Elián González says he wants to reconcile with his Miami relatives
- Elián González and his father say they want to heal the bitter wounds with US relatives
- “I wouldn’t be who I am had I not been in the United States,” says Elián, now 23
He is unassuming and low-key despite once being at the center of a bitter international custody battle involving two Cold War enemies.
Elián’s fiancée serves us coffee, and I marvel at how after years of covering Cuba I am suddenly in his living room. Unlike so many reports from González’s youth, there are no bodyguards in sight. And while the house is nice compared with some I have seen in Cuba, it’s hardly the mansion many people in Miami said González and his father would be rewarded with when they traveled back to the island.
After coffee, they take me down the street to the Museum of the Battle of Ideas, which is dedicated to the massive effort the Cuban government made to secure González’s return.
“That’s supposed to be my finger,” the elder González says pointing to sculpture of a giant middle finger on the wall across from the museum painted in the colors of the Cuban flag.
He explains it was inspired by his flipping off of protesters who he said heckled him when he arrived in the United States to bring his son back to Cuba.
After just a short while together, it began to seem that no argument would have ever succeeded in convincing Juan Miguel González to leave Cuba for good.
Inside the museum there’s a model of the huge demonstrations Castro led in front of the US diplomatic mission in Havana and the shirt Elián was wearing when he was rescued in an inner tube at sea after the boat he was traveling on from Cuba to the United States sank. His mother drowned before rescuers arrived.
HIs father came to the United States to press for his son’s return, and US immigration officials agreed he should have custody. But when relatives in Miami refused to hand the boy over, armed federal agents stormed the home of his uncle and seized him. An Associated Press photograph of the terrified child, cowering as an officer in riot gear points an assault rifle, inflamed passions even more.
Elián González says he still thinks about his experience in the United States but doesn’t believe his life there would have been better had he stayed.
“I think I 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,” he said. “I would have been used in that way. Maybe I would have become an actor on TV or maybe I would have more money than I have here with more comforts, but I wouldn’t have my family. I wouldn’t have the tranquility I have in Cuba. “
When he returned to Cuba in 2000, the Cuban government promised he would lead a normal life out of the public view.
But every so often he would appear at a government rally or alongside Castro, prompting criticism from anti-Castro Cubans that the boy had been turned into a pawn, or worse yet — had been indoctrinated.
“Well, if they had brainwashed me, I would say they hadn’t brainwashed me because I would have been brainwashed,” González said with a smile and a shrug as if to say he’s given up on trying to convince people his thoughts are his own.
“I think the best way to show they didn’t brainwash me and no one influences my decisions is Fidel,” he said, acknowledging the outsize role the leader personally had in the young boy’s life.
“Fidel put many things in my hands. Fidel told me if I wanted to be an athlete, he supported that; if I wanted to be a swimmer, he supported that. If I wanted to be an artist, he supported that and he did.”