On November 23, 1999 a boat carrying a child, Elian Gonzalez and his mother Elizabeth capsized after leaving Cuba near the Florida coast. Elizabeth died but Elian was rescued by two fishermen. This event initiated a crisis with Elian’s father requesting that the child be returned to Cuba while his family in Florida requested asylum for Elian. In June 2000, U.S. federal agents seized Elian and returned him to Cuba despite the opposition of most in the Cuban-American community.
The Elian case seems to have weakened, at least temporarily, the Cuban-American community’s political clout. Yet it focused indirectly the attention of the American public and the media on the nature of the Castro’s regime and its violations of human rights. Time and again Americans have been exposed to Castro’s manipulations and attempts to control the Elian affair. It is true that most Americans were annoyed with the delay in the reunification of Elian with his father as well as with Cuban-American protests.
The Elian case also mobilized and energized the Cuban-American community in Miami like no other event has been able to do. For the past four decades the Cuban-American community struggled to “make it” in America, peaceful, respectful of the law. The community turned its energies toward informing the American public about Cuba’s reality, preventing a normalization of U.S. relations with Castro and reversing the unfair demonizing of Cuban-Americans that had taken place in the America media.
The Cuban community also became disillusioned with an alienated from American society and particularly from the Democratic Party. Since the Bay of Pigs events in 1961, Cubans have felt that the Democrats “betrayed” the Cubans’ aspirations to free their homeland. The sending of Elian back to Cuba was seen as another betrayal and rekindled feelings that have been dormant for many years.
In the final analysis the Elian case developed into a wake-up call for the American public not to provide a gift of trade, investment and tourism to an aging anti-American dictator that certainly had done nothing to deserve it.