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One month before Christmas at the dawn of the millennium, a child came to us.  Having come from an atheistic nation, his baptism probably came in the salt water on that day when his mother gave her life trying to raise her son in a free land.  That child was Elián González, and ten years ago this week he was returned to live with his father in Cuba.  It seems so simple at a glance.  The convolutions of his story may not make any sense to most people, but that winds up being the point of it after all.

The Cuban Government released this photo to the AP showing Elián today, a serious looking 16 year old boy in the military uniform of his school.  The odds are that most of the readers of this blog are at best puzzled as to why I would care about this little piece of Cuban propaganda.  Wasn’t this a simple custody case where the surviving father clearly had custody rights, regardless of where he lived?  I would say so.

Yet in saying so I am denying what I know to be true – that Elián González has become a symbol of so many things that have gone right past nearly every Anglo I know.  A little boy can be much more to us these days than a child in need of our nurturing – he can be a tool for promotion.  In this case, every side had an angle on him.

I knew there was trouble right away when I read the Spanish language press coming out of Miami.  When Elian was picked up as the only survivor on the raft, he was immediately known as “el Niño”, the boy – a term used at that time of year to describe the infant Jesus.  The man who found him first, Donato Darymple, was called “el Pescador”, the fisherman.  The language only became richer from there.

Elián González was more than just another boy, he was a testament to faith, one ran far deeper than Cuba Libre.  This little boy might even be Jesus himself, sent here to test our ability to be faithful to him.

That, by itself, is not too much of a story. What I found and still find fascinating is how little of this was understood by the English speaking world.  An entire controversy became lost in the translation, both linguistically and culturally.  The Clinton administration did what nearly every Anglo thought was the right thing and gave custody of Elián to his father, who promptly took the little boy back to Cuba.  It was all over but the shouting, but in a story like this there is always an awful lot of shouting left to do.

Fast forward a little bit to the election of 2000, which was without question very close in Florida, and you can see how costly this lack of understanding may have been.

Today, the Castro Brothers government uses Elián as a symbol of victory against the US, ignoring the simple reality that it was more of a victory for the rule of law over politics.  But the politics took the kind of turn that you can expect at one corner of the Bermuda Triangle, a turn that only happens when everything is disconnected and people shout right past each other.  Judge for yourself what happened to the rule of law when the politics became over-heated and evened up both sides.

Today, little has really changed.  People still talk past each other in various languages and cultures.  Politics has very little meaning in an atmosphere where no one can really make sense of what is happening around them.  For my part, I wanted to write about this for one simple reason – I was very happy to see Elián looking strong and fit, regardless of what uniform or flag was wrapped around him.

¡Vaya con Dios, mijo!

10 thoughts on “Elián

  1. That is one name I never thought I’d hear again. I do agree that it’s good to see him have a somewhat normal life – but the way Castro uses him is disgusting.

  2. I saw this picture yesterday or the day before… I am not sure where. Anyways, I saw it and it hurt me a little inside. I was very young when the whole ordeal went down, and I remember thinking “These people don’t understand eachother, and it doesn’t seem like they are trying to.”

    When I saw the photo of Elian now, my first thought (well, second-my first was that he is very handsome) was exactly what you said… it isn’t the Cuban government just trying to let us know how the kid is… it is them trying to slip in a little jab and say “we won”.

    A bit heartbreaking in a way.

  3. What an extraordinary story – I vaguely remember this making the news in the UK – but obviously it disappeared fast from the news items in the UK.

    I find this rather sad that he is still being used as a tool, a commodity. We should be celebrating the fact that he survived, has grown up and is seemingly in good health

  4. It always was an amazing story, but I think nothing else is as rich with a meaning that was totally missed by one side (who still don’t get it). And the use of a boy for propaganda is just disgraceful, of course.

  5. So many commentators, propaganda mongers of all types, writers, politicians…… so many people with vested interests in a position to publicize their viewpoints with so many lambasting the decision to reunite the Elian entity with his father as being something bad confused me for so long.

    Back then among the local herd of brainwashed American idiotic citizens it seemed I was a minute minority in declaring that the child belonged with his father.

    Especially since returning him did not appear to be placing him in harm’s way.

    What with the inherent sickness of USA society in general, despite the economic advantages here over Cuba, it is possible that Elian will attain greater happiness in the long-run within Cuba.

    I wonder if he will ever confront the ghetto thug culture in Cuba or have to fend off dangerous roving Chicano gangs in Cuba?

  6. I’m very happy to see this photo. He survived the tragic ordeal his ignorant mother put him into. He’s back with his father, his family and the country he loves.

  7. I don’t know if Elián is better off anywhere. All I know is that this was the strangest example of people talking right past each other that I have ever seen. And that using a kid for political gain is pretty sick stuff. I’m just glad to see he’s still doing well, and I’ll stay with that.

  8. Pingback: Winter Solstice | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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