoons. How original! That Frontline took such a simplistic approach to the Elian saga is another sad case of the media liberals manipulating general public opinion.

The show never mentioned key facts about the case, which cast doubt on the U.S. Government's intentions. Why did the INS intially say that Elian's case would have to be determined in Florida family court and then reversed itself after Castro's "72 hour" ultimatum? Did the Clinton administration's desires to improve relations with Cuba have any effect on the case' outcome? Why did it take so long for Juan Miguel to travel to the U.S. to see his son? Why did Elian's grandmothers refuse to even sit down for a meal with the Miami family at the invitation of Sister Jeanne O'laughlin? What made Jeanne O'laughlin change her mind about what Elian's fate should be? Why was a Clinton attorney, Craig Greg, representing Juan Miguel? Why did Janet Reno order a commando style raid to settle a custody dispute? Why was this raid ordered despite a refusal from the 11th District Circuit Court to issue an order for the Miami family to turn Elian over? Why did the INS lie in its description of the events that took place during the raid such as saying that no one was directly pepper sprayed, no foul language was used and no violent acts were committed by the raiding officers? Why was Elian allowed to be kept in a compound secluded from any contact with known Cuban agents? Why did the Clinton administration constantly refer to the "rule of law" when no law was ever broken by the Miami family? What effect did the Elian case have on the 2000 election?

These and many other questions have never been investigated by the main stream liberal media because it either doesn't help their cause of protraying Castro as a socialist revolutionary who has been bullied by the U.S. or they are too simple minded to see beyond the "father and his son" aspect. All of these fascinating questions and instead your program focuses on a Cuban exile who was threatned over 20 years ago and a few exiles who are well known as being promoters of a left wing agenda.

Another great use of our taxpayer dollars.

Armando Fana
davie, fl


Some people here have complained that Frontline was biased in its presentation of the Elian episode.

I'm sure Frontline's producers are used to all these suggestions: "Why didn't you include...?" or "How come you don't interview the people that agree with ME?" etc... Or even accusing Frontline of trying to "DESTROY THE CUBAN COMMUNITY!!!" Yikes!

I am getting pretty tired of this obsession with "balance and fairness" as if truth and facts were irrelevant as long as all the squeaky wheels get their equal time. In a court of law both sides get to tell their stories -- even if one story is a complete fabrication. But on Frontline I expect the producers to present the truth and the facts as they see them. I don't expect or want an equal amount of propaganda from the factions involved just so the producers can claim to be "fair and balanced."

The Elian fiasco and the Cuban GOP's thinly veiled threats that shut down the Miami-Dade recount in December convinced me that the Cuban Miamians are either nuts (I hope not!) or have been accustomed to weilding power and forcing consensus in their community through intimidation.

Frontline's show made it clear that there are plenty of Cuban-Americans who are not represented by the extremists we see usually see on the network news. They are not a homogeneous power group. There are differences of opinion. Instead of making Cuban Miamians look bad, I think Frontline showed us that there is diversity of opinion whether the hard-liners like it or not.

madison, wi


In my opinon, the Frontline program about Elian Gonzalez was very well documented and balanced, because during the time when this saga was unfolding we rarely got to see the dissenting points of views from members of the Cuban-American community or other residents of Miami.

I do feel that many Cuban-American leaders and community members are very fanatical in their hatred of the Socialist Revolution in Cuba. They say that their agenda is for Cuba to be "free" and "democratic", but I suspect that there is something much more ominous to their innocent claims for freedom and democracy. I believe that they would like to restore US style capitalism to the island. This would be very beneficial for those who were accostomed to the way of life that existed during the former Batista regime in which wealth, priviledge, and opportunity was concentrated in the hands of a small elite minority, most of which are now on US soil.

I was outraged when I saw how little Elian was being manipulated and used by many Cuban-American's. He should have never been made a symbol of anyone's struggle, much less those in Miami. It is about time that a program was made to highlight that fact. And now many Cuban-Americans and their sympathizers are criticizing PBS for allowing these views to come out into the open because it makes their community look bad! Some have tried to shame you as they have attempted to shame and ostracize people in their own community for not taking their side. This will only have the continued effect of alienating other Americans, who do not understand the peculiarties of their logic.

Beata Murrell
lynn, ma


While I think the Cuban-American community needs to make their case more clearly to America at large, I think this program focused too much on that aspect. It reinforced what the opinion cartel said all along -- it was all about a loving father who of course was acting of his own free will and volition against a bunch of loony Castro-haters in Miami.

I think if people looked further into this case, they would come to the same conclusion I've drawn about the case. It had nothing to do with reuniting a child with his father; rather it was a shameful attempt by President Clinton to normalize relations with Fidel Castro.

There were two MAJOR items "Saving Elian" missed: 1)Was Juan Miguel acting of his own free will? 2)The impact this case had on the Presidential election....

Overall, your program did not discuss two extremely salient issues regarding Elian Gonzalez, and it showed why PBS should rely on well-off foundations instead of the taxpayers if they wish to be a Ministry of Truth.

James McCloskey
manchester, new hampshire


A splendid program...fair, balanced & accurate reporting of an issue heretofore dominated by passion, propaganda & self-serving deviousness.

As a physician working in Miami when Elian was plucked from the Gulf Stream I too was amazed at his remarkably good physical condition when first seen at the Hospital. I was even more impressed when his pediatrician reported to me that the boy was neither dehydrated nor sun-burned despite the report of being at sea for several days & in the water for 48 -72 hours!

Now it may be convenient to invoke dolphins & God's miracles to explain this absence of physical evidence of exposure. It is more likely this boy was in the water a an hour or two at most. Indeed, rational folks may wonder if this whole story may have been a staged event by the Cuban-American, anti-Castro group of "exiles" to gain several months of Front page news & priceless TV time. Oh, do they love a conspiracy!

Thank you Janet Reno to see that justice & common-sense prevailed!

S. J. Peerless MD
punta gorda, florida


This letter is to express my deep disapointment in the Elian story. Sadly, your story line failed to justly provide neutral information for those viewers unaware of the political dillemas the Cuban-American community has faced. Unlike most PBS programs which appear to be unbiased, this program clearly fell short of solid journalism which, yes, Cuban-Americans are more than aware and appreciative for. There was little if any explanation as to why the Cuban-Americans felt the way they did. The torment in leaving one's country to avoid persecution becuase of opposing religious and political idealogies is but a strand of the Cuban-American cause. Had PBS plucked any Cuban off the street and asked what their "story" was, a more accurate potrayal of the community would have been made. Rather PBS appeared to search those who dissent, of which they have every right to, from the typical Cuban American not only in Miami but across the US. Hopefully, next time PBS chooses to do a story on the struggles of a community, they should ask both sides why they feel the way they do. I hope PBS is happy for disappointing so many; because I'm sure somebody 90 miles from Miami sure enjoyed it.

A. Saab
los angeles, ca


The program was well calibrated propaganda. While giving those unfamiliar with the issues surrounding Cuba the sense that it was fair and impartial, it was not. It read like a who's who of enemies of the Cuban exiles; Bernando Benes, Max Castro, Alfredo Duran, Elena Freyre and even Aruca who was portrayed as a moderate!!

In reality, the program was not about Elian, it was just one more opportunity to knock the Cuban exiles; Elian was just the hook. The program quickly degraded to an attack on the Cuban exiles. What on earth does Bernando Benes and what happened in the 1970's regarding that infamous trip to Cuba and the talk with Castro have to do with Elian other than to try and make Cubans (who opposed Benes' trip) look intolerant and by extension those opposing Elian's return to Cuba, also, look intolerant? Was Benes business ruined? Perhaps, I don't know the details. But, why is it that Non-Cuban-Americans can boycott those that they don't agree with, but we can't? How many Americans have been ruined because other Americans don't agree with them and use the power of the boycott to express their dislike?? I can think of dozens of cases. But not the Cubans! We have to continue patronizing businesses run by people we don't like or else we are undemocratic and intolerant!

With the constant use of words like "rightwinger" and the constant reliance on the testimony of Aruca (without any background information), it became nothing more than a hatefest. How typical of PBS to produce programs like this (with our tax dollars no less)... Another thing, why weren't any academians with pro-Cuban exile credentials used? Why wasn't Juan Clark or Jaimie Suchlucki interviewed? Was is it always Max Castro who is called upon for an interview? Castro is nothing more than a mediocre. Castro's academic output pales in comparison to Suchlucki's and Clark's who have both authored many books. By the way, Max Castro put the cream on the cake with his comment that we manipulate American foreign policy on Cuba and then used the Bay of Pigs as one of the examples as if we were the ones that persuaded the USA to get involved in the Bay of Pigs! UNBELIEVABLE. And this man calls himself an academian! Everyone knows that the U.S. government recruited Cubans and then betrayed us. But not according to Max Castro's revisionist view of history.

Ultimately, we Cuban exiles are to blame for not having an anti-defamation league in place (like the Jews, the Black Americans and the Gays have) that could take out ads in newspapers or sue PBS for the right to rebuttal this disgusting program.

I predict that as long as the Cuban exiles don't take an affirmative and aggressive stance by creating our own Public Relations, we are going to continue to be defamed in this manner with impunity.

Ray Suarez
new york, new york


thank you for showing this program. As a Cuban American (came to the US in 1962 as a Pedro Pan) I have been ostricized by my community since the 80's for my views on Cuba. You showed that there are many others who feel the way I do but who have been afraid to share their views. It was interesting to see the Pedro Pans you showed (especifically Ms. Chovel) because when I was in Miami (1991-93) I met this group and wanted to get involved in their work with children (long story no space here to talk about) but they found out (I don't know how) that I had gone to Cuba with the Antonio Maceo Brigade and they basically ousted me from the group. My understanding was that we were united by the experience of a Pedro Pan and now wanted to work with children who didn't have parents either (especifically the Boys Town that now exists in a former refugee camp used for Cuban Boys during the Peter Pan operation). But our politics got in the way and I was not allowed to participate. Seeing them last night expressing their feelings about Elian made me think that they as a group were excluding me but maybe individuals didn't feel like it was right but were afraid of expressing their views. I have been waiting for a long time for someone to show that the Mas Canosas and his group DO NOT represent the entire Cuban community. They talk about no freedom in Cuba but in Miami there is no freedom unless you agree with them. In fact your life can be in jeopardy.

Elian belongs with his father. End the embargo, it has not worked for 41 years. Open the doors so that travel and ideas can be exchanged. The longer you leave Cuba isolated the harder it will be for change to come. Those of us who left and have lived in exiled all these years have no right to decide what happens in Cuba. Those who stayed and have "bit the bullett" through thick and thin are the only ones who can decide what is to happen. There is so much more I can say about the division which includes the fact that I did not speak with my parents for four years (1982-1986) because they accused me of being a communist and wanted to take my children away from me because of it.

Again, thank you for showing this movie and I can tell you that there is much more to report and I hope you can do more shows on our story.

sacramento, ca


Your program needed a bit more research.

The documentary presented the thesis (which your interviewees repeated) that the Elian case was politicized when Fidel Castro stated that the child should be returned within 72 hours. But you failed to mention when it was that Fidel Castro made that statement. In fact, within 24 hours after Elian was found, the Cuban American National Foundation seized the opportunity to claim that the child should be reterned. In other words, the politicization staterted in MIAMI.

Moreover, Fidel Castro at the time was busy considering whether he should go to the WTO meeting in Seattle; so he made no comments about the child at the time.

Meanwhile, the Cuban American National Foundation rented space by Seattle highways and streets with Elian's photo and stating that Fidel Castro was not welcomed and that the child should stay.

All of these information is available.

Oddly enough the role of the Cuban American National Foundation did not appear in the documentary.

The reign of fear, of course, is not new in Miami.

Nelson Valdes
albuquerque, new mexico


Son of Cuban exiles, I believe that Elian should be with his father and find the behavior of Cuban Americans in Miami understandable but unacceptable. At the same time, I believe your program was not only biased but also simplistic and conclusive, a style not expected in a documentary format program. The program cemented the opinions and conclusions viewers already had prior to the program rather than offer insight into unaddressed issues.

It would have been interesting to learn about the father's motives to stay in Cuba and his opinion of the US. Why do some people think that he really wanted to stay in the US? Who is behind the Cuban American National Foundation? Why do they really care about Elian? What is their agenda on paper vs. the personal agenda of Board memebers? What impact they have on the Cuban community and the city of Miami? Why are they one of the biggest lobbiests in DC and what have they gotten out of that in the past 40 yrs.? Is Cuba really affected by the embargo or is the government economically manipulating the country to maintain control? What's the economic impact of investments in Cuba from Italy, Mexico, Venezuela and Canada? How did other Cubans left the Island and what they risked for freedom? Why is Cuba oppressive to some and not to others? All these questions have a correlation to the Elian story.

The program contributed to the continued ignorance of the American public regarding Cuba, as evident by the comments in this discussion. Rather than comments judging the mother's action (who's dead and doesn't have a voice to share HER truth), or comments on generalizations based on personal experiences, it would have been enlightening if viewers comments reflected more insights about facts they were not aware of.

los angeles, ca


Dear Frontline,

My opinion throughout the Elian saga was that he should be returned to his father. In an ideal world Elian sould not have to live under the tyranny of Castro's Communist state, but the larger issue here was that his natural father should have custody. In a country such as the USA where people live under "the rule of law" a father, unless he is known or shown to be unfit, is entltled to custody of his childred under circumstances such as Ellian's, where his natural mother has died.

Having said that, I think that the tone of the Frontline program on Elian is, as is typical of PBS and NPR: slanted to the left. I'll bet good money that if an honest pole could be taken of PBS personnel responsible for making these programs or reporting the daily news it would show that they almost to a man or woman vote Democrat and are in favor of changing our current policy towards Cuba. PBS, for many years, has faithfully provided the political left with a platform for furthering, albiet in subtle ways, their views. I think that it's sad that PBS is slanted this way and I would urge you to more closely examine your material for balance.

Specifically, in the Elian program you spend a great deal of time showing the hysteria and "right-wing" leanings of the Cubian exile community in Florida, throwing in a few Black condemnations for good measure. You spend literaly no time examining Castro's Cuba in an objective way. The ugly nature of Castro's Communist dictatorship is long and well documented: people can't speak freely, people can't freely travel out of the country, secret police, political prisoners, no freedom of political discussion or opposistion, staged "popular" rallys, a failed economy (not because of embargo but because of the nature of communism as demonstrated in EVERY communist country that has ever existed), and Castro's blaming of everyone else but he and his own ruling thugs for the misery that their people live in.

I know the history of Cuba and the bad things the Cuban people endured under Batista and I would not want to see them return to that. But the real truth of the issue of freeing the Cuban people and leading them to a better life is squarely in the hands of Fidel, not the United States. He could change everything tomorrow with a sweep of his hand, first by letting all citizens, without reference to political reliability, travel freely to see how the rest of the world lives (and not getting all of their information from his totally controlled press). Does, "Mr Gorbachov, tear down this Wall!", sound familiar or applicable to anyone in PBS as things relate to Cuba? Or does "evil American actions against Cuba" better describe the PBS attitude.

Frontline should have taken much more time in this program to educate Americans as to the real core issues in the Elian episode, namely: "what are the simple issues here (parental custody of a child) and what are the major issues (an in-depth look into Communist Cuba). But then, you guys don't think that way do you? Worshipers of "nonjudgementalism" all.

Michael Madden
redding, ca


Thank you for another thoughtful, insightful and balanced program.

I would not be surprised if it is viewed as a biased attack by the leaders of the Cuban exile community. This program, however, did not paint them in a negative way. Instead, the actions of these leaders and the support of many in their community, coupled with the silence or intimidation of those who disagreed, are to blame for the ugly face the rest of the country saw throughout this episode. To be clear, it is not the holding and advancing of their opinions that is questioned. It is the refusal to have any dialog or brook any dissent that damages their image and credibilty. Even more disgusting, was the percieved use of this unfortunate child to advance their political aims.

Hopefully this episode will force them to remove the blinders and understand that they have alienated their neighbors and fellow citizens by their assumption that there are only two possible sides to this conflict - support us or support Fidel.

It may also serve to make the general public aware that all of us have a right and a duty to provide input on our countries relationship with Cuba. For too long this relationship has been dictated from Miami as if the Cuban exile leaders had the only valid point of view. They have been allowed to botch the job and it is time their monopoly on Cuban-American relations ended.

I cannot help believing that a transition to democracy would be well on its way or complete if we had engaged Cuba long ago.

Jim Lucey
boston, ma


As the son of a Cuban American woman, I appreciate your story on the right-wing exile community. I do wish, though, you would have reminded viewers that not all Cuban Americans came here as exiles (my family came during WW II and immigrated to New York) and therefore do not represent the Miami community. I believe we should normalize ties with Cuba as we have with China. If we want Castro overthrown, we should allow other thoughts to freely enter Cuba.

In addition, let's not forget there was a reason that the Revolution happened--the U.S. had a neocolonialist relationship with Cuba. I want Castro gone as much as other Cubans, but I do not want to see the United States "purchase" Cuba once he is gone.

ypsilanti, mi


I was disappointed in the show "Saving Elian". What could have been a good program, it slowly slithered into subliminal propaganda. No significant facts were exposed. What really happened? What political deals were made between the US and Castro? You can bet there were plenty of deals made that are not being talked about. All the film showed was the opinion of a handfull of handpicked people that suited the filmaker, and ultimately they all said what obviously the filmaker wanted to hear. Sure, there were some opinions from both points of view, but that was necessary in order to appear as a balanced report. Ultimately the point of the movie was to try to discredit the Cuban American tax paying citizens as a bunch of radical hot heads. No significant government officials were interviewed in this report to say what REALLY happened. Would the Jewish community have agreed to send a boy back to live in NAZI Germany? How would the African Americans react if they can visualize sending a runaway slave back to his plantation? Remeber the underground railroad? I had always admired FRONTLINE, but now I will always wonder when (if)I watch this show if it is credible or mearly propaganda.

RP Perez
chicago, illinois


I commend you on an excellent program. As Cuban American I found the program fair and informative. I especially liked that the program brought to light that not all Cubans share the right wing dogma spouting from the so-called 'patriots' in Miami and elsewhere.

All Cubans have to realize that the future lies not with Fidel Castro but in dialogue with the people in the island. And reconciliation and integration is the only viable solution.

Again thank you...

Juan Llera
new york, ny


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