Elian Gonzalez, 15 Years Later
Jennifer Latson @JennieLatson Nov. 25, 2014
Nov. 25, 1999: Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez, just shy of his 6th
birthday, is rescued off the coast of Florida
Elian Gonzalez' mother was so desperate to escape Cuba and raise her son
in the U.S. that she risked the 90-mile ocean crossing in a rickety
aluminum boat. When it capsized, drowning her and nine others,
5-year-old Elian clung to an inner tube until he was rescued by
fishermen on this day, Nov. 25, in 1999, and later reunited with
relatives in Miami.
Elian's father, meanwhile, wanted to raise his son closer to Castro.
What followed was an international tug-of-war between Elian's father,
Juan Miguel, and the relatives who struggled to keep him in the country
his mother had died trying to reach.
Elian became a poster child for the troubled relationship between Cuba
and the U.S. — and, some said, a pawn in their political posturing. The
drama made headlines because it combined a bitter political divide with
a fundamental parenting question: Is it possible to be both a good
father and a communist.
After more than four months of legal wrangling and a one-on-one meeting
between Juan Miguel and Attorney General Janet Reno, the U.S. government
reluctantly conceded that yes, it was possible. According to a 2000 TIME
story about their meeting, Reno wanted to give Miguel every possible
opportunity to recant: "She wanted to see for herself: Was he really a
loving father — and did he really, truly want to raise his child in a
country where milk is rationed for children over 7 and soldiers drown
citizens who try to flee?"
But Miguel managed to convince her of both his love and his genuine
desire to raise his son in Cuba. Elian's return was a new trauma for the
boy, who had already suffered unthinkable trauma. To get past the crowds
of protesters who surrounded the Miami home where he was staying with
relatives, armed federal agents were sent to forcibly seize the boy.
He was separated not just from his Miami relatives — and a new puppy —
but from an American lifestyle that included unlimited chocolate milk,
trips to Disney World and a growing collection of toys. His relatives
feared that when he returned to Cuba, he would be subjected to
high-pressure political indoctrination. According to the BBC, Cubans
countered that "Elian ha[d] already been indoctrinated in the U.S., and
[was] being turned into a 'toy-obsessed' capitalist."
Back in Cuba, however, he quickly put capitalism behind him. By age 12,
he addressed Fidel Castro as "my dear Grandpa Fidel," according to a
get-well letter he sent the Cuban leader in 2006. At 14, he was inducted
into the Communist Party.
And last year, at age 20, he railed against the American embargo of
Cuba, which he blamed for his mother's death.
"Their unjust embargo provokes an internal and critical economic
situation in Cuba," forcing people like his mother to flee, he
proclaimed at a youth rally in Ecuador.
When a CNN reporter at the rally asked Elian what his life had been like
since his repatriation, he answered: "magnificent."
Source: Elian Gonzalez, 15 Years Later | TIME -