Remember Elián González?
As a 5-year-old the Cuban native made world headlines when his mother, her boyfriend and about a dozen others fled the island to the U.S. on a small fishing boat latched to inner tubes.
González was rescued off the shores of Florida by fishermen, but in the weeks afterward he sparked an international custody fight between family members in the U.S. and his father in Cuba.
Two decades later, González is a member of Cuba’s National Assembly after winning Sunday with a slate of 470 candidates who were unopposed. And one of the first things he wants to do is bring the U.S. and Cuba to the table for a better relationship.
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“I think I could be someone the American people recognize, and I can help bring the American and Cuban people together,” he said in an interview with CNN.
“And not just the people, but also that our governments reach an understanding and remove all the barriers between us.”
Who is Elián González?
In 1999, Gonzalez was found clinging to a tiny flotilla which was caught in a violent storm that killed his mother and most of their group.
González’s father, who was divorced from his mother, wanted him returned to Cuba but relatives in Florida fought to keep him in the U.S. citing his mother’s wishes to flee the communist country.
Part of the issue was the debate during the Clinton administration era over the so-called “wet feet, dry feet” policy.
Essentially it said any Cuban intercepted on the waters between the two nations—hence “wet feet”—cannot remain in the U.S., while a person who made it to shore—or had “dry feet”—could obtain legal permanent resident status.
The Obama administration ended that policy in 2017.
Fidel Castro and Elián González
The custody dispute made headlines, and was injected in the country’s political bloodstream from late night TV shows to Sunday roundtables.
It also drew large protests in Havana and Miami that contrasted the divide between those representing Fidel Catro’s regime or the exile community debated González’s fate.
The courts sided with González’s father, but his relatives in Florida refused to give up the boy.
Five months after being rescued, however, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered federal law enforcement officials to seize him.
The result was one of the most riveting photos of the century with a Border Patrol agent seemingly aiming a semiautomatic rifle at a teary-eyed González, which circled the globe.
Where is Elián González now?
Now an industrial engineer, the 29-year-old González, who has long been critical of U.S. policies toward Cuba, is expressing how decades of Cold War tension must be put to rest.
“What we want is to reach a day when they are no longer exiles, that they come home,” González said.
González said how being a father of a 2-year-old child has given him a better understanding of what his father did to get him back and “how all the Cubans who are separated from their families feel.”
Just two years ago thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest against food and medicine shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the Biden administration added multiple economic sanctions in 2021.
Praising Fidel Castro
Years before being elevated to public office González publicly praised former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who he described as a second father.
“Fidel’s legacy is each Cuban and person in the world who has been touched by the revolution,” Gonzalez said in 2016.
“Fidel’s legacy is in each person affected by our programs, in every life saved from Ebola, in every Haitian saved with our missions, in every Latin American who has had eye surgery.”
For years González has been praised as a Cuban hero, and often was promoted by the Castro regime who spotlighted the episode as a way to criticize U.S. foreign policy.
During a 2013 youth rally in Ecuador, he blamed the U.S. for his mother’s death saying she like, “many others have died attempting to go to the United States.”
“But it’s the U.S. government’s fault,” González added. “Their unjust embargo provokes an internal and critical economic situation in Cuba.