Out of the Humidor

Dear Marvin,

In reply to your article "City of Exiles" in the August 2000 issue, written by Jonathan Kandell, I would like to make the following correction for the record.  

At the time of the April 22 pre-dawn raid by federal agents of the González home in Little Havana, members of our group were outside the home, as we had been throughout the day. We were hopefully waiting and praying for a resolution that would take into consideration the child's emotional well-being and best interests, as well as a true family reunification. At the time of the assault, good faith negotiations were ongoing inside the González home between the relatives' legal team, prominent civic leaders of our community and Attorney General Janet Reno on the telephone from Washington.  

I was not there "intent on preventing federal agents from taking custody of Elián," as the writer states. I was not blocking any entrance nor offering resistance. Television coverage clearly shows this and the unwarranted use of violence by the storm troopers, despite the administration's assertions to the contrary. There is news footage and dramatic shots of one of the members of our organization--Mrs. Rosa de la Cruz--being carried out by some of us, after choking and falling down unconscious in the street as a result of being gassed in the face by federal agents.  

I stand by my statement: "Our organization will abide by the ruling of the courts." When that ruling came about--after all legal recourses and remedies were exhausted--we abided by the ruling. To imply otherwise is a misleading and incorrect statement.

Sylvia G. Iriondo, President Mothers & Women Against Repression
Coral Gables, Florida

Dear Marvin,  

I must congratulate your magazine once again for being so thorough in your coverage of U.S. policy toward Cuba. In your profile of Miami's Cuban exiles you zero in on why that community will eventually fail in their efforts on the Cuba issue.

Your discussion of the trials and tribulations of Miami's Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture points to the Cuban exiles' fundamental problem as policy proponents and advocates: they just don't get the First Amendment. Whether it's their targeting of this museum or lodging threats against former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, the Cuban exile community demonstrates its outright rejection of one of America's most cherished principles. In failing to embrace the First Amendment, the Cuban exile community loses all opportunity to engender support among a broad spectrum of the American electorate (their paranoia--taping of their own interviews--speaks for itself).

 The Cuban exile community would do well in learning from the American Jewish community. American Jews have succeeded in securing broad support among the American public for their spiritual homeland because they have never buried the First Amendment. They have always understood that generating American support for Israel can never come at the expense of American ideals.

The Cuban exile community's seriously flawed advocacy efforts are finally being exposed (thanks to the Elián controversy). It's interesting to note that in your article, real estate broker Sylvia Iriondo cites the exiles' "success" in thwarting the agricultural lobby's efforts to lift the embargo. She may have fallen to a periodical's publishing deadline, but it underscores the crux of the Cuban exiles' problem with America: they may control and "get" Miami, but they are clueless about the entirety of the American landscape.

Manny Gonzalez
Beverly Hills, California

Dear Marvin,

As one who is politically active, I'm always delighted to read others' thoughts on the great policy debates of the day. However, I hope future essays pursue intellectual honesty, whereas Mike Farrell's attack on capital punishment (October 2000) merely appeals to emotion.

With all due respect to Mr. Farrell--and indeed to celebrities everywhere--I submit that there is no death penalty in America. According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 1993 to 1998, an average of 20,000 murders were committed each year in the United States, 3,100 murderers were housed on "death row" annually and approximately 50 were executed each year.

In 1998 alone, more than 16,900 homicides were committed, and America mustered the fortitude to execute a record high of 98 condemned killers.

That is no death penalty, at least in the sense that it could influence the culture and deter widespread crime. Here in New Jersey, for example, we are unable to dispatch even those who gun down policemen or rape and murder little girls. Don't you suppose that if even 40 percent of condemned murderers paid the ultimate price for crimes each year, as was the case during the mid 1950s, we'd enjoy reductions in crime?

If Mr. Farrell seeks fairness, then he should fight the corruption that condemns the innocent. (And let's do without the "race card," because since 1975 the majority of prisoners on death row have been white.) If saving innocent lives really is Mr. Farrell's true calling, then may he take on America's abortion business by challenging the legality and morality of the industrial slaughter of 1.5 million unborn children each year.

Jay Hochberg
Caldwell, New Jersey

Dear Marvin,

Mike Farrell holds up public figures, newly skeptical about the judicial process in capital punishment cases, to support his argument that the system is so error-prone that the death penalty should be abolished. I would prefer he try to make his case on a higher level and say explicitly what he implies: under no circumstances should the state put anyone to death for a criminal act. He wouldn't care if a man walked up to a person and shot him or her in cold blood in front of 50 witnesses. Life in prison should be the max.

In war, lives are taken intentionally by the state. Regrettably, our society must act the same towards those who, by their acts, declare war against civilized society. These criminals who commit premeditated murder or other capital crimes have declared war on the innocent among us. In that sense they are worse than enemy soldiers are.

By all means fix the process: better lawyers, judges and appellate courts. But don't suggest that the remote possibility of guilt vs. innocence error is the reason behind your call for abolition.

David M. Kellogg
Dallas, Texas

Dear Marvin,

Mike Farrell's summation of the corruption of the death-penalty machine in U.S. politics was a dead ringer for what most civil-minded Americans have suspected for a long time: the system is biased, cruel and prejudiced ... in short, a "slipshod, error-prone system shot through with bias," as Farrell phrased it so succinctly.  

In a sharp departure from the Bible Belt rhetoric I was bottle-fed as a child growing up in Dallas, I have come to believe that life imprisonment is just punishment for those convicted of heinous crimes. Evidence that suggests that innocent people have died at the hands of the state is stark and appalling, yet perhaps the single most offensive, frightening point made by Farrell is the legal and political system's refusal to consider post-conviction evidence in death-penalty cases. How these prosecutors, judges and governors can sleep at night is a mystery to me.

Nancy Rosenberg
West Chester, Pennsylvania

Dear Marvin,

George Vecsey's reasoning in the August 2000 issue ("Do The Olympics Still Matter?") reminds one of the logic that any sport not measuring up to the NBA in terms of market share and advertising revenue must not be very significant. Wimbledon was widely dismissed by critics despite stirring match play from the second round (anyone see Andre Agassi vs. Todd Martin in round 2?) to the Williams sisters' dominance to the final days. The Stanley Cup playoffs were also fobbed off due to "low ratings" on ESPN, despite the obvious fact that hockey is a much more exciting and athletic game than basketball, and of course the NHL doesn't feel compelled to cram the last minute of every game with two hours of commercials. Where's the love of sports for its own sake? 

The 1996 Olympics was a travesty of packaging; more resembling a nightly three-hour infomercial set to a soundtrack not unlike John Tesh. That Vecsey would take NBC's bait so fully makes one wonder whether he possesses a shred of objectivity at all--of course it looks like particular women's sports seemed a success story in '96 because that's mostly what NBC aired!   At least Vecsey is on the right track by mentioning some of the traditional sports left by the wayside, but there are others, like most track and field events and fencing. I think the last time I saw an Olympic fencing or shot put event live on television was when I was living in England in 1972. European Olympic coverage is general, by the way, and clearly not tainted by the overwhelming hegemony of marketing and advertising and selling and shilling pickup trucks and sports shoes and really god-awful American beer.

But then again, most industrialized European countries are thought of as "socialist" here because marketing is not the god there that it is here.

George Leake
Austin, Texas

Dear Marvin,

I read with interest the article on Internet auctions and eBay's Great Collections (October 2000). As the only individual bookseller registered with Great Collections, I value the site's increasing exposure. I did want to add, however, that a substantial amount of high-end business takes place over "regular" eBay. I concentrate my selling in the Antiques, Books/Manuscripts section of eBay, where I have seen books sell for up to $10,000.

There are a large number of collectors here who visit because they know there is a regular listing of antique books from as early as the 1400s to the nineteenth century. This is the same with other categories. A customer of mine, in order to raise money to purchase one of my manuscripts, sold some of his glass collection; several items sold for nearly $1,000 each (I checked).

The readers of Cigar Aficionado should be aware that there are high-quality and rare items in the regular eBay. While they might not find the Declaration of Independence, there are bargains to be found, which explains why a great number of book dealers visit eBay to purchase inventory. In any event, keep up the good work, and happy bidding.

Ari Millner
Alexandria, Virginia

Dear Marvin,

It is so refreshing to know I am not alone when it comes to the namby-pamby attitudes of our elected officials. When will it end? Voting, I feel, has come down to picking the lesser of the two evils. I saw a glimmer of hope when Jesse Ventura was elected in Minnesota. His article (August 2000) was very refreshing. I only hope more people would follow Minnesota's lead--and vote. Imagine what would be said if more than 60 percent of the voters actually voted this November?! An individual who said what he/she truly felt would have my vote.

Levis Nelson
Marietta, Georgia