by Carlos Hamann
HAVANA, April 20, 2000 (AFP) – It’s 5 p.m. in Cuba, and that means that it’s time for The Elian Show — two commercial-free hours of news roundup and analysis on the case of the world’s most famous child castaway.
The show, officially known as the “Informative Round Table and Open Forum,” has been Cuba’s most watched program ever since six-year-old Elian Gonzalez was rescued on November 25 off the coast of Florida.
“I make a point of watching the program with my wife every afternoon,” said Miguel Gomez, a Havana building custodian. “But I have to be careful with her, because she has asthma and can get very agitated.”
Gomez and his wife Rosa are not alone: most of this country’s 11 million residents have become increasingly agitated over Elian’s fate as US deadlines for handing over the child go unenforced, and more legal barriers are raised for the boy’s return to Cuba.
The show begins with pictures of a sad-looking Elian flashing on the screen, and the theme music playing in the background. The crooner calls on Elian to “return, return to illuminate our land with your childhood.”
Cubans “continue … the fight for the liberation of a boy that remains abducted by the barbarity and stupidity of a group of Mafia members in Miami,” moderator Rafael Serrano said as he began Monday’s show, referring to the southern Florida Cuban-Americans.
After introducing the panel of experts, Serrano runs news clips from foreign networks on the Elian story. Segments from US networks such as CBS, NBC, and ABC are common — Monday’s show included CBS’s Dan Rather interviewing Elian’s father Juan Miguel. A voice-over provides the official Spanish translation.
Then the six-member panel analyses, regurgitates and interprets every twist and turn of the case in exhausting detail.
“Is the United States government being humiliated, or allowing itself to be humiliated?” said panelist Eduardo Dimes, commenting on Elian’s Miami relatives defying orders to hand over the boy.
“It is amazing that such a powerful government cannot oblige a family of the Cuban Mafia to respect the law,” he said.
Serrano then reads whole news stories on Elian written by news agencies such as AFP, Reuters and Efe, along with lengthy articles from official newspapers.
On one recent show Elian’s grandmothers, the same women who met the boy on a recent trip to the United States, complained that the child’s Miami relatives hang up every time they try to call Elian on the telephone.
Other shows have featured telephone interviews with members of the US Congress such as Maxine Waters and Sheila Jackson. Still photographs of the interviewer and interviewee flash on the screen during the segment.
Elian’s fate is a national obsession — and setting the standard for proper interest is Cuban President Fidel Castro, who often goes to the studios of state television and quietly sits in the audience as the show airs.
During the recent Group of 77 summit of developing nations here, Castro even left a presentation by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to be in the studio for the Elian program.
Yet despite the thirst for updates, little new information is released on Elian in Cuba before the 5 p.m. show, which also airs on state radio.
And if you were busy at 5 p.m. and missed the show — the “Round Table” is re-broadcast at 10 p.m.