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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
How the saga unfolded

Elian has become a national icon in Cuba
On both sides of the Florida Straits six-year old Elian Gonzalez has become a legend in his own short lifetime. For seven months he has been a political pawn in Cuban-American relations.

The young Cuban boy first emerged dazed into the media spotlight at the end of November last year.



Miami friends and relatives showered him with gifts
He was one of three survivors plucked from waters off the Florida coast after the boat that had been smuggling them from Cuba capsized and sank. Ten others on the boat, including Elian's mother, drowned.

The Cuban relatives said Elian should stay in the US because that was his mother's dying wish.

Custody battle

His survival convinced relatives living in Miami and others among Florida's vocal Cuban community that Elian was pre-destined to stay.


The Elian saga
27 Nov: Rescued off Florida coast

5 Jan: INS decides Elian should return to Cuba

11 Jan: Miami judge grants uncle temporary custody

7 April: Elian's father arrives in US

22 April: Federal agents seize Elian.

25 April: Cuban-Americans go on strike in Miami

1 June: Court rules in favour of Elian's father

23 June: Appeals court reaffirms its decision

26 June: Miami relatives file last-minute appeal with the Supreme Court

28 June: Elian returns to Cuba
"God wanted him here for freedom," said Elian's cousin Mariselysis Gonzalez shortly after his rescue.

Her comment set the tone for a major international custody battle, making Elian a political pawn in the turbulent world of Cuban-American relations.

The US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) said the boy should be returned to Cuba, and that his father was the only person who could speak for the Elian.

That decision prompted his great uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, to seek temporary custody, which he was granted by a Florida family court.

The Miami relatives then filed a federal lawsuit, requesting a political asylum hearing for Elian.

Iconic status

Back in Cuba, Elian's portrait sat alongside those of President Castro and revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Mass rallies were staged accusing the US of kidnap and demanding Elian's return.



Juan Miguel Gonzalez was determined to take Elian back to Cuba
The Cuban leadership accused the US of playing politics with a child's life, arguing that if Elian had been from any other country he would have been returned immediately.

In January Elian's two grandmothers travelled to the US to appeal for his return.

His father, 31-year old Juan Miguel Gonzalez, flew to the US on 6 April with his wife and son, determined to take Elian home.

The raid

Attorney General Janet Reno ordered Lazaro Gonzalez to surrender Elian on 12 April.

The family refused and obtained a court order blocking Elian's father from taking him out of the country until the Court of Appeals made its decision.



Cuban exiles vowed to fight Elian's return
The government then went back to the Florida family court, where a judge revoked the great-uncle's temporary custody of Elian.

In the early hours of 22 April armed US federal agents stormed the Little Havana house, and dragged Elian away, screaming and crying.

There were huge demonstrations outside Lazaro Gonzalez's home, while across the Florida Straits in Havana mass rallied denounced the Miami relatives.

Final days in US

Elian was finally reunited with his father in Washington, and pictures were released showing Elian smiling. Protesters in Florida said the photos were fake but US public opinion remained in favour of Elian's father.



Elian's movements attracted huge media attention
The family went to stay in a Maryland retreat, away from the media spotlight, while waiting for the result of further appeals by the Miami relatives.

On 28 June, the order blocking Elian's return to Cuba expired, leaving the boy free to go home.

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See also:

29 Jan 00 | Americas
Mass rallies for Elian's return
29 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
The Dalai Lama of Little Havana
28 Jan 00 | Americas
Elian family feud hots up
27 Jan 00 | Americas
Elian battle on Capitol Hill
20 Jan 00 | Americas
Elian relatives seek court ruling
Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


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