Little Havana - Flagami

Elián González, now 23, says he would like to reconcile with his Miami relatives

Documentary Trailer: Elián

Just after dawn on Thanksgiving Day 1999, two South Florida fishermen rescued a 5-year-old boy from the Florida Straits. Thus began the saga of Elián González, who became caught up in a bitter international custody battle.
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Just after dawn on Thanksgiving Day 1999, two South Florida fishermen rescued a 5-year-old boy from the Florida Straits. Thus began the saga of Elián González, who became caught up in a bitter international custody battle.

Cuba’s Elián González would have become the “poster boy” for Cubans in Miami had he stayed in the U.S., he told CNN in an exclusive interview.

But, both he and his father, Juan Miguel, said they hope to reconcile with their family in Miami.

González, 23, and his father sat down with CNN ahead of the documentary “Elian,” which airs at 10 p.m. Thursday night on CNN.

At their home in Cardenas, which is east of the province of Havana, González said he believed that he would have become the “poster boy for that group of Cubans in Miami that tries to destroy the Revolution, that try to make Cuba look bad.”

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Elián González, the young Cuban rafter who was at the center of a bitter custody battle in 2000 between relatives in Miami and his father in Cuba, attends a gala for the 90th birthday of Cuban Leader Fidel Castro at the ‘Karl Marx’ theater in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. (Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate via AP) Ismael Francisco AP

“I would have been used in that way,” he said. “Maybe I would have become an actor on TV or maybe I would have more money than I have here with more comforts.”

He wouldn’t, however, have his immediate family or the tranquility he has in Cuba, he said.

Two South Florida fisherman found González, then 5 years old, floating on an inner tube in the open sea on Thanksgiving Day 1999. The small aluminum boat that initially carried 14 people from Cuba, including his mother, broke up and took on water. His mother perished along with 10 others.

When he came ashore, his Miami relatives took him into their Little Havana home, setting off an international custody battle between his father, who had remained in Cuba, and his Miami relatives. The battle polarized the Cuban community and all of South Florida, with some believing he should not be returned to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, while others thought his place was with his father.

In predawn hours of April 22, 2000, the Saturday before Easter Sunday, armed federal agents seized Elián from his relatives’ Miami home. The picture of a traumatized Elián staring at the barrel of an agent’s rifle flashed across TVs and newspapers worldwide.

In response to President Donald Trump’s new harder-line policy on Cuba, González said: “I only hope that relations improve until our differences can be cleared up. Everyone can have their different point of view, have their political differences, but I don’t think the countries and that families should continue to be separated.”

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