González, Elián (1993–)

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González, Elián (1993–)

In 1999 Elián González was a six-year-old Cuban exile who, when attempting to flee Cuba for Miami, became embroiled in an international tug of war between Cuba, the Cuban exile community in Florida, and the U.S. government. In November 1999 Elián, his mother, and twelve other Cubans left Cuba in a small aluminum boat. His mother and ten other passengers died en route to Miami; Elián survived by floating on an inner tube, and he was rescued by two fishermen off the coast of Miami on November 25. Local agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) turned Elián over to his paternal great uncle, Lázaro González of Miami. Lázaro and Elián's other Miami relatives agreed that Elián should remain in the United States, even though his closest blood relative, his father, lived in Cuba. The ensuing struggle over where Elián would reside quickly became a flashpoint for the bitter conflict between pro-Castro Cubans and Miami's Cuban exile community, which traditionally has taken a strong stance against Castro and communism.

It was not until January 12, 2000 (more than five months after Elián's arrival in the United States), that Attorney General Janet Reno ordered that Elián be returned to his father in Cuba. Elián's Miami relatives made it clear that they would not cooperate with the order, and they were backed by hundreds of protestors from Miami's Cuban American community. Eventually, a family court judge revoked Lázaro's temporary custody of Elián, and on April 22 a fully armed SWAT team retrieved Elián from his relatives' home. Almost immediately after, crowds of protestors filled the streets of the Miami neighborhood of Little Havana. After being held at Andrews Air Force Base while his relatives appealed Reno's decision, Elián was finally returned to Cuba on June 28, 2000.

Throughout the entire episode, intense and highly polemical media coverage highlighted the troubled nature of the U.S.-Cuba relationship as well as the bitter divide between the Cuban community in exile in the United States and those faithful to Castro and the revolution who remained in Cuba. Time magazine celebrated Elián's reunion with his father; Newsweek focused on the INS raid as inappropriate. The day after Elián's reunion with his father at Andrews Air Force Base, the White House released a photograph of a happy Elián in his father's arms—the Miami relatives claimed the photo was a fake. The Cuban newspaper Granma ran photos of Elián in his communist youth league uniform. Fidel Castro personally attended Elián's seventh birthday party, and stood directly to his right as the boy blew out the candles on his birthday cake. In a September 2005 interview broadcast on the television program 60 Minutes, Elián stated that Castro was his friend.

See alsoHispanics in the United States .


Bardach, Ann Louise. Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana. New York: Random House, 2002.

De La Torre, Miguel A. La Lucha for Cuba: Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Madan, Nora. Batalla por la liberación de Elián González. Havana: Editorial Política, 2000.

                                          Emily Berquist

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González, Elián (1993–)

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González, Elián (1993–)