Delfín González, the great uncle of a 6-year-old boy found clinging to an inner tube at sea 16 years ago, fought to keep him in the United States.
But Elián González’s Miami family lost that bitter custody battle, and his great uncle died Sunday without ever seeing him again after federal authorities removed the boy from the family’s home in Little Havana and returned him to his father in Cuba.
Delfín, 79, had been hospitalized since he was injured in a recent automobile accident.
A viewing is scheduled Tuesday from 6 p.m. to midnight at the Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Funeral Home, 8200 Bird Rd. A processional will leave the funeral home at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday for burial at Dade North Memorial Park.
A custody war waged for months after Elián, now a university graduate in Cuba, was found on Thanksgiving Day 1999. He was the only survivor after a boat carrying his mother and several others capsized off the coast of Florida.
His Miami relatives, including his great uncle Lazaro and Lazaro’s daughter Marisleysis, said it was his mother’s wish that he stay in the United States. But his father, Juan Miguel González, insisted his place was with him in Cuba. Ultimately the judicial system decided in the father’s favor, and Elián was removed from the family’s Little Havana home and returned to Cuba on June 28, 2000, after the Supreme Court rejected the final effort by his Miami relatives to keep him in the United States.
He became a national symbol in Cuba, and was publicly celebrated by Fidel and Raúl Castro.
In recent years, Delfín lived in the back of the house where Elián stayed during his short time in the United States and tended to a small museum dedicated to the fight to keep the boy in Miami.
“He was one of the humblest men you could ever meet. His participation in the case of Elián made it clear the love he felt for the boy,” said anti-Castro activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the leader of the Democracy Movement. “His struggle was to see his family united and living in freedom. It’s unfortunate that he died seeing Elián become an icon of the Cuban dictatorship and that he was never able to reunite with him in a free Cuba.”
In an interview that Elián gave to ABC News last year, he said he’d like to visit the United States — but as a tourist. And he said that he would be willing to meet with his Miami relatives, but only if they admitted they were wrong in trying to keep him in the U.S.
When told of Elián’s remarks, Delfín said he would still welcome his nephew for a visit. “Family has nothing to do with politics,” he said at the time. But Delfín added ruefully that he hadn’t spoken or communicated in any way with Elián since April 22, 2000 — the day of the raid.