Elián González Biography

(1993–)
In 1999, 5-year-old Elián González became the center of international controversy when he was found floating alone on an inner tube near Miami after leaving Castro's Cuba with his mother.

Synopsis

Elián González was born in 1993 to divorced parents. In 1999, his mother brought him along when she decided to escape the Castro regime, but drowned during the journey. Florida fishermen found 5-year-old Elián floating alone off the coast, near Fort Lauderdale. Although his Cuban-American relatives fought to keep him in the United States, Elián's father insisted on his return to Cuba. The Clinton administration ultimately backed the father's claim and extracted Elián forcibly in 2000.

Profile

Born December 6, 1993, in Cárdenas, Cuba, Elián González became the focus of an international political uproar in late 1999 and early 2000 after he was rescued from a boat accident that killed his mother and a small group of other Cuban refugees trying to reach Florida in November of 1999.

Elián’s parents, Juan Miguel González and Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez, were both natives of Cárdenas, Cuba. The couple divorced in 1991 after six years of marriage, but continued their efforts to have a child until 1993, when Elián was born. The couple separated for good in 1996, but both remained close with their son, who spent up to five nights a week with his father or one of his grandmothers and the rest of the time with his mother, who had moved in with her boyfriend, Lazaro Rafael Munero. Rodríguez took Elián with her when she and Munero decided to flee the harsh economic conditions of Cuba in a boat bound for America. His mother and ten others aboard their vessel would not survive the journey.

Elian Gonzalez Photo

Elián González became the center of international controversy when he was found floating alone on an inner tube near Miami after leaving Castro's Cuba with his mother. (Photo: Jorge Rey/Getty Images)

After two Florida fishermen found Elián stranded on an inner tube floating offshore near Fort Lauderdale on Thanksgiving Day, members of his extended family took him into their care. By the time the youngster celebrated his sixth birthday in December of 1999, he had become a symbol of the long-running feud between the community of Cuban exiles living in the United States (particularly in Florida) and the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Even as Elián's Miami relatives, particularly his great-uncles Lázaro and Delfin González and his cousin, Marisleysis González, insisted that he stay in the U.S. and gain the new life his mother had wanted for him, Castro and the boy's family in Cuba — and eventually the U.S. government — stood behind Juan Miguel González, who wanted his son back.

After months of legal squabbling, endless press coverage, and heated demonstrations in both Miami and Cuba, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, with the full backing of President Bill Clinton, ordered that Elián's relatives in Miami surrender him to U.S. Department of Justice custody. When they refused, Reno ordered a dramatic and controversial dawn rescue mission that unfolded in the early morning hours of April 22, when federal agents, armed with submachine guns, forced their way into the Miami home of Lazáro González and seized a terrified Elián. Alan Diaz, a photographer for the Associated Press, captured a dramatic image of the moment in a photograph that won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.

Elián was flown to Washington, D.C., immediately and reunited with his father. They subsequently returned to Cuba and were greeted with great fanfare. The González family enjoyed special treatment from the Castro administration. In fact, for many years, Fidel Castro himself attended Elián's birthday parties.

Adulthood

While Elián may have receded from the headlines of American media, he has remained a prominent figure in Cuba, as has his father, who was viewed by Castro as a national hero for taking his custody claims to the highest levels (just three days after Elián was found at sea, his father filed a complaint with the United Nations, requesting the return of his son). Cuban journalist Lissy Rodríguez has written that it was not possible for González to return to Cuba and simply reintegrate quietly into society because his story epitomized Cuban family and social values.

Elian Gonzalez Photo

Elián González in 2013. (Photo: CNN)

Elián and his father have been seen frequently at important national events, such as protests for the return of “The Cuban Five” (five Cuban intelligence officers who were accused of espionage by the U.S. and held in federal detention for more than a decade) and a welcome home ceremony for the Five when they were released from U.S. custody. In González's home town of Cárdenas, there's even a statue of him, fist raised in the air, outside a museum, and it was Fidel Castro himself who inscribed Elián in the Communist Youth Union in 2008.

In 2010, Elián entered a Cuban military academy and was frequently photographed in his olive green uniform. He went on to graduate with an engineering degree from the University of Matanzas in 2016. 

In his free time, González enjoys swimming, playing baseball, going out with friends, watching movies, listening to music, and spending time with his fiancée, Ilianet Escano. González has also told the press that he enjoys reading, and above all, reading Fidel Castro's books. He says that Castro would send him books regularly.

In a May 2015 interview with ABC News, González said he would like to return to the United States as a tourist, “to see a baseball game, visit Washington museums, and talk to Americans.” His uncle, Delfin González, from whose home Elían was removed, said the family would be happy to see him, and that, despite efforts to communicate with him, they have not had contact with Elián in the years since he returned to Cuba. 

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