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Saturday, 15 July, 2000, 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK
Castro meets castaway Elian
Elian's grandfather at Havana airport
Warm welcome for Elian when he returned to Cuba
Cuban leader Fidel Castro has finally met Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old boy who became the focus of an international custody battle after he was shipwrecked off the US coast last November.

In what was believed to be the first meeting between the Cuban president and Elian since the boy's return from the US, Castro "was able to meet and greet Elian" on Friday during a visit with his family, the government said.

Fidel Castro
Castro backed Elian's father in urging his return to Cuba
The official Communist party daily, Granma, said on Saturday that the Cuban leader had congratulated the boy for successfully completing the first grade after a crash course to bring him up to date with the studies he had missed during the seven-month custody dispute.

Elian finally returned to Cuba on 28 June after his exiled relatives in Miami lost a legal battle to keep him in the US.

Granma said that Castro had also given Elian a copy of The Golden Age, a children's book written by Cuba's 19th century independence hero, Jose Marti.

Castro wrote a dedication in the book: "For when you are in the fourth or fifth grade and can enjoy one of the most tender works of Marti."

Media circus

Observers speculate that Castro may have deliberately waited a few weeks before meeting Elian to avoid accusations of political exploitation. Castro had pledged that Cuba would shield the boy from media attention on his return to the island.

Dawn raid
Pictures of the dawn raid brought Elian to worldwide attention
Elian first emerged into the media spotlight last November when he was rescued at sea after the boat in which his mother was trying to take him illegally to the US capsized, killing her and most of the other migrants.

The boy stayed at his relatives' home in Miami until 22 April, when federal agents raided their home and reunited Elian with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, outside Washington.

The dawn raid - which was covered live on television - sparked huge protests in Miami, while across the Florida Straits in Havana mass rallies denounced the Miami relatives.

Since returning to Cuba, the Gonzalez family has been staying at a government guest house in west Havana to allow Elian to readjust to Cuban life and catch up on his schooling.

The family is now reported to be planning to spend a week at a resort near their hometown of Cardenas before finally returning home.

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See also:

01 Jul 00 | Americas
Cuba rally celebrates Elian's return
29 Jun 00 | Americas
Elian: The sequel
29 Jun 00 | Americas
Picture gallery: Elian returns home
29 Jun 00 | Americas
Mixed emotions over Elian return
29 Jun 00 | Americas
Politicians exploit the Elian factor
28 Jun 00 | Americas
Analysis: Castro's victory?
27 Apr 00 | Americas
What's life really like in Cuba?
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