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Trending: The Story of the Elian Gonzalez Photo

By David Schonauer   Thursday July 9, 2020


Who is Elian Gonzalez?

 And why was it news when, on Father’s Day, he announced that he was set to become a father?

"Soon I will begin to understand what it means to be a father," Elian Gonzalez wrote on his Facebook page, notes CNN. "But what I know up until now is my father and I hope to do it as half as well as he did with me.”

Twenty years ago, Gonzalez became a news sensation as the protagonist at the center of a custody case that sparked diplomatic and tensions between the United States and Cuba. The story found its emotional focus in one of the most famous news images of the era: The Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, by AP photographer Alan Diaz, showed a terrified 6-year-old Gonzalez hiding in a closet with his father as armed federal agents burst in.

The story began after Gonzalez, then five, was found clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast. His mother and nine others had drowned after the boat they were traveling in capsized while they attempted to reach the United States from Cuba. The boy went to live with relatives in Miami who refused to return him to his father in Cuba, notes CNN. Elian’s father,  Juan Miguel Gonzalez, said he was unaware of his ex-wife's plan to take the boy on the dangerous journey to the US.

The result was a custody battle in U.S. courts that turned into an international crisis. Eventually, adds CNN, U.S. immigration officials decided that Gonzalez should be returned to his father's custody, who came to the United States to argue for his son's return.

When federal agents arrived at the home where Elian was staying with his uncle, AP’s Alan Diaz was already inside. “The boy's family members had given Diaz permission to wait with Gonzalez for the impending raid,” noted CNN. “When an armed agent wearing riot gear entered the room, Diaz photographed him pointing a rifle at Gonzalez, who was being held in a closet. As Diaz stepped closer, the agent warned, ‘Back off!’”

"They came in, and I am shooting this, of course,” recalled Diaz, who died in 2018.

The decision to return Elian to Cuba, and Diaz’s photo of the armed raid, led to rioting in Miami’s Cuban American communities, where, notes CNN, many felt Gonzalez's return to Cuba would deliver a propaganda victory to Fidel Castro.

Elian grew up for the most part out of the spotlight in Cuba, but in 2017 he told CNN that he agreed with what his father had done and was a strong supporter of the Cuban government, though he also said he hoped to one day reconcile with his Miami relatives.

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