Report from Cuba

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Tue Dec 21 20:10:38 MST 1999

[The following is reposted from the Cuba-sí list]

This situation has been such a whirlwind of events and emotions that
it has been all but impossible to find the time to sit down and
write my own notes describing what has been happening. I should say
that the plight of Elian first came to my attention when I reached
Vancouver or Seattle, and the image on US television of a sad,
confused, withdrawn little boy with a blank stare, being crudely and
cruelly manipulated in front of the television cameras by
unscrupulous, uncaring adults who forced his fingers  into a "thumbs
up" sign (a hand-signal he could not possibly have understood, since
it is not one used here) that he quickly withdrew, has been
imprinted in my memory ever since.

While in Seattle, I watched the morning and evening tv news
alternating between descriptions of the WTO demos and the less
frequent reports on the little boy whose sad eyes haunted me.

When I got back to Cuba, the first thing that I encountered on the
radio, tv, in the street, in conversations with neighbors, was the
tremendous preocupation with the detention of this child in Miami.
People had been milling around the US Interests Section for days.

My second day back there was a huge street demonstration and march,
which i went to film.  Literally everyone I encountered, in front
yards, school patios, street corners, expressed similar convictions.
What stood out especially in my mind were a young woman with an 8
year old son who had written a moving poem about Elian (Cubans often
express themselves in music and poetry although, like this woman who
said she was "just a homemaker", they had no formal training in this
art) and a 12 year old black student in school uniform who, when I
challenged him with the statement "But in Miami he'll have lots of
clothes and toys", responded: "We'll give him a better present.

If I was obsessed with Elian from what I had seen on US tv before I
left, I was even more so when Cuban television interspersed a
program of a panel of psychologists and educators talking about
Elian with shots of him on US television. Most sickening was one of
Cuban-American ultra-right congresswoman Iliana Ros-Lehtinen draping
the child with an oversized American flag, much to his confusion.

The contrast of the sad-eyed, withdrawn child in Miami with a home
video of Elian a year ago, getting ready for his first day of
school  and then on his 5th birthday part, was also stirring. In the
home video you saw a happy, outgoing child playing with his father;
you saw the father's relation with his son in brief, unconscious
gestures, such as when Juan Miguel lightly stroked the boy's arm
with his hand, or when they played with  his shirt. You also saw the
family relationship which some neighbors had described as an
apparently ideal divorced couple, when the mother, father and Elian
were seen dancing around in a circle, holding hands, at the birthday

The description of this same child being subjected not only to a
constant barrage of reporters and politicians and Cuban expatriate
opportunists at a time when he most needs privacy to grieve and
recover, but also to the gross insensitivity of adults who knew no
better than to put the frightened, traumatized child on a BOAT RIDE
when they took him to Disney World, left me really shaken.

The most massive demonstrations took place all around the country,
with about 2 million marching before the US Interests Section in

The demonstrations have begun again, but less massively. To
not disrupt daily life, Fidel has called on people to organize their
protests by having representative groups take turns before the US
Interests Section. Today, it is students again. WHich is fitting,
since who better than they can put the lie to the idea that it is
something so horrible to grow up, to be young, in Cuba?

But these images will never appear on US screens. And the greatest
effect is still inside the Cuban psyche. If the rightwing Cubans had
intentionally been trying to bolster the Cuban Revolution by
convincing 11 million Cubans of the brutish nature of US
imperialism, they couldn't have done a better job.

Karen Lee Wald  3ra A #15205 e/ 152 y 154  Nautico, Playa  Habana,
Cuba   Tel. (537) 218072   <kwald at>

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