The Guardian July 5, 2000

Elian home at last

Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez and his father have finally returned to 
their homeland, ending an ordeal that began last November when Elian's 
divorced mother abducted the boy from his father's custody during a regular 
access visit and attempted to take him to the USA.

Using a leaky boat built and piloted by her boyfriend, who charged the 11 
other passengers US$1,000 each to accompany them, they got as far as the 
Florida coast before the boat sank. Elian's mother and her boyfriend were 
drowned and Elian drifted for two days in a rubber inner tube until rescued 
by US fishermen.

The day after his rescue, the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service 
(INS) turned Elian over to the care of Lazaro Gonzalez, a distant relative 
among the anti-communist, Mafia-ridden Cuban exile community in Florida.

The next day Elian's father demanded the boy be returned to Cuba. Sensing 
an opportunity to score a propaganda victory over socialist Cuba, the Miami 
clique stalled, eventually seeking "political asylum" for the child in the 

More than a month after Elian's rescue, the INS interviewed his father in 
Havana and a week later, on January 5, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner 
announced that "this little boy belongs with his father" and must be 
returned to Cuba by January 14.

Legal manoeuvres

For the next six months every possible legal manoeuvre was used to prevent 
his return. At the same time, with no regard for the actual well being of 
the child, he was blatantly exploited for political ends on US television 
and in the print media.

However, the rightwing badly misjudged the effect this manipulation of a 
small boy would have on the US and world public opinion. Blinded by the 
hate-filled hysteria that prevails within the exile community of Miami, 
they lost the public relations battle from the very beginning. The Miami 
community was ill-suited to pose as champions of a healthy family life that 
would compensate for seperating the child from his surviving parent.

Even as the Miami relatives pursued their heartless legal challenges, US 
government officials were being inundated with messages from citizens 
across the USA calling for the boy to be returned to his father. Non Cubans 
in Miami held rallies in support of returning Elian to Cuba.

The push by grain-producing US states to get the sanctions on trade with 
Cuba lifted gained new momentum in the glare of public support for Elian to 
go back there to live. 

An attempt to turn a graphic but misleading photo of a frightened Elian 
being removed from the Miami relatives by a Border Patrol agent holding a 
submachine gun into a major media coup fell flat when it was almost 
immediately followed by photos of a beaming Elian embraced in a bear hug by 
his father in an emotional reunion.

Cuban demonstrations

Meanwhile, in Cuba, the population rallied behind the government over the 
kidnapping of Elian by first his mother and then the Miami exiles  with 
the connivance of the US right aided by the foot-dragging of the US 

There were protest rallies outside the US Interests Section in Havana 
almost daily; one of them drew two million people, the largest rally in the 
country's history. The Elian Gonzalez case was uniting the Cuban and 
progressive American people. World leaders and other public figures spoke 
out against the boy's continued detention in the USA.

In the end, the US Supreme Court declined to hear any further legal appeals 
and Elian and his father could finally leave the land of the "free" for 
home. Progressive opinion around the world welcomed the news, even as it 
agreed that it should have happened half a year ago.

A moral question

From the beginning the issue became a moral one, between the moral outlook 
of sections of capitalist America and socialist Cuba. Here is a statement 
by Cuban authorities as Elian arrived home:

"Our people and our Revolution always act ethically, never as the mafia or 
political schemers do. We always said that the child came before anything 
else, and that we would never use him as a political tool, nor would we 
convert his return to Cuba into a motive for conducting mass demonstrations 
and celebrations, for declaring victory and humiliating our long-standing 
adversary, the United States.

"We have waged an honorable fight for extraordinarily noble objectives. Now 
is not the time for boasting, conceit or ostentation, characteristics which 
are irreconcilable with our revolutionary habits and norms. We have 
achieved the objective of returning the child to live in his homeland, with 
his father, his new mother, and other family members after an arduous and 
unprecedented battle of ideas and of the masses."

Compare this with the hate-filled Editorial of the Washington Times:

"Mr Castro has effectively used Elian to score a public relations victory. 
Initially, it seemed as if the Elian case would highlight the desperation 
of the Cuban people under Mr Castro. Elian's mother gave her own life and 
risked Elian's to find freedom. Surprisingly, though, Mr. Castro came out 
on top.

"This is a rather ignoble end to such an extraordinary saga. Sadly, the 
Clinton administration failed from the beginning to understand the 
importance of the Elian case on its own merits. Since the White House's 
primary objective has been to placate Mr Castro, rather than consider first 
the best interests of the child, the options became unnecessarily limited.

"Elian's freedoms will be brutally repressed in Cuba. Hopefully, the saga 
doesn't quite end here ... will Fidel Castro's petrified Marxist structures 
prevail, and his indoctrination apparatus (also known as the Cuban 
education system) change Elian?

"This is the fear of those who hate consigning the boy to his fate, and who 
hate the idea of trading with Mr Castro."

Back to index page