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It’s been just over 15 years since federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez at the home of his Miami relatives. The story of the six-year-old boy’s escape from Cuba and the resulting high stakes custody battle dominated headlines in the first half of 2000. In the wake of Bush v Gore later that year, many pundits speculated that the Clinton Administration’s insistence on repatriating Elian may have swung Florida, albeit narrowly, over to George W Bush.
The story was largely forgotten after 9/11. In the years since, occasional interviews with Juan Miguel, Elian’s father, and carefully staged photo-ops between Elian and senior officials in the Cuban regime, acted as reminders of the Gonzalez tragedy. Typical accounts of the saga recall the story as “polarizing” and note that a majority of the American people wanted Elian returned to his father. Much of the Cuban-American community, which opposed the repatriation, was widely vilified by the mainstream press for putting ideology ahead of family.
An ABC interview aired last night is the first the now-adult Elian Gonzalez has given:
Today, Gonzalez says he’d like to come back to the United States, but only as a tourist, telling ABC News he’d like to see a baseball game, visit Washington museums and talk to Americans.
“For my family it has always been, we always have the desire to say to the American people, to say to each household our gratitude, appreciation and love that we have,” he said. “Perhaps one day we could pay a visit to the United States. I could personally thank those people who helped us, who were there by our side. Because we’re so grateful for what they did.”
At the time of his return, many of us feared that Elian would become a prop of Cuba’s communist government, being trotted out at official occasions, a smiling cover for the realities of an authoritarian state. Sadly, this fear has come only too true. Now he is being trotted out again, conveniently in the wake of the Obama Administration’s attempts to re-normalize US-Cuban relations.
It’s very likely that Elian Gonzalez will come to America in the near future, not simply as a tourist but as a propaganda symbol for a regime that rigorously controls the thoughts and movements of 11 million people. Knowing the biases of the Obama Administration, the media, and our cultural elite, he will almost certainly be feted by the great and good: a symbol of a new era when the Castro brothers and the state they rule over are no longer pariahs in the halls of Washington.
Those who have never lived under a dictatorship, have never been deprived of the freedom and opportunity that Americans take for granted, can view the drama that unfolded nearly a generation ago as nothing more than a family quarrel. Two Cuban families fighting an old battle with a little boy caught in the middle. For those who know better, for those who know why thousands of Cubans have risked their lives to reach the coastline of southern Florida, this is a tragedy plain and simple.
When Elian does return to America, surrounded by cameras and the false grins of the political leadership, please give some thought to the mother who died trying to make him an American.