ELIAN GONZALEZ IS BACK IN AMERICA
by Agustin Blazquez
When I was taping my prior documentary COVERING CUBA 2: The Next Generation, it was during the turmoil of the Elian Gonzalez affair. The talk with the interviewees when the cameras were not rolling was mostly about Elian.
They had a lot to say about Elian, especially after the saga had been underway for a while. Their comments revealed a kind of “armchair analysis” of the significance of what had happened. By “armchair analysis” I mean that, although they are not professional sociologists or politicians, they had a natural, personal need to probe the case and develop an understanding of the personal motives of the participants.
I became obvious to me that, since the U.S. media wasn’t going to do it at all, that someone had to try to capture these ideas, document them. So, once I completed COVERING CUBA 2, I knew what my next documentary had to be.
I also wanted to try to shed some light on the controversial saga that also captured the attention of the American people and the press. But solely from the Cuban American point of view as I have done my first documentary COVERING CUBA (1995) and all the articles that I have been writing since the late 1960s.
Many people could accuse me of being biased and unbalanced. But since about 95% of what I read in the press and see on TV about Cuba is the pro-Castro side, why should I provide them with even more opportunity to tell their side of the story?
The majority views of the Cuban Americans are not represented in the media. I have proudly lived in the U.S. most of my life and the U.S. media has constantly offended me. I think a fair balance is achieved when I give Cuban Americans the voice that has been purposely silenced.
That’s why I have been a critic of the way the U.S. press has been covering the country of my birth.
I write about Cuba in English. Cuban Americans know the tragedy of Cuba very well. It is the Americans who don’t know the reality of Cuba because they are consistently misinformed and mislead by the U.S. media.
For the ones who dream of a free and democratic Cuba, we have two powerful enemies: Fidel Castro and the U.S. media. The media’s behavior in general with regard to the issues of Cuba, as clearly demonstrated during the Elian Gonzalez affair, is criminal. They collaborated with Castro’s scheme and kept vital information from the American people as well as shamelessly misrepresented and maligned the Cuban Americans.
Since 1990, I had the idea of doing a documentary exposing the U.S. media’s bias about the Castro revolution. But was unable to get finance or help from anybody. Finally in 1994 I began filming with an old video camera. Using my own money, I purchased old professional video editing equipment. After a lot of struggle my first documentary COVERING CUBA was shown at the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center. It was a sell-out.
Since then, I have done the documentaries CUBA: The Pearl of the Antilles (1999), COVERING CUBA 2: The Next Generation (2000) and now COVERING CUBA 3: Elian, just released on December 1, 2002. All mostly on my own. For filmmakers or writers who want to show the realities of Cuba, the doors generally are tightly closed. But if you want to do a pro-Castro piece, there is plenty of help and support from institutions. But to hell with them, I live in a free country and as the song goes, “I did it my way.’”
The people who have already seen COVERING CUBA 3: Elian say that the result is a moving and powerful statement. But the rest of you have to judge for yourselves.
I was set to do the story of what Cuban Americans went through during this tragedy just to counter the ignorance and lack of support from the American public in general, due to the misinformation disseminated by the press.
The documentary opens by introducing Operation Pedro Pan, the biggest exodus of unaccompanied children (14,048) in the Western Hemisphere, still largely unknown to the American public!
I introduce the American public to Article 5 of “Cuba’s Code for the Child and Youth” from Castro’s 1976 Cuban Constitution. This code - unthinkable and unacceptable for Americans - gives the state the right over the raising and education of children in Cuba, officially removing authority from the parents.
If that had been explained to Americans as the events of Elian’s life unfolded, the public’s understanding of what Cuban Americans were trying to say could easily have been very different. The presence of Elisabet Broton, Elian’s mother, throughout the dramatic moments of the film stands as a symbolic reminder of the underlying cause of the tragedy.
In this film I try to depict the ongoing, unnecessary struggles of the Cuban people resulting from Castro and his totalitarian regime. It is the story of families divided and being held hostage because of political games and the resulting intolerance for individual freedoms.
It reminds the audience that Cubans have been dying in the Florida Straits since 1959 – about 85,876 to date. But the focus is on the most famous survivor of the 13 people who risked their lives seeking freedom in the U.S. Only three of them reached the land of the free. One of them was 5-year old Elian Gonzalez.
This documentary is also a rebuttal to the Clinton administration’s handling of the Elian Gonzalez case and the “travesty of justice” - as some interviewees said - committed against a child and his relatives in Miami.
Ramon Miro, one of the eloquent young Cuban Americans featured, describes the double standard applied to the relatives in Miami vs. the very staged visits of Elian’s grandmothers and later – four months after Elian arrived to the U.S. – the visit of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.
Mr. Miro also reveals the unknown story of the privacy fence that was erected in record time, complete with “official approvals”, in about 48 hours, around Rosedale Farm at the Youth for Understanding in Washington, D.C., without following legal procedures required since the house is on the Register of Historic Properties. However, he says, the Miami relatives were forbidden to erect a fence to protect Elian’s privacy. This made Elian an easy prey of the TV cameras for which his relatives were blamed.
Cristina Portuondo clearly lays out the connections between key players on the Clinton administration side. The complex relationships between Joan Brown Campbell, the National Council of Churches, Andrew Jones, the Archer Daniels Midland Company, Greg Craig – Clinton’s lawyer during the Monica Lewinsky affair – and Castro.
There are other eloquent young people in this documentary who certainly challenge the stereotype that the U.S. media presents of Cuban Americans. When you see and listen to them, you just wonder why you don’t see these views and concerns expressed in the mainstream media. You have become accustomed to the images and sound bites on TV of screaming, irrational Cubans. In this documentary I show some examples of this.
The testimonies of the interviewees expose how President Clinton, Janet Reno at the Justice Department and Doris Meissner at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) violated the law and a news media that censored and manipulated information to fool the American people in order to foster public consent to give Castro an innocent little boy on a silver platter. And, as explained by Joaquin Ferrao, one of the interviewees, today we see the huge celebration in Cuba of Elian’s 9th birthday. He has indeed become the poster child of the revolution.
In reality, I dislike politics. But I have been forced into the field because as an artist I have been a victim of politics, so I fight back with all the strength of whatever talent I might have. But I find it impossible to live without the arts, so I try to make my productions, especially this, as artistic as I can.
I use color and graphics, careful photography and searched for just the right music. There are classical pieces by pianist Caryl Traten Fisher and clarinet solos by Richard Stumpf.
I found the delicate compositions of Rodolfo Guzman perfect support for some segments and his piano masterpiece “Fantasia Ritmica” (inspired by Cuban rhythms) the perfect accompaniment for the montage of the sequence of the kidnapping of Elian by the INS.
At the end, while the caravan carrying Elian departs from the Youth for Understanding headquarters, while many Americans grouped outside applaud and cheer his departure, the narrator, Cristina Heilner says, “It was a tragic and disappointing day for Cuban Americans and freedom loving people. It was a dark day for America. It was the last insult to the memory of Elisabet Brotons, Elian’s mother, who died bringing her son to freedom in America.”
And with magnificent music composed and performed by Marcos Galvany at the piano and Noemi Burns at the violin, the documentary closes.
A person who saw the documentary said to me. “It left me with a knot in my throat and a desire for what would have been a more humane conclusion to this tragedy. After all, this was a private family matter that was used by Castro and the Clinton administration for political purposes.”
This documentary is available on VHS and DVD through www.CubaCollectibles.com.
Agustin Blazquez, Producer/director of the documentaries