Little Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old charmer who became the center of both an international custody battle and an intense domestic political struggle, has recently emerged from years of relative obscurity. Young Gonzalez, now a twenty-year-old engineering student at a Cuban military school, last week traveled to Quito, Ecuador, to participate in the World Festival of Youth and Students, a meeting of more than 10,000 young people dedicated to building a "revolutionary progressive movement" and promoting socialism. It is his first trip off of Cuba since he returned there from a brief exile in the United States in the summer of 2000.
It has been nearly fourteen years ago that Elian Gonzalez, his mother, and several other Cuban refugees took part in an ill-fated attempt to reach the United States in a small aluminum boat. The boat sank during a storm, and most, including Elian's mother, perished in the sea. Fishermen picked up the three survivors and brought them to Miami where Elian's American relatives took him in and received temporary custody through a court.
Shortly after he arrived in the States, both of his grandmothers flew in from Cuba and tried to reclaim the child. After their national appeal failed, Elian's father came to America and took the matter of his son's custody back into the courts. The Miami relatives lawyered up in an attempt to keep the little boy with them. Eventually the father won custody of his son, but the relatives in this country refused to give him up, proffering dire warnings of what would happen to the poor child if he were forced to return to a communist country. Attorney General Janet Reno finally gave up on trying to reason with the relatives in Miami. Reno ordered a pre-dawn raid by federal agents and the frightened little boy was forcibly removed from his clinging, angry relatives.
We all saw the pictures on the news - and everyone had an inflamed opinion about the righteousness or evil intent of the attorney general's snatch and grab. Some even went on to speculate that the wrath of the Cuban Americans over the raid caused Al Gore to lose Florida that fall - and thus lose the Presidency.
Not much has been heard about Elian Gonzalez during the intervening years. Cuban leader Fidel Castro became a regular at his birthday parties and formed a friendship with the boy. Elian has said that he regards Castro as a father figure, noting that Castro encouraged him to find something he liked to do, and then do it well.
News sources describe the somewhat shy Elian Gonzalez as being an emerging spokesman for the Cuban government. He characterized his life in Cuba as being "magnificent," noting that "everywhere I go I feel the love and support of my fellow citizens." Gonzalez has also recently said that he blames the U.S. government for his mother's death because U.S. embargoes against trade with Cuba have made life so difficult for many Cubans that they feel forced to flee in order to survive.
Elian is now a young man of twenty. He is slowly forming his own views of the world based on his highly unique relationships and experiences, and he is learning to communicate those views. Elian is becoming what all parents wish their children to become - a competent adult. May he experience nothing but success as he strives to make the world a better place.