April 19, 2000

Cuba News


Judge says families of three men shot down by Cuban jets can seize millions

The Associated Press. Web-posted: 8:57 a.m. Sun-Sentinel, Apr. 19, 2000

MIAMI -- The families of three men killed when their planes were shot down by Cuban jets can collect $38 million from frozen U.S. bank accounts belonging to telephone businesses owned by Fidel Castro's government, a federal judge has ruled.

The families of Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Costa and Mario de la Pena can collect the money as part of a $187.6 million judgment against the Castro government for their 1996 deaths, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King ruled Tuesday.

King issued that judgment in 1997, but the families have struggled to collect because of opposition from Castro's government and AT&T Corp. He had given them permission to seize money owed Cuban telecommunications companies for long-distance calls placed to the island from the United States.

The three men and a fourth, Pablo Morales, were aboard two civilian planes patrolling the Florida Straits for Brothers to the Rescue, a Cuban-American group that searches for rafters fleeing Cuba. Outside Cuban airspace, they were blasted from the sky by two Cuban MiGs. Morales' family could not sue because he was not a U.S. citizen.

Tuesday's order allows the three families to seize $29.7 million owed the Cuban government by AT&T, and $7.8 million owed that government held in a Chase Manhattan Bank account. The money has been frozen because of the United States trade embargo against Cuba.

Aaron Podhurst, the families' attorney, expects King's ruling to be appealed, but "we feel like we are making progress."

AT&T could not be reached for comment.

Elián videotape reaps backlash for Spanish TV

By Luisa Yanez Sun-Sentinel. Web-posted: 11:23 p.m. Apr. 18, 2000

MIAMI -- The nation's most popular Spanish-language network played an active -- and some say questionable -- role in the making of a controversial videotape of Elián Gonzalez by providing the boy's Miami family with a camera and agreeing to air the video "as is."

The now hotly debated "Papa, I don't want to go to Cuba" tape has proven to be a public relations quagmire for the boy's Miami relatives who are fighting to keep him against the father's wishes.

Some viewers saw the videotape released on Thursday as a "hostage-like" message from the 6-year-old; others saw it as verification of his wish to remain in the United States. In any event, the boy's father, his supporters and many child psychologists have blasted it as exploitative.

Now also in question are the journalistic ethics of the Univision television network. Univision, the area's highest-rated Spanish-language station, is seen in South Florida on WLTV-Ch. 23.

A New York spokesperson for Univision would not confirm or deny on Tuesday that the network owned the camera that captured the boy's animated objection to returning to Cuba.

"We are not going to comment on it," said the spokeswoman, who did not want her name published.

Alina Falcon, the network's Miami news director, referred questions to the same New York public relations firm, Sard Verbinnen & Co. Helga Silva, news director for Ch. 23, did not return several telephone calls to her office.

A spokesman for the family of Lázaro Gonzalez, the boy's caretakers, denied ownership of the camera.

"It's not my camera and it's not the family's camera," Armando Gutierrez said on Tuesday. "I don't know whose camera it was."

It's unclear which relative filmed the brief tape showing the boy sitting on a bed, wagging his finger in defiance of his father's wishes.

Bob Steele, director of ethics at Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, said Univision may have crossed an ethical line by supplying the camera to the family in exchange for the tape.

"If they gave the family a camera, they stepped on an ethical land mine," Steele said. "And they also have turned over editorial control to the family and made themselves a significant part of the story."

The idea for the tape apparently was born in a highly emotional atmosphere following the family's Wednesday night meeting with Attorney General Janet Reno at the Miami Beach home of Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, president of Barry University. The family had returned to their Little Havana home fearing the government would take Elián by force.

The deal was struck, according to sources knowledgeable of the situation, when Gutierrez approached the Univision media camp set up across the street the Little Havana home where Elián has lived since November.

Univision had tried for weeks to set up an interview with the boy, similar to that done by ABC-TV's Diane Sawyer last month. Gutierrez told Univision staffers that Elián would make a plea to his father on videotape, but not with a television crew present.

A hand-held video camera was found and handed to the family. At around 2 a.m. Thursday, Gutierrez came out of the house and gave the tape and the camera to a local Univision reporter.

The deal called for Univision to air the tape in its entirety without editing, then pass out copies to other media outlets, which it did hours later after adding the network's logo. Consequently, every media outlet in the country that aired the tape, including ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, gave Univision a plug.

Roberto Vizcon, news director for the competing Spanish-language Telemundo station, said the videotape backfired on the family largely because of the way it was handled. Telemundo is seen locally on WSCV-Ch. 51. "It would have come across better if a television crew had been allowed in the house to talk to the boy and viewers could see the atmosphere in the house and that he wasn't being coached," Vizcon said.

Instead, the grainy-looking video sparked accusations that the family has staged the performance and had pressured the boy to say he wanted to stay.

Fallout from the videotape continued on Tuesday when New York pediatrician Dr. Irwin Redlener, who is advising Reno, cited the tape in urging her to immediately remove the boy from the Miami house. He said the video proves Elián "continues to be horrendously exploited … It has gone on far too long."

Luisa Yanez can be reached at or at 954-385-7920.

Exiles, Havana dispute morality of Elian case

By Tim Collie, David Cazares Sun-Sentinel. Web-posted: 11:23 p.m. Apr. 18, 2000

Caught in a tense legal waiting game, both sides in the Elián Gonzalez custody case continued to manuever for the moral high ground Tuesday on opposite sides of the Florida Straits.

Yet another day passed without a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta on whether to grant family members an emergency stay that would delay the 6-year-old boy's return to Cuba.

In Havana and Washington, meanwhile, each side in the custody standoff sought to link Elián to the latest developments in the longstanding battle over human rights in Cuba.

The legal holding pattern perplexed some immigration law experts, who had expected a quick ruling. Given that the full appeals court has now had a few days to deliberate on what is not by itself a definitive issue, the delay was curious, legal observers said.

"I'm totally confounded as to why it takes so long to deal with a preliminary injunction issue," said Jeffrey Brauwerman, a former immigration judge and INS counsel who is now an immigration lawyer in Plantation. "I would think that they would have ruled in this case by now."

The three-judge appeals panel may be in no hurry to rule on the case, given the pressures that surround it. But given the weight the 11th Circuit has historically given to federal immigration law and the attorney general, the fact that the judges are taking their time is unusual, Brauwerman said.

But the courts weren't the only stage for the Elián drama, which has become the latest diplomatic episode in the 40-year cold war between Cuba and the United States.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva adopted a resolution co-sponsored by the Czech Republic and Poland to denounce President Fidel Castro for his repressive treatment of human rights and religious groups. The vote drew applause in Miami and outrage in Havana, where thousands of demonstrators invoking Elián's name took to the streets to picket the Czech Embassy. Many chanted "Free Elián!" and wore T-shirts showing the boy's face.

Since the child was first pulled from the ocean off Fort Lauderdale, the dispute over Elián's future has provided Castro with one of his biggest propaganda campaigns since he seized power in 1959.

In daily television broadcasts, marches and other acts, Havana has depicted the Elián case as an abuse of human rights and moral hypocrisy on the part of the United States.

The U.N. vote, seemingly a blow to Havana's campaign, became an integral part of Tuesday's demonstrations.

In Washington, Miami Mayor Joe Carollo showed up in front of the Cuban Interests Section to denounce what he called a "double standard" in which Miami Cubans are labeled in the media as potentially violent while Castro sympathizers are depicted as peaceful.

Carollo and U.S. Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also asked for a federal investigation of an incident that occurred Friday night in front of the Cuban Interests Section when a group of anti-Castro protesters allegedly was attacked by Cuban diplomatic employees.

District of Columbia police said Tuesday they had launched a criminal investigation into the allegations, and the State Department summoned a top Cuban diplomat to express "extreme concern"over the alleged beatings.

Sgt. Joe Gentile, a Metropolitan Police Department spokesman, said the incident was being investigated as a simple assault. He would not comment further.

Officials with the Cuban Interests Section could not be reached for comment.

Carollo depicted the alleged violent behavior of the Cuban government diplomats toward the demonstrators as what Elián could expect if he was returned to Havana. He also contrasted it to what he described as the peaceful demonstrations in Miami.

As if federal law and international diplomacy weren't big enough to contain his story, Elián is becoming a medical issue, too. Responding to an alarming letter from an INS-appointed pediatrician that suggested Elián's Little Havana neighborhood was an abusive environment, a group of Cuban-American pediatricians countered that they were professionals acting in Elián's best interests.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, president of community pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York, said that a home video released by the relatives last week in which a finger-wagging Elián told his father he did not want to go back to Cuba "looked exactly like we might see in a hostage situation."

But standing in front of Elián's Little Havana home, 10 Cuban-American doctors differed strongly with that diagnosis, pointing out that it was made by someone who has never met the child.

"We denounce and strongly oppose statements made by individuals who have been expressing medical or psychological judgments without following the most basic rules of medical ethics and care," said Dr. Jose Carro, president of the Cuban Pediatric Society and an immunologist.

Carro reserved his opinion when asked about his thoughts on the family-released video. "The video speaks for itself. What it is can be interpreted however people want."

While the pediatricians spoke, a playful Elián emerged from his playground in a blue T-shirt and jeans, and family spokesman Armando Gutierrez began sarcastically repeating the criticisms.

"He's traumatized. He's in danger. Please don't get too close," Gutierrez said, chuckling as photographers and camera crews began focusing on Elián.

Tim Collie can be reached at 202-824-8235 in Washington.

On street, price of Elian battle is high

By Pedro Ruz Gutierrez Sun-Sentinel. Web-posted: 11:23 p.m. Apr. 18, 2000

MIAMI -- The countdown to reunite Elián Gonzalez with his father is under way, and for some neighbors in Little Havana it can't happen too soon.

Although a minority, these neighbors say the spotlight on their community and Elián's world-famous saga has come at a high price. Police checkpoints. Barricades. Overflowing garbage cans. The stench of portable toilets. TV crews on driveways and lawns.

Those and other nuisances have deprived them of daily routines and personal liberties.

The street where Elián lives is under a virtual 24-hour siege. Some people are hesitant to confront the daily crowds or simply don't want to bother visiting relatives on Northwest Second Street or adjacent streets because they are blocked off.

Almost five months after Elián was rescued, some are beginning to question the neighborhood's support of his Miami relatives and are downright angry.

"This ain't going to solve the problem,"' said Pat Kingsbery, 84, a World War II Navy veteran who moved into the neighborhood in 1939. Kingsbery, who lives around the street where the protests take place, says the demonstrations in support of Elián will not get rid of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

"That's not my concern. All I want is my freedom," said Kingsbery, one of the few non-Hispanics in the neighborhood. From his doorway, he hangs an upside-down U.S. flag to show his discontent. A sign of distress in the Navy, the flag is his way of protesting the throngs who have disrupted his neighborhood and his daily walks.

Kingsbery said he tried to be heard at last Thursday's protest by carrying the flag. But he clashed with protesters when he criticized placing Cuban flags over larger U.S. flags.

"The policeman told me I was going to cause trouble," he said. "I told them (protesters), 'You're not supposed to have anything over the flag,' and they told me to go to hell."

Kingsbery argued with protesters Angel Posada, 21, and his sister Sandra Posada, 29, when they criticized his complaints.

"I told him that this is liberty because no one told him to show up," Angel Posada said. Kingsbery's inconveniences were a small price to pay for Elián's future, he said.

Many neighbors agree with the Posadas. And some are cashing in by charging journalists to park their TV trucks or set up platforms. Others sell refreshments and fruit.

TV crews and other media, with wads of cash on hand, are handing it out like candy. "The asking price started at a monthly rent or mortgage payment -- now they're charging $500 to $700 a day," said a network-television worker who did not want to be named.

For some neighbors, though, no amount of money is worth the trouble. They cannot walk their dogs or jog around the block like they used to. They must show officers a driver's license and address just to drive in and out of the neighborhood.

"The press is interested in getting the protesters' side -- not my side,"' said Chris Haven, 34, who lives with his wife and father-in-law in a two-story white house on Northwest 24th Avenue. "There's got to be a balance here between protesters and neighbors."

Haven, who also is not Hispanic, moved to the neighborhood from Dallas seven months ago. Impressed by the location and modest, well-kept homes, he had planned to buy a house in Little Havana. But he changed his mind and now is building in Homestead.

The house won't be ready for another four months, a prospect that has Haven seething.

"I thought this would be over by now," he said.

There are people on his street at all hours of the day and night. "We were going to complain, but we have seen what happens when people have a different opinion from the crowd. People get more obnoxious," Haven said.

A Cuban-American neighbor also complained, but some protesters called the neighbor a "sellout," Haven said.

Other neighbors show their displeasure in less confrontational ways. They make their statement by putting up concrete blocks, milk crates, garbage cans, chairs and other obstacles on the grassy curb to keep protesters from parking.

With all the commotion surrounding Elián, it is startling to see people doing "normal" things nearby: a man sweeping his patio, another working in his garage, people chatting on their porches.

One morning, a woman in a pink house next door to Elián's calmly swept her front porch, never looking up, never acknowledging that a crowd of about 200 was loitering near her doorstep.

And why should she? It has become so routine.

Copyright 1999, Sun-Sentinel Co. & South Florida Interactive, Inc.



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