Analysis: Elian living a normal life

By LES KJOS  |  April 18, 2005 at 3:14 PM
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MIAMI, April 18 (UPI) -- Five years after Elian Gonzalez was taken into federal custody in a raid on the home of his Miami relatives, he is living a normal life in Cuba.

His memory is also living on in Florida.

The boy who was 5 years old when he arrived in south Florida on an inner tube after his mother drowned on a trip from Cuba is living with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, in Cardenas, Cuba.

Elian lives in a tidy blue home and has several pets.

On April 22, 2000, U.S. agents raided the home of Elian's Miami relatives and took quick custody of him.

The relatives and man in Miami's Cuban-American population had hoped to keep him in Miami for good, but the federal government wanted him returned to his father and then to Cuba.

The Supreme Court ruled in the government's favor after the raid, and two months later Elian and his father returned to Cuba and the life they now lead.

It seems like a reach, but the Terri Schiavo case even brought back memories of the Elian Gonzalez case.

The cases highlight congressional efforts to pass emergency legislation to alter the outcome and the courts' unwillingness to intervene or reconsider earlier decisions.

Other similarities are more generic, such as the feverish media coverage and the sharp division of opinions across the nation.

Schiavo was the brain-damaged woman from Tampa, Fla., whose husband said he was obeying her wishes by removing her feeding tube and allowing her to die. Her parents said she wanted to keep on fighting for her life.

The courts ruled for Michael Schiavo, the husband, and despite a law passed by Congress asking for a review, she died March 31.

The links between the two cases are shaky at best, but columnists and Internet bloggers still look for a connection -- perhaps because both happened in Florida and both occurred at Easter time.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta was involved in both cases, but that's because the court covers Florida.

Politically, the big similarity is that the party in control at the time of both cases didn't come out looking very good. The Democratic administration finally had to use force to remove Elian from the Miami home when perhaps it could have been done more peaceably earlier in the game.

Republican efforts to save Schiavo failed, alienating some conservatives. And polls showed that most of the rest of the country doesn't think the GOP should have intervened in the first place.

Those who believe five Cubans who have been convicted in Miami of spying on the United States have even brought up the Cuban case. The refusal of the United States to allow the daughter of one of the five in a U.S. prison contains the same emotional principles, said attorney Rafael Rodriguez Cruz.

But he said there is a media blackout in the Cuban spies case as there was not in the Elian Gonzalez case.

Memories of Elian also popped up last week when Jack Bulger, the head of the Miami immigration office for nine years, was transferred to Rome.

He said Elian was his toughest case, and the immigration office was as divided on the issue as anybody else.

On the surface, all this commotion seems to contrast with Elian's peaceful existence in Cuba.

"Sometimes it seems like a dream, something that should not have happened," said Juan Gonzalez Sr., Elian's grandfather, of the events five years ago.

"I want him to be a good man, to good deeds, not do anything he will regret. Everything else is all right," the grandfather told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Havana bureau.

But there are signs of what happened in the past.

Plainclothes security officers are stationed in front of the 11-year-old boy's home to keep strangers away, and a museum in town has plenty of artifacts from the case.

Included is a T-shirt worn by fisherman Sam Ciancio the day he rescued Elian off the Florida coast and schoolbooks his friends used when they came to visit him in Washington.

Yet the family insists Elian is living a normal life.

His greataunt, Haydee Gonzalez, 61, said Elian is a quiet boy, but he has recovered from the turmoil that he experienced in Florida.

"He has adapted. He has continued to be a very normal child. His relations with his other little friends are the same, without egotism," she said.

"We imagine if it had been another boy he might have had trauma, but he has overcome it well and continues to do well in school," she said.

His grandfather said Elian saw a psychiatrist to help him cope when he first arrived back in Cuba, but the family no longer thinks that is required.

Elian's father is a waiter in a tourist restaurant and is seeking a university degree in tourism. He declined to be interviewed by the Sun-Sentinel.

He was elected to the National Assembly in 2003, and he and Elian visit with President Fidel Castro occasionally.

"He (Castro) is always interested in how Elian is doing in school," Gonzalez Sr. said.


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