Elián González

Elián González
Born (1993-12-06) December 6, 1993
Nationality Cuban
Alma mater University of Matanzas
Organization Young Communist League
Known for Child custody and immigration case
Parent(s) Juan Miguel González Quintana (father)
Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez (mother, deceased)
Relatives Lázaro González (paternal great-uncle)

Elián González (born December 6, 1993) is a Cuban student who, as a young boy in 2000, became embroiled in a heated international custody and immigration controversy involving the governments of Cuba and the United States, his father, Juan Miguel González Quintana, his other relatives in Miami, Florida, and in Cuba, and Miami's Cuban American community.

González's mother, Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez, drowned in November 1999 while attempting to leave Cuba with González and her boyfriend to get to the United States.[1][2] The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) initially placed González with maternal relatives in Miami, who sought to keep him in the United States against his father's demands that González be returned to Cuba. A federal district court's ruling that only González's father, and not his extended relatives, could petition for asylum on the boy's behalf was upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, federal agents took González from his relatives and returned him to Cuba in June 2000.


Further information: Cuba–United States relations

Many Cubans have tried to leave Cuba for the United States since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. This emigration was illegal under both Cuban and U.S. law; any Cuban found at sea attempting to reach U.S. shores would be deported by the U.S. Coast Guard or if discovered by Cuban police, ostracized and prohibited from most Cuban institutions. U.S. policy has evolved into the current "wet feet, dry feet" rule: If a Cuban is picked up at sea or walking toward shore, he/she will be repatriated by force. If he/she can make it to shore ("dry feet"), he/she is permitted to make a case for political asylum.

Cubans who make it to U.S. soil are generally allowed to remain in the country. After a year, the Cuban Adjustment Act allows them to apply for U.S. residency. This differs from U.S. immigration policy applied to refugees of all other Caribbean nations, notably Haitians.[3] To monitor whether returned Cubans are subjected to persecution, the US Embassy in Havana, in cooperation with international organizations, maintains follow-up contact with the returned Cubans. The result of this monitoring has been a conclusion that there is no systematic legal policy of the Cuban government to persecute those Cubans who have been returned.[4]

Early life, journey to U.S. and custody battle

The journey from Cárdenas, Matanzas, Cuba, near Matanzas, to Florida

Elián González was born December 6, 1993 to divorced parents.[5] On November 21, 1999, González, his mother Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez, and twelve others left Cuba on a small aluminum boat with a faulty engine; González's mother and ten others died in the crossing. González and the other two survivors floated at sea until they were rescued by two fishermen, who turned him over to the U.S. Coast Guard. González's cousin Marisleysis said González told her the motor had broken on the boat and its passengers had tried in vain to bail out the water with nylon bags, but a storm doomed their efforts. He told her he tried to help get the water out and his mother's boyfriend placed him in an inner tube for safety. "He said afterwards that he fell asleep and that when he woke up he never saw his mother again". He said, "I think she drowned too because she didn't know how to swim".[6] Nivaldo Fernández Ferran, one of the three survivors on the boat, said "Elizabeth protected her son to the end". According to Ferran, they set out on their trip at 4 a.m., dragging inflated rubber floats, or inner tubes, in case they needed them. As they encountered bad weather, the boat's engine failed and the craft began to fill with water. After it went under, the passengers clung to the inner tubes in cold water, with waves reaching heights of three to four meters (10 to 13 feet).[7]

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) released González to his paternal great-uncle, Lázaro. According to the Washington Post, González's father, Juan Miguel González Quintana, had telephoned Lázaro from Cuba on November 22, 1999, to advise that González and his mother had left Cuba without Juan Miguel's knowledge, and to watch for their arrival.[8] However, Lázaro González, backed by local Cuban-Americans, soon took the position that the boy should remain in the United States and not be returned to his father in Cuba. Marisleysis González (Lázaro's adult daughter) became Elián González's principal caretaker, and quickly became a well-known television figure. Armando Gutierrez, a local Cuban-American businessman, became the family spokesman. However, Juan Miguel, with the support of his nation's authorities, demanded that the boy be returned to his care.

On January 21, 2000, González's grandmothers, Mariela Quintana and Raquel Rodríguez, flew from Havana to the United States to seek their grandson's return to Cuba. While they were able to meet with the boy only once (at the Miami Beach home of Barry University president Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin), they journeyed to Washington and met with congressmen and Attorney General Janet Reno. After nine days of relentless media coverage (during which Republican lawmakers acknowledged they did not have the votes to pass a bill to give González U.S. citizenship), the two women returned to Cuba to "a hero's welcome".[9]

On January 28, the Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes called for the boy's return to Cuba, stating that international law dictated the return. Meanwhile, the Miami Gonzálezes denied allegations that they had offered Juan Miguel a house and a car if he abandoned the action and joined his son in Miami.[10] Juan Miguel was uninterested in emigrating.

Through January and February, Juan Miguel sent a number of open letters to the U.S. Government — published in, among other places, the Cuban newspaper Granma — demanding the return of his son and refusing the Miami relatives' demands.[11]

Fathers’ rights attorney, Jeffery M. Leving spearheaded the amicus brief, which set the foundation of the custody case to reunite Elian Gonzalez with his father in Cuba.[12] Manuel Gonzalez, Elian Gonzalez’s great uncle, later retained Leving to reunite Elian with his father.[13][14]

On March 21, a Federal judge dismissed the relatives' petition for asylum which they had filed on behalf of Elián González. Lázaro vowed to appeal.[15] On March 29, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas was joined by 22 other civic leaders in a speech in downtown Miami. Penelas indicated that the municipality would not cooperate with Federal authorities on any repatriation of the boy, and would not lend police assets or any other assistance in taking the boy.

On April 14, a video was released in which González tells Juan Miguel that he wants to stay in the United States. However, many thought that he had been coached, as a male voice was heard off-camera directing the young boy. In a September 2005 interview with 60 Minutes after being sent back to Cuba, González stated that during his stay in the U.S., his family members were "telling me bad things about [my father]", and "were also telling me to tell him that I did not want to go back to Cuba, and I always told them I wanted to."[16]

Elián González remained a subject of media attention as he went to Walt Disney World Resort one day, then met with politicians the next. Throughout the custody battle, opinion polls showed that a majority of Americans believed González should be returned to his father in Cuba, and that doing so was in the boy's best interest.[17] On April 19, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that González had to remain in the U.S. until the Miami Gonzálezes could appeal for an asylum hearing in May.

Taken by federal authorities

Attorney general Janet Reno ordered the return of González to his father and set a deadline of April 13, 2000, but the Miami relatives defied the order. Negotiations continued for several days as the house was surrounded by protesters as well as police. The relatives insisted on guarantees that they could live with the child for several months and retain custody, and that González would not be returned to Cuba. Negotiations carried on throughout the night, but Reno stated that the relatives rejected all workable solutions. A Florida family court judge revoked Lázaro's temporary custody, clearing the way for González to be returned to his father's custody. On April 20, Reno made the decision to remove Elián González from the house and instructed law enforcement officials to determine the best time to obtain the boy. After being informed of the decision, Marisleysis said to a Justice Department community relations officer, "You think we just have cameras in the house? If people try to come in, they could be hurt."[18]

Federal agents retrieve Elián from his relatives' home in Miami. This photo won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News.[19]

In the pre-dawn hours of Easter eve, Saturday, April 22, pursuant to an order issued by a federal magistrate, eight agents of the Border Patrol's elite BORTAC unit as part of an operation in which more than 130 INS personnel took part[20] approached the house, knocked on the door, and identified themselves. When no one responded from within, they entered the house. Pepper-spray and mace were employed against those outside the house who attempted to interfere. Nonetheless, a stool, rocks, and bottles were thrown at the agents.[21] In the confusion, Armando Gutierrez called in Alan Diaz, of the Associated Press, to enter the house and entered a room with González, his great uncle's wife Angela Lázaro, her niece, the niece's young son, and Donato Dalrymple (one of the two men who had rescued him from the ocean). They waited in the room listening to agents searching the house. Diaz took a widely publicized photograph of a border patrol agent confronting Dalrymple and the boy.

INS also stated in the days after the raid that they had identified as many as two dozen persons who were "prepared to thwart any government operation", some of whom had concealed weapons while others had criminal records.[22][23]

Approximately 100 people protested against the raid as it took place, with some calling the INS agents "assassins".[24]

Public opinion about the INS raid on the Miami González's house was widely polarized. There were two major foci in media coverage of the event: the raid and the family reunions.[25] A Time magazine issue showed a photo of a joyful González being reunited with his father (the caption says "Papa!"), while Newsweek ran an issue that focused on the raid, entitled "Seizing Elián".[26]

Return to father's custody

Elián González poses with his father and family members in a photo taken a few hours after their reunion at Andrews Air Force Base.

Four hours after he was taken from the house in Miami, González and his father were reunited at Andrews Air Force Base.[27] The next day, the White House released a photograph showing a smiling González reunited with his father, which the Miami relatives disputed by claiming that it was a fake González in the photograph.[28] Later, González and his family were taken to the Aspen Institute Wye River Conference Center (formerly known as "Wye Plantation"). The media was barred from access to the family.[29] While the family was still at Andrews, New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith, escorting the Miami González relatives, was turned away from the base by guards.[30] The May 5, 2000, Miami Herald reported that González was joined by his classmates (without their parents) and his teacher from his hometown, Cárdenas. Granma released pictures of Elián in the Young Pioneer uniform of Cuba's Communist youth league.[31] On May 6, 2000, attorney Greg Craig took González and Juan Miguel to a dinner in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., hosted by Smith and Elizabeth Bagley.[32]

After González 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, but the case turned on the right of the relatives to request that hearing on behalf of the boy.[33] On June 1, 2000, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Elián was too young to file for asylum; only his father could speak for him, and the relatives lacked legal standing.[34] On June 28, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision.[35] Later the same day, Elián González and his family returned home to Cuba.[36]

Return to Cuba

Then-Cuban president Fidel Castro (center), whom Elián considered "not only as a friend but as a father". Photo taken in 2003.[37]

Gonzalez now lives with his father, stepmother and three brothers in Cárdenas,[38][39] where his father, Juan Miguel, is a waiter at an Italian restaurant at Josone Park, near Cardenas.[40] Elián's father was interviewed at the restaurant in 2004 by Keith Morrison of the NBC News program Dateline NBC and Cover to Cover on CNBC. Juan Miguel filmed a home video on which Gonzalez was shown doing his arithmetic homework with Juan Miguel in their dining room, going to bed in his bedroom with his two younger half-brothers, and attending karate lessons.[41]

Morrison's TV report also showed an 18th-century building in Cárdenas which was previously used as a fire station and which was renovated and inaugurated on July 14, 2001, as a museum, called Museo de la Batalla de Ideas ("Museum of the Battle of Ideas"), which includes an exhibition room dedicated to González, which houses a life-size bronze statue of González raising a clenched fist. The former González home in Miami has similarly been turned into a museum, with the boy's bedroom left unaltered.[42] Juan Miguel is also a member of the National Assembly and has attended events for the Communist Party of Cuba with González, who has been called up to the stage to meet Fidel Castro. Castro also attended a filmed birthday party of González with his schoolmates.

In September 2005, González was interviewed by 60 Minutes and stated during the interview that Fidel Castro was a friend, and that he considers Castro "not only as a friend but as a father"; González's aunt, Angela González, said she doubted whether the interview represented his true beliefs because of the controls imposed by Cuba on information.[37] In December 2006, an ill Fidel Castro was unable to attend González's 13th birthday celebration, so his brother Raúl attended instead.[43]

On August 16, 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an excessive force lawsuit brought by Dalrymple and others against the Federal Government and Reno.[21]

González joined the Young Communist Union of Cuba in June 2008 shortly after graduating from junior high school. At age 15, he began military school.[44][45] In a November 2013 speech, González described his time in the United States as "very sad times for me, which marked me for my whole life", asserting that the Cuban Adjustment Act led to the denial of his rights, including "the right to be together with my father, the right to keep my nationality and to remain in my cultural context".[46]

As revealed in a 2015 ABC News report, González was studying to be an industrial engineer, and hoped to marry his high school sweetheart and fiancée, Ilianet Escaño, after finishing college. He stated that although he did not regret returning to Cuba, he would like to travel to the United States one day "to give my love to the American people".[39] In July 2016, he received a degree in industrial engineering from the University of Matanzas, and read a letter to Fidel Castro from his graduating class, vowing "to fight from whatever trench the revolution demands".[47]


Commentators[48][49][50] have suggested that the Elián González affair may have been a factor in voters' decisions in the 2000 United States presidential election, which could have affected the close outcome in Florida.[51] Al Gore's[52] handling of the matter may have been as great a factor as anger by the predominantly Republican Cuban community over the boy's return to Cuba. Gore initially supported Republican legislation to give the boy and his father permanent residence status,[53] but later supported the Administration position. He was attacked by both sides in the dispute for pandering and being inconsistent.[54]

See also


  1. "Elian's relatives at war". BBC News. April 18, 2000.
  2. Haberman, Clyde (January 14, 2000). "NYC; A Tug of War As Complex As War". The New York Times.
  3. "UN fears for Haiti refugee plight". BBC. 2004-02-28. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  4. "U.S. Cuba Policy Rewards Illegal Immigration". Federation for American Immigration Reform. 2006-08-10. Archived from the original on October 5, 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-10.
  5. "Elián González Biography". Bio. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  6. Sue Plemming (27 March 2000). "Cuban boy draws picture of shipwreck drama". cubanet.org, quoting a Fox News article. Retrieved 2008-10-06.
  7. Diana Ray (14 February 2000). "A Love Supreme". BNET, quoting insightmag.com. Retrieved 2008-10-06.
  8. "The Politics of Elian". The Wall Street Journal. April 6, 2000. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  9. "Heroes' welcome for Elian grandmothers". BBC. 2000-01-30. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  10. "Spain backs Cuba over custody row". BBC. 2000-01-18. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  11. "Elian's father makes new appeal". BBC. 2000-02-15. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  12. The Group Who Filed Elian Gonzalez Brief, Supports INS Decision, PR Newswire, January 7, 2000. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  13. Jeffery Leving, attorney for Elian's great uncle Manuel Gonzalez, discusses the Elian Gonzalez custody hearing, CNN, May 11, 2000. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  14. Intervenor Applicant’s Resp. to Pls.’ and Defs.’ Opp’n to Mot. to Intervene and Mot. for Relief Under Rule 17(c) at 1, 14., Gonzalez v. Reno, 86 F. Supp. 2d (S.D. Fla. 2000) (No. 00-0206).
  15. "Elian asylum case dismissed". BBC. 2000-03-21. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  16. "Elian interview sparks Miami row". BBC News. 30 September 2005. Retrieved 2008-10-06.
  17. Newport, Frank (2000-04-04). "Americans Continue to Favor the Return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba". Gallup News Service. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
  18. Martin, Patrick (2000-04-25). "Rescue of Elian Gonzalez intensifies political crisis in US". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  19. 2001 Pulitzer Prizes
  20. Radio Havana account (See awards to INS for bravery)
  21. 1 2 "D. C. Docket No. 03-20588-CV-KMM" (PDF). United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. 2006-08-16. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  22. Deyoung, Karen (2000-04-28). "Officials feared danger in Elian raid". The Washington Post. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  23. Leahy, Patrick (2000-06-08). "Statement of Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, Concerning the Elian Gonzalez Case Subpoena". United States Senate. Archived from the original on 2007-06-01. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  24. "Federal agents seize Elian in predawn raid: Boy to be reunited with his father in Maryland". (April 22, 2000), CNN.
  25. Smith, Terence (2000-04-24). "Dueling Images". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  26. "Tufts Expert Says Privacy, Emotional Support Needed for Elian Gonzalez". Tufts E-News. 2000-04-24. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  27. DeYoung, Karen (2000-04-23). "Raid Reunites Elian and Father; U.S. Agents Seize Boy From Relatives and Fly Him Here; Protests Erupt in Miami". The Washington Post. p. A01.
  28. Robles, Frances; Wheat, Jack (2000-04-24). "Reunion Photo Stirs Controversy". The Miami Herald. p. 7A.
  29. "Raid critics still plan Senate hearings on Elian". The Palm Beach Post. 2000-04-26. p. 10A.
  30. Thomas, Evan (May 1, 2000). "Raid and Reunion". Newsweek. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  31. Borger, Julian (2000-05-30). "Soft landing for castaway Elian as Cuba rolls out tattered red carpet". The Guardian.
  32. Sands, David R. (2000-06-02). "Elian's dad lauds court custody ruling". The Washington Times.
  33. Bragg, Rick (2000-03-12). "Judges Ask Tough Questions About Cuban Boy's Interests". The New York Times.
  34. "Court gives government and father deadline to respond in Elian Gonzalez case". CNN. 2000-06-15.
  35. "Supreme Court refuses to block Elian Gonzalez's return to Cuba". Associated Press. 2000-06-28.
  36. "Elian Gonzalez leaves U.S. for Cuba". CNN. 2000-06-28.
  37. 1 2 "Elian interview sparks Miami row". BBC. 2005-09-30. Retrieved 2006-07-18.
  38. Gonazelez, David (July 8, 2000). "Cardenas Journal; The Town That's Proud to Say Elian Lives Here". The New York Times.
  39. 1 2 Avila, Jim (2015). "Elian Gonzalez, Now Grown, Opens Up About Life in Cuba". ABC News.
  40. Sequera, Vivian (November 23, 2000). "One year after fateful crossing, Elian is fading memory in Cuba". The Topeka Capital-Journal (Topeka, Kansas).
  41. Morrison, Keith (March 20, 2016). "Video of Elian Gonzales". Dateline NBC.
  42. "Elian's Miami home turned into shrine". BBC. 2001-10-22. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  43. "Raul Castro Attends Elian Gonzalez's 13th Birthday Party". Fox News. Associated Press. 2006-12-06. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
  44. "Elian Gonzalez joins Cuba's youth Communists". CNN.com. Associated Press. 2008-06-15. Archived from the original on June 16, 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
  45. "Elian 'joins Cuba's communists'". BBC News. 2008-06-16. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
  46. "Elián González: My Time In The U.S. 'Marked Me For My Whole Life'". Fox News Latino. November 19, 2013.
  47. "Elián González, onetime political football, now a college grad in Cuba". Fox News Latino. 15 July 2016.
  48. "Special Event". CNN. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
  49. Seelye, Katharine Q. (2000-03-30). "Boy's Case Could Sway Bush-Gore Contest". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
  50. "The Hispanic Vote and the U.S. Presidential Election". Knowledge@Wharton Network. 3 November 2004. Retrieved 2008-10-03.
  51. Alter, Jonathan (2006-04-23). "Taking Sides". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
  52. "MFAMEDIA.COM : The Saga of Elian Gonzalez: A News Media Riot?".
  53. 1. [106th] Whereas the mother of Elian Gonzalez sacrificed her life in fleeing Cuba to bring her son to a free country; (Introduced in House)[H.RES.480.IH ][PDF] 2. [106th] Expressing the sense of Congress that Elian Gonzalez should be reunited with his father, Juan Gonzalez of Cuba. (Introduced in Senate)[S.CON.RES.79.IS ][PDF] 3 . [106th] Expressing the sense of Congress that Elian Gonzalez should be reunited with his father, Juan Gonzalez of Cuba. (Introduced in House)[H.CON.RES.240.IH ][PDF] 4. [106th] For the relief of Elian Gonzalez and other family members. (Placed on Calendar in Senate)[S.2314.PCS ][PDF] 5. [106th] For the relief of Elian Gonzalez. (Introduced in House)[H.R.3532.IH ][PDF] 6. [106th] For the relief of Elian Gonzalez-Brotons. (Placed on Calendar in Senate)[S.1999.PCS ][PDF] 7. [106th] For the relief of Elian Gonzalez-Brotons. (Introduced in House)[H.R.3531.IH ]PDF
  54. Clymer, Adam (2000-06-02). "While Conservatives and Liberals React, Gore and George Bush Hedge on Ruling". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
  55. Daniels, Roger (2005). Guarding the golden door: American immigration policy and immigrants since 1882. Macmillan. p. 209. ISBN 0-8090-5344-6

Further reading

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