Kudos: The Times Takes on NYC's "Fascination with Che T-Shirts"

The Times has often celebrated "hip" Communist imagery like the ubiquitous T-shirts sporting the iconic image of the Communist murderer Che Guevara. So kudos to the paper for its Monday Metro section story by David Gonzalez, an interview with a Cuban-American actress who takes discerning aim at those NYC know-nothings who praise the country's "high literacy rate" and quality medical care (sound familiar?).

"For Those Who Fled, a Retort to Cuba" profiled Carmen Pelaez, star of a one-woman off-Broadway show, "Rum & Coke."

Carmen Peláez is a liberal with a deep laugh and a great sense of the absurd. All of those qualities are tested when she encounters fellow New Yorkers who still admire Fidel Castro.

Ms. Peláez, a Cuban-American actress, was born in this country and raised in Miami. She came to New York in 1993 to study acting. In the mid-'90s, she traveled to Cuba to explore the world of her great-aunt, Amelia Peláez, a noted painter who died in 1968. All those experiences pulse through "Rum & Coke," a one-woman show in which she channels relatives on both sides of the Florida Straits and weary Habaneros stuck on an island forgotten by the outside world.

The play was her retort to the fascination with Che T-shirts, solidarity tours to Cuba and the endless praise of the revolution's twin pillars of health and education.

"When I started writing the play, I thought people just didn't know what was happening in Cuba," she said after the show closed its monthlong New York run last week. "But the longer I live here, the more I realized, they don't care."

She was reminded of that last month when Mr. Castro finally stepped down as president after nearly 50 years in power. The move prompted wistful reflections from old rabble-rousers and praise from some politicians. Representative José E. Serrano called Mr. Castro a "great leader" whose retirement ensured the future of the Cuban system and its achievements, which he said enjoyed "a broad base of support" on the island.

What really stumped Ms. Peláez was how the Bronx congressman's only brickbats were against the "twisted policies" of the United States government.

"They would rather keep their little pop revolution instead of saying it is a dictatorship," Ms. Peláez said. "I had somebody come to me after a show and say, 'Don't ruin Cuba for me!' Well, why not? They're holding on to a fantasy."


Though she still considers herself a liberal who favors the underdog, she is puzzled by the image of Cuba as an international paladin.

"The image is one of the defender of the oppressed and defender of just causes," she said. "People who understand the Cuban reality know it is not like that. It is not something they would want for themselves or their own country. Or, they are opportunists who use Cuba as a symbol knowing full well what is happening."