Relax, Elian Will Live Above Cuba's Poor

In A Public Relations Twist, Reporters Tout the Privileges of Communist Party's "Well-Off Stratum"

Usually, the national media are scolds of inequality, quick to denounce the "haves" for living above the "have-nots." Newsweek described America in the 1980s with this summary: "Greedy yuppies screwed homeless. Big party on deck of Titanic." But in a public-relations twist, some national reporters are now suggesting Elian Gonzalez shouldn't fear life in Cuba, since he'll get all the privileges of the Communist Party elite. So much for the Marxist ideal of equality of misery.

Newsweek. Brook Larmer and John Leland argued this week: "In some ways, young Elian might expect a nurturing life in Cuba, sheltered from the crime and social breakdown that would be part of his upbringing in Miami. Because Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, works as a cashier in a tourist resort, the family already belonged to the nation's well-off stratum, who has access to American dollars. The boy's relatives in Miami can offer further support: Cuba now even has ATMs that dispense dollars from foreign banks."

Time. Nancy Gibbs reported: "Cardenas is a pretty, poor fishing town of palm trees and empty streets - few people can afford a car - and Juan Miguel lives, by relative standards, the good life....Altogether, in wages, tips and bonuses, he earns more than 10 times Cuba's $15 average monthly salary - enough to afford to buy Elian imported Power Ranger toys and birthday pinatas fat with Italian hard candy and German chocolates....Elian enjoyed that rarest of Cuban luxuries: his own air-conditioned bed-room. And before Juan Miguel sold it to pay, he says, for calls to Elian in Miami, the boy's father even had a car, a 1956 Nash Rambler, in which Elian rode through town like a prince, while many people relied on horse-drawn carts."

NBC News. On the April 4 Nightly News, reporter Jim Avila said Elian would become "a four-foot-tall deity" in Cuba: "His home, a two-bedroom converted garage that has been re-painted and improved by the government, is comfortable. Here he has his own room, a luxury in housing-short Cuba. Elian's future here is likely to be the Cuban good life, lived by Communist Party elite with perks like five free gallons of gasoline a month for the family, a Cuban tradition called 'La Jaba,' the bag, which includes extra rice, beans, cooking oil and sundries like deodorant, shampoo, razors and shaving cream, about $15 a month worth of basics. Plus, invitations reserved for the party elite to cultural events, sports, discos and restaurants, access to the best medicine, expensive drugs like heart cures not available to everyone in Cuba."

Four nights later, Avila asked why Elian's mother, a maid, would leave: "Why did she do it? What was she escaping? By all accounts this quiet, serious young woman, who loved to dance the salsa, was living the good life, as good as it gets for a citizen in Cuba."

Avila asserted: "In today's Cuba a maid, where dollar tips are to be had, is a prestigious job. Elian's life relatively easy by Cuban standards, living with Mom and maternal grandparents half of the week, in Dad's well-furnished home the rest of the time. Both Mom and Dad friendly to each other and caring towards their only child." Elian was the victim of "An extended family destroyed by a mother's decision to start a new life in a new country."

What made Elian's mother escape? Perhaps it's what makes America different from Cuba, which isn't just a glut of consumer goods. It's the right to your own life, your own opinions, your own freedom. It's not something most Americans would give away for a $15 bag of rice, beans and shaving cream. - Tim Graham