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Elián's Elán

"60 Minutes" tells us everything we already knew about Cuba's 11-year-old idol.

12:00 AM, Oct 6, 2005 • By DUNCAN CURRIE
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NEARLY SIX YEARS LATER, Elián Gonzalez remains as ineffably cute as ever. Sunday night's 60 Minutes piece on the Cuban boy plucked from the sea taught us that--and not much else we didn't already know.

Anyone who's paid even a scintilla of attention to Elián, now age 11, since he returned to his native island in June 2000 realizes that he's become a full-fledged totem of Castroism: a "conquering hero," as CBS's Bob Simon put it, who gets a chummy audience with the bearded dictator and whose likeness permeates Cuban propaganda.

Naturally, Elián told 60 Minutes he thinks the world of Fidel--not just a "friend," but a "father" figure--and is pleased as punch to be back in Cuba. The pint-sized pin-up boy apparently hated his brief sojourn to Miami, and complained to his relatives all along that he pined for home. After being snatched by INS agents in an infamous pre-dawn raid, Elián felt overjoyed to be "out of that house."

One hesitates to cast aspersions on the sincerity of an 11-year-old child. Elián no doubt does love his new life in Cuba. His father now has a plum job in the National Assembly. We can reasonably guess that the daily challenges facing most Cubans--such as food shortages, blackouts, and regime-sponsored harassment--don't much affect the boy and his father. And Elián surely basks in the glow of national consecration. What youngster in his shoes wouldn't love that sort of thing?

That said, his 60 Minutes interview was more than a tad farcical. Leave aside the fact that, according to Bob Simon, Castro's "personal cameraman" helped CBS with the story. Cuba is a totalitarian police state. Asking any Cuban--let alone a pre-teen seventh grader--to speak freely while in this setting makes little sense. The answers will invariably sound pre-scripted--as they did with Elián.

For that matter, Simon's questions left much to be desired. Some implied a glib moral equivalence between the Cuban and American systems, as when Simon suggested that Elián might be "a natural politician." (Why? Because of his people skills and charm? Memo to Simon--Cubans can't vote.)

Perhaps CBS felt uncomfortable prying into the conscience of an 11-year-old kid. But if that was the case, then why do the interview at all? To update viewers on Elián's maturation? Seems like a fine idea; but how do you separate the boy from the Castroite agitprop? It's not an easy stunt to pull off--and in the event, CBS made a pig's ear of things.

Here's one question Simon might have asked Elián: Why do you believe your mother risked--and tragically gave--her life so that you might grow up in America as opposed to Cuba? Maybe that would've been rude. But it would've also prompted a fascinating response, whatever Elián said. And it would've reminded viewers of a simple reality: All of the homemade refugee rafts floating between Miami and Cuba are headed in the same direction.

Duncan Currie is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.