On November 22, 1999, Elian Gonzales fled Cuba with his mother and twelve others in a small motor boat. Three days later, the 6-year-old boy was found clinging to an inner tube off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Authorities later learned the refugees’ boat capsized during a storm. Eleven refugees, including Elian’s mother, drowned.
US Immigration and Naturalization Services eventually decided to release the boy to his uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, who lived in Miami. Their decision led to an epic custody battle that gripped the nation.
Although Elian’s Miami relatives thought he should stay in the United States, his father wanted him returned to Cuba. Juan Miguel Gonzalez said his wife took Elian and fled Cuba without his knowledge.
Amid the custody battle, Elian’s father traveled to the United States to reunite with his son. However, his US relatives refused to comply. On April 22, 2000, armed federal agents stormed a Miami home and forcefully removed Elian.
As reported by the Washington Post, the legal drama lasted nearly eight months. On June 28, the US Supreme Court allowed Juan Miguel Gonzalez to return to Cuba with his son.
Elian Gonzales is now 20 years old. During the World Festival of Youth and Students the young man discussed how his life has changed following his harrowing journey. He said his life is “magnificent” and he is doing well:
“I haven’t suffered any consequences because of what happened. It has not affected me psychologically, but it has been hard for my family… Those were tough times.”
Although Elian has recovered from the incident, he still blames the US government for his mother’s death. In an interview with CNN, he explained his position:
“Just like her, many others have died attempting to go to the United States. But it’s the U.S. government’s fault. Their unjust embargo provokes an internal and critical economic situation in Cuba.”
Elian Gonzalez nearly lost his life as and his mother attempted to flee Cuba. However, he is now thriving in is native country. In addition to being a youth spokesman, Elian is attending a military school, where he is studying engineering.
[Image via Facebook]