By David R. Sands and Tom Carter. The Washington Times. April 10, 2000
The Cuban-Americans in Miami are giving no ground in the Elian Gonzalez custody battle.
But most of them concede they're losing the battle in the dispatches filed by reporters for the national newspapers and the television networks.
An army of reporters and an armada of news trucks with telescoping satellite towers have descended on the Little Havana neighborhood where the 6-year-old boy has been living with relatives while his future is agreed on in the councils of government in Havana and Washington.
The pictures and reports they have broadcast have clearly touched a nerve.
"Nobody's threatening violence," says Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican and a champion of the city's Cuban-American exiles, in defense of the community on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday.
"We have hundreds of people show up for a candlelight prayer vigil and it gets no coverage at all. You have a picture of about 20 people looking violent when they were really not, and it gets reported over and over again."
Because of the media images, writes Miami Herald columnist Liz Balmaseda, "We are a national curiosity, something to be documented by National Geographic or the Sci-Fi Channel.
"As they see it, we belong to a lunatic fringe, to a single-minded, heartless population intent on kidnapping the son of Juan Gonzalez. To them, as to Havana, we are not only the 'Miami mafia,' we are, outside the northern militia lands, the only irrational dot on the U.S. map."
Despite the passions surrounding the fight, Cuban-American leaders note that the only "casualties" to date from the daily demonstrations outside the Little Havana bungalow where Elian is staying have been two temporary barriers that were trampled on Tuesday when several dozen
protesters broke through to form a human chain.
The protesters acted after hearing a false report that federal officials were planning to come in and forcibly remove the boy.
The storming of the barricade aired repeatedly in the following days, but not the aftermath. After a restrained police response, the demonstrators peacefully returned to the restored barricades.
Florida residents Susan Pick and her husband, Ernie, say they were surprised by what they saw when they visited the Miami bungalow last week.
"We came mostly out of curiosity," says Mrs. Pick, who is not Cuban-American. "It's far more peaceful here than you would think from the TV pictures."
The few pro-Castro demonstrators who have appeared at the Little Havana scene in recent days have been confronted but not harmed. One advocate, dressed all in black and with a television camera in tow, was escorted peacefully from the scene when five Cuban-Americans spontaneously formed a
cordon to protect him.
The image of a community in turmoil has played into the legal battle over whether and when Elian will be turned over to his Cuban father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who is staying in the Bethesda, Md., home of a Cuban diplomat.
The father has refused the Miami relatives' invitation to come to Little Havana to discuss the case, and Gregory Craig, Juan Miguel Gonzalez's attorney, cited the atmosphere in Miami's Cuban-American neighborhoods as the reason why.
"The circumstances in Miami are so fragile, so passionate, so emotional that it would be bad for Elian, and we have ruled that out," Mr. Craig said on "Fox News Sunday."
Mr. Diaz-Balart yesterday accused the Clinton administration of seeking to profit from the false image of the exile community as projected by the national media.
The administration wants to normalize relations with Fidel Castro's government, Mr. Diaz-Balart says, and needs to "isolate" the politically potent exile community that opposes that move.
Polls show that attitudes have hardened even in Miami as the story and the coverage drag on. A Miami Herald poll released yesterday found that 80 percent of the city's Cuban-Americans oppose the quick reunification of Elian Gonzalez with his father, as sought by the Justice Department.
By contrast, 84 percent of the city's blacks and 71 percent of whites favor an immediate hand over of the boy to the father.
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