A Little Boy in the Middle: Elian Gonzalez's Father Wants Him Back in Cuba. His Relatives in Florida Say He'd Be Happier with Them

Newsweek, December 20, 1999 | Go to article overview

A Little Boy in the Middle: Elian Gonzalez's Father Wants Him Back in Cuba. His Relatives in Florida Say He'd Be Happier with Them


Would a child be better off growing up in Miami or Havana? Elian Gonzalez is only 6 years old, and he doesn't seem to have a firm opinion. Talking by phone to his father back in Cuba, he said he wanted to go home to "Poppy," according to relatives there. But when his kinfolk in Florida brought him to a press conference, he shyly told reporters: "I want to stay here." Whatever he really wanted, the decision was out of his hands. It would be made by government officials fighting one of the last, peripheral battles of the cold war.

If Elian had wandered across the U.S. border from Canada or Mexico, he would have been sent right back to his sole surviving parent. Instead, he became a hot international issue the moment he was found bobbing in an inner tube off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day, one of three survivors of a sinking that had drowned his mother, her boyfriend and nine other escaping Cubans.

On both sides of the Straits of Florida, the boy quickly became a political symbol. Day after day last week, the Cuban government sent hundreds of thousands of citizens into the streets to demand his return. Elian's school desk was turned into a shrine, with a visitors' book signed by Fidel Castro himself. Castro claimed that the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, had been offered $2 million by the "extremist Cuban-American mafia" if he would move to Miami and live there with Elian.

In Florida Elian was swamped with gifts, and Cuban-American hard-liners mounted a campaign to keep him in the country. "The boy will have far greater opportunities here than in Cuba," said Lazaro Gonzalez, 49, the great-uncle who took him in. Visiting Miami's Little Havana, Republican presidential candidate John McCain said the child should "be able to live in freedom and not in slavery." Democratic Sen. Bob Torricelli of New Jersey, which has the country's second largest Cuban-American community, said Elian's future should be settled in U. …

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