Elian Gonzalez, whose custody battle stoked Cold War-era tensions, set to become Cuban lawmaker

ByPatrick Oppmann, CNN, CNNWire
Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Elian Gonzalez speaks to the press in Havana, Cuba, in November of 2016.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

NEW YORK -- Elián González, the Cuban boy whose custody battle stoked Cold War-era tensions, has been nominated to serve in the island's National Assembly, the communist-party daily Granma said Monday.

The newspaper referred to González, now 29, as "representing the most worthy of the Cuban youth."

González's nomination all but secures his post in the 470-seat National Assembly that meets several times a year to discuss proposed laws, which the body usually votes unanimously to approve.

Under Cuban law, municipal assemblies nominate a single candidate to the National Assembly, which then Cubans can either ratify or vote against.l

Serving in the National Assembly would be the highest profile position for González since the agonizing custody battle between his father and relatives in Miami that led to the boy's return to the communist-run island in 2000.

Elian Gonzalez speaks to the press in Havana, Cuba, in November of 2016.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

On Thanksgiving Day 1999, González, then six years old, shot to fame after he was rescued from the Florida straits.

His mother Elizabeth and nine other people who were taking part in the clandestine journey drowned after their rickety boat capsized in high seas while they tried to make their way from Cuba to the United States.

González's survival seemed miraculous and distant relatives in Miami, supported by the anti-Castro exile community, vowed to keep him in the US.

Back in Cuba, Elián's father, Juan Miguel, fought to bring the boy home. Cold War politics soon dominated the fight over his custody as Cuban leader Fidel Castro led massive demonstrations on the island demanding Elián's return.

The case became a new flashpoint in the already boiling feud between supporters and opponents of Castro's revolution.

The boy's Miami relatives argued if he went back to Cuba, he would become a brainwashed trophy for Castro in his long-running feud with the US.

As the two sides fought out the high-profile case in court, US immigration officials decided to put Elián in the custody of his father, who had traveled to the United States to press for his son's return.

Elián's relatives in Miami refused to hand him over, and then, in a nighttime raid, armed federal agents stormed the home of his uncle and seized the boy.

Rioting broke out in Miami as many in the Cuban-American community reacted angrily to federal agents taking the boy.

Elián was reunited with his father and following more court proceedings -- ending with the Supreme Court rejecting the Miami relatives' efforts to get him back -- father and son flew home to Cuba.

A massive 'welcome home' demonstration

Cuba's government celebrated Elián's return with a massive demonstration.

For years to follow, he was surrounded by government bodyguards, and said later that they became some of his best friends during his childhood.

González's father, a waiter who had received invitations to defect while in the United States, was appointed to the island's National Assembly but later stepped down without any official explanation.

Despite the promises he would return to his old life, Elián González never stayed out of the public spotlight too long.

At the boy's seventh birthday party, the guest of honor was Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Images of Elián and Castro celebrating were first shown on the island's state-run TV and then transmitted around the world, to a public still fascinated by the case of the rafter-boy.

"I don't profess to have any religion, but if I did my God would be Fidel Castro. He is like a ship that knew to take his crew on the right path," González said in an interview with Cuba's state-run media in 2013.

González often said Castro was like a second father to him.

In a rare interview with CNN in 2017, González said he would like to reconcile with his relatives in Miami, but also made clear that he planned to continue vocally supporting the government that brought him home.

"Living here is a debt I owe to the Cuban people," González said. "That's who I will always work and fight for."

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