Little Bits of History

Going Home

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 28, 2013
Elián González being rescued

Elián González being rescued

June 28, 2000: Elián González returns to Cuba. It is only 90 miles from Cuba to Key West, Florida, but it is a world of difference politically and ideologically. Fidel Castro’s Cuba was oppressive. Cubans found at sea by either the US or Cuba were returned to Cuba. Usually, if the fugitives could make landfall, they were permitted to stay. This was called the “wet feet, dry feet” rule. Fugitives who were returned to Communist Cuba were monitored by the US Interest Section in Havana. The distance from Cuba to Miami is about twice as far as to Key West. Miami is 34% Cuban, about 1.7 million people, and is the usual destination for refugees.

In November 1999 Elián, his mother, and 12 others left Cuba on a small boat with a defective engine. The motor broke and all aboard tried to bail out water pouring in during a storm. Elián, only 5-years-old, was set in an inner tube for safety. He fell asleep and awoke to a nightmare. The boat sunk in the 10-13 feet waves. The refugees clung to inflated rubber floats as long as they could. Only three people survived the storm. Elián’s mother died at sea. The survivors were picked up by fisherman who turned them over to the US Coast Guard. According to the wet feet, dry feet rule, they should have been sent back to Cuba.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) handed the young boy over to his paternal great-uncle, Lázaro González. Elián’s father, Juan Miguel, had called his uncle in Miami telling the older man that Elián and his mother had left Cuba without his knowledge and to be on the lookout for them. With the backing of the Cuban-American population in Miami, the US Gonzálezes fought to keep the young boy in the States. They claimed his mother had sacrificed her life to get her son to freedom.

The fate of the young boy captured the nation’s heart. In January, the boy’s grandmothers flew to Miami to ask for his return to Cuba. Juan Miguel wrote open letters to the US asking for his son’s return. Legal battles were waged, won, or lost. Early on April 22, 2000 SWAT-equipped agents and 130 INS personnel surrounded the house and Elián was removed at gunpoint. Elián was taken to Andrews Air Force Base and reunited with his father. More legal battles were waged and it was decided Elián was too young to ask for asylum and he was returned to Cuba with his father.

“Asylum seekers are not looking for an asylum, just for a good place to live.” – Loesje

“Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.” – Samuel Adams

“Our first responsibility is to protect the American people and we cannot put on blinders to expect that everyone who seeks asylum does so in good faith.” – Bill Shuster

“These reports are deeply worrying. Asylum seekers are being treated as packages to be processed and removed rather than as very vulnerable human beings.” – Maeve Sherlock

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Elián’s father has been interviewed several times since his son’s return. In 2004, a video of Elián was shown, but Miguel declined having interviews with his son, stating he was afraid of reporters. By the next year Elián himself was interviewed and said Fidel Castro was more than just a friend and like a father to him. In December 2006, Fidel was unable to attend Elián’s birthday party so Raul Castro went in his stead. Earlier that year, the US Court of Appeals affirmed a dismissal of an excessive force lawsuit brought concerning the removal of Elián from his relative’s house. In June 2008 Elián, then 15-years-old, began military school after joining the Young Communist Union of Cuba.

Also on this day: The Kelly Gang – In 1880, Ned Kelly was captured.
Conformation Dog Show – In 1859, the first show was held.
Boxed In – In 1948, Dick Turpin won his boxing match.

Tagged with: ,