Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tentacles of Elian Legacy Far-Reaching Long Shadow Cast on 'Miami Cubans' as Fallout from Gonzalez Controversy Lingers 1 Year Later

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tentacles of Elian Legacy Far-Reaching Long Shadow Cast on 'Miami Cubans' as Fallout from Gonzalez Controversy Lingers 1 Year Later

Article excerpt

MIAMI -- A year after he was rescued at sea and five months after he was returned to Cuba, Elian Gonzalez remains a powerful icon to many Cuban-Americans who were drawn by the thousands to stand defiant beside the boy's Miami relatives.

But the exiles' unwavering determination to keep the 6-year-old boy here after he was rescued at sea damaged their image nationally, caused lasting rifts along ethnic lines in South Florida and left exile groups struggling to get their message across.

"The Elian affair really illustrated that the Cuban community is not that powerful . . ." said Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University in Miami. "I think the negative effects of Elian, in a way, are what still wears on."

A recent Florida International University poll of 1,975 Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County found that 82 percent of those polled believed the Elian case hurt the interests of the Cuban-American community.

The poll, which had a margin of error of 3 percentage points, also showed Cuban-Americans were in favor of engaging in dialogue with Cuba, even though they remain dead set against easing the trade embargo.

Moreno believes the most enduring byproduct of the seven-month custody battle now is ethnic and racial divisions in Miami-Dade County between Cuban-Americans and whites and blacks.

"I think there's still a lot of bitterness," he said.

Elian was rescued at sea on Thanksgiving Day 1999. On Thursday, Miami relatives of the boy spent part of the holiday gathered at the house where they lived with the boy. And today, the actual anniversary, they planned to mark the date with a vigil.

Elian was one of only three survivors among 14 people who tried to sail a small boat from Cuba to Florida. His mother was one of those who died when the boat capsized.

He was taken in by relatives in Miami and adopted as a symbol by Cuban-Americans who oppose the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. But the boy's father insisted that Elian was taken from Cuba without his permission, and after a months-long court battle, armed federal agents seized the boy from his great-uncle's home April 22. He later returned with his father to Cuba.

Many non-Cubans here felt disenfranchised by Cuban-American elected officials who sided with Elian's relatives in their standoff with federal authorities, Moreno said.

He cited the September primary race for county mayor. The Cuban-American incumbent, Alex Penelas, won, but many whites and blacks voted for a white restaurateur who never held elected office, bypassing Penelas and his leading challenger, also a Cuban-American. …

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