From Academic Kids

Elián González (born December 6, 1993) was a young boy when his mother escaped from Cuba (which has strict laws forbidding emigration) and floated to Florida. Living with his great-uncle, he soon became the center of a custody and immigration battle between Cuba, the United States government, his father, his Miami relatives and the Cuban community of Miami. The latter two parties wanted him to stay in the United States after he survived an attempt by his mother to emigrate to the United States in November 1999. She and ten others died, leaving Elián to float across the Florida Straits on an inner tube with two other survivors.



Hostility between Cuba and the United States has been persistent since the Cuban Revolution. Over that period, a considerable number of Cubans have tried to leave for the United States in the hope of greater freedom and better economic conditions. This emigration is illegal under Cuban law. Since the Carter era, US policy has evolved into the current "wet feet, dry feet" rule. If a Cuban refugee is picked up at sea or walking toward shore, he will be repatriated by force (i.e., sent back to Cuba against his will). If he can make it to shore ("dry feet"), he is permitted to make a case for political asylum.

Under a 1995 migration accord with Cuba, Cubans who make it to United States soil are generally allowed to remain in the country. However, Elián was rescued at sea by two fisherman who then gave him to the United States Coast Guard. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) released Elián to his great uncle, Lazaro. INS officials told reporters neither they nor the State Department had any legal say in the matter. It was demanded that the boy be returned to Cuba to the care of his father, touching off the firestorm that ended only when Elián was taken at gunpoint by federal agents who forcibly entered his great-uncle's house. Elian was flown back to Havana with his father, Juan Miguel González Quintana, Juan Miguel's wife and their son, and a cousin, on June 28, 2000.

Elián's mother, Elizabet, apparently took him without Juan Miguel's knowledge, so in addition to the case's refugee overtones, it was also a child custody battle. The debate was whether U.S. immigration laws mandated he be returned to his father, as Juan Miguel could speak for Elián only if it was assumed he was not under duress from the Cuban Government. The situation of Elizabet's death indicated her desires as to the ultimate residence of the child.

For much of the summer of 2000, his plight dominated the news. On April 14, a video was released in which Elián "tells" Juan Miguel that he wants to stay in the U.S. Many considered that he had been coached with a male voice heard off-camera directing the young boy. The Miami family staged an elaborate campaign for sympathy as Elián went to Disney World one day, then met with politicians the next. On April 19, the 11th Circuit court in Atlanta ruled that Elián must stay in the United States until the Miami Gonzálezes could appeal for an asylum hearing in May.

Return to Cuba

Missing image
INS agents recover Elián González by force from his uncle's house; this photo, taken by AP photographer Alan Diaz won him a Pulitzer Prize.

Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the return of Elián, but the Miami relatives defied the order. Negotiations over how/when to transfer Elian were ongoing. The relatives insisted on guarantees that they could live with the child for several months, retain custody, and that Elian would not be returned to Cuba. Negotiations carried on throughout the night, but Reno claimed that the relatives rejected all workable solutions. A federal family court judge revoked Lazaro's temporary custody order, clearing the way for Elián to be returned to his father's custody. Janet Reno had the INS revoke Elián's visa, allowing her to arrest him for being an illegal alien.

In the pre-dawn hours of April 22, U.S. Marshals burst into Lazaro's home. A photograph by Alan Diaz of the Associated Press (for which he won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography) shows an INS agent with a MP5 submachine gun apparently pointed at terrified Elián and Donato Dalrymple (one of the men who had found him). (The INS agent later claimed that the weapon wasn't pointed at him, and that it only appeared that way from the camera angle.) The White House released a photograph showing a happy Elián reunited with his father. The raid had many critics, including Al Gore, Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, and Rudy Giuliani. [1] ( Harvard University Law Professor and Clinton supporter Lawrence Tribe wrote in the April 23 New York Times that the raid had shaken "the very safeguards of liberty."

Elián was taken to Andrews Air Force Base, then to the Wye River Plantation in Maryland, which was outside the 25 mile zone Cuban operatives were allowed to travel. The media was barred from access to the family. New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith, escorting the Miami Gonzálezes, was turned away from Andrews by guards. The May 5 Miami Herald reported that Elián was joined by his classmates (without their parents) and his teacher from his hometown, Cárdenas. Granma released pictures of Elián in a Young Pioneer uniform, Cuba's communist youth league. On May 6, attorney Greg Craig took Elián and Juan Miguel to a dinner in Georgetown thrown by Smith and Elizabeth Bagley.

After Elián was returned to his father's custody, he remained in the U.S. while the Miami relatives exhausted their legal options. (A three-judge federal panel had ruled that he could not go back to Cuba until he was granted an asylum hearing.) On June 1, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that Elián was too young to file for asylum; only his father could speak for him. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

Elián now lives with his family in Cárdenas.


Some argue that the media coverage of the affair couched their reports with stereotypes which would not have been tolerated toward any other ethnic group: Time Magazine described the Cuban-led Miami city government as a "banana republic"; the May 1 issue of Newsweek contained phrases like "the fiery Marisleysis" (Elián's cousin, who was seen as a maternal figure to the boy) and "the hotheads around Lazaro"; the New York Times called the Miami Cubans "haters"; the Chicago Tribune called them "crazies"; Pat Oliphant, America's most widely syndicated editorial cartoonist, drew an ape-like Lazaro thumping his chest.

External links

fr:Elián González pl:Elián González ru:Гонсалес, Элиан


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