Elián González: My time in the U.S. “changed me for life”

Photo of Elian Gonzalez published along with his interview on the CubaDebate website on Monday.
Photo of Elian Gonzalez published along with his interview on the CubaDebate website on Monday.

On the 14th anniversary of his rescue from a raft in waters off Fort Lauderdale, Elián González said he blames the Cuban Adjustment Act for his mother’s death and the international custody battle it sparked on his behalf.

In an interview with the Cuban weekly Girón published on the cubadebate.cu website, Elian, now 19, said his experience in Miami when he was 6 “charged me for life.”

Clearly echoing the wishes of the Cuban government, González used his interview to ask President Barack Obama to free the five Cuban spies convicted of espionage in Miami, denounced historic Cuban exile groups like the Cuban American National Foundation and Alpha 66 and called Operation Pedro Pan, which allowed thousands of Cuban children to escape indoctrination by Fidel Castro’s regime, “an imperialist hoax based on deceptions and used to cause pain.”

In the interview in Spanish, he said his basic rights as a child — “the right to be with my father, the right to maintain my nationality and remain in my cultural context” — were violated in the United States.

On Thanksgiving weekend 1999, the little boy was rescued by two Broward County fisherman. He was the youngest survivor after an overcrowded boat capsized en route from Cuba to Miami. His mother and 10 others seeking to enter the U. S. drowned at sea.

His Miami relatives fought to keep him in the U.S., saying that had been his mother’s wish. But his father in Cuba — and Fidel Castro — demanded he be returned. The Elián González saga culminated in a pre-dawn raid on April 22, 2000, when heavily-armed U.S. agents broke into the Miami home of González’s uncle on orders of then-Attorney-General Janet Reno with the ultimate goal of returning the boy to Cuba.

“Those days were very sad for me, which marked me for life,” González said Monday. “It never gave me the chance to think of my mother, who died at sea as a result of the Cuban Adjustment Act," he said, referring to the 1966 U.S. law that allows any Cuban who reaches the U. S. by any means to be paroled and given residency.

Havana has called the law "murderous" and blamed it for encouraging Cubans to board rickety boats to cross the Florida Straits in the hopes of reaching the U.S. González said he “suffered the consequences of the act.”

But he emphasized that “our struggle is not against the American people; it is against their government.” He said. “From the moment Americans knew of my case, they took to the streets to call for me to be sent back to my country."

The boy’s return to Cuba was a huge boon to then-leader Fidel Castro and a bitter letdown for many in Miami’s Cuban exile community.

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