There are child custody cases, and then there are child custody cases. For sheer drama, those old enough to remember and paying attention were riveted to the news over a several-month period in late 1999 and early 2000 as events unfolded in Miami that gripped the attention of much of the world.
And the intense focus and scrutiny all centered on one little boy, 5-year-old Elian Gonzalez, a Cuban youngster found clinging to an inner tube off the Florida shore on Thanksgiving Day 1999. Elian’s mother and others along with her had fled Cuba for the United States. Excepting Elian, they all drowned.
Elian was brought to live with a large and loving family of relatives in Miami, but his father — back in Cuba — protested continuously, and the Cuban government demanded the boy’s repatriation.
As was noted by many commentators then, as well as now, the matter of Elian Gonzalez was one of the few things that the U.S. and Cuban governments ever agreed upon during the Cold War era. American immigration officials determined that, as a matter of law, Elian needed to be sent back to his father.
The Miami relatives refused to let him go, and that act led to one of the more iconic and memorable photos of recent times: an obviously frightened Elian in the arms of a military-clad federal agent, with another agent standing next to him with a rifle in his hands.
The years have passed, and occasional reports of Elian and glimpses of his life back in Cuba reveal a well-adjusted and happy boy.
Elian Gonzalez turned 18 last month.
Source: MSNBC, “All grown up: Elian Gonzalez, survivor of raft journey from Cuba, turns 18” Dec. 6, 2011