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Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Elian prospers, one year on
Elian Gonzalez with his father
Elian does well at school; his father is a national hero
By Daniel Schweimler in Havana

Thursday marks the first anniversary of the return to Cuba of the young boy, Elian Gonzalez, who became the subject of a bitter custody battle after he was shipwrecked off the coast of Florida.

It pitted his Florida relatives and the anti-Castro Cuban exile community in the United States against his father and the Cuban government.

He had been picked up at sea by American fishermen after his mother and 10 others drowned when the boat they escaped in from Cuba capsized.

Hundreds of Cubans continue to make the hazardous journey across the shark-infested sea that separates the two countries.

No apparent trauma

One year after his return to Cuba, Elian - now seven years old - is doing well and has suffered no apparent psychological damage from his shipwreck or the trauma of his bitter custody battle.

Cuban President Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro attended Elian's birthday party
His father, Juan Miguel, in an interview broadcast on US television, said their life had gone back to normal and Elian was enjoying school in the small town of Cardenas, in central Cuba.

The media is not allowed to see him, but his father has become something of a national hero, often appearing at political rallies alongside President Fidel Castro.

Mr Castro was a guest at Elian's birthday party last December and Elian was visited by the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, in March.

Faded t-shirts bearing Elian's face are still worn on the streets of Havana - a reminder of the time when the boy became a figure of national pride.

Drowned

Elian became the subject of a bitter and well-publicised custody battle between his relatives in Miami, backed by the anti-Castro Cuban exile community, and his father, supported by the Cuban government.

Elian Gonzelez's mother, Elizabeth Broton Rodriguez
Elian's mother died trying to make the crossing
Elian's father said his son's only fear now was of television cameras.

A steady stream of Cubans continue to take to the sea on makeshift boats to try to reach the United States.

Some make it, some are returned to Cuba, while many - no-one knows how many - perish at sea.

The migration issue was discussed by officials from both countries at a meeting in New York this week.

No details have been released, but it is about the only subject being discussed by the two sides.

Relations between Washington and Havana are as bad now as they have been at any time in the 42 years since Fidel Castro came to power and little, if any, progress is likely.

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See also:

01 Jul 00 | Americas
Cuba rally celebrates Elian's return
29 Jun 00 | Americas
Politicians exploit the Elian factor
28 Jun 00 | Americas
Analysis: Castro's victory?
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