Cardenas, Cuba (CNN) — More than two decades after he was found floating in the Florida Straits, Elián González assumes his most prominent role since the bitter custody battle that returned him to Cuba.
On Monday, Cuba’s National Electoral Council said that all 470 candidates for the island’s National Assembly, including González, had received voter approval. More than 89% of voters in Cárdenas, González’s hometown, voted for him, according to authorities.
There was little doubt about the end result: Candidates are shortlisted and run unopposed. And being a legislator in Cuba does not necessarily imply having a lot of power. Members of Congress only meet a few times a year, invariably support government proposals, and don’t even get paid.
But González’s new position indicates he will be more visible at a time when the Cuban government sorely needs name-recognized representatives abroad, as well as among younger Cubans who are fleeing the island in record numbers.
“I am someone that the American people know and I can help unite the American people and the Cuban people, and not just the people,” a 29-year-old González, now bearded, told CNN.
“Let our governments come to an understanding and remove all barriers between us. Our country has no sanctions with the United States.”
González spoke to CNN after going to vote on Sunday with his wife and two-year-old daughter in Cárdenas, which, like many small towns in Cuba, has been wracked by economic calamity: tougher US sanctions, the slow pace from communist-led government reforms, a pandemic that scared away tourists and inflation that has made state salaries worth next to nothing.
Having a daughter, González said, gave her a new perspective on the decisions her own father, Juan Miguel, made when in 1999 Elián’s mother drowned after trying to take him with a group of emigrants on the dangerous boat trip across the Florida Strait.
“It’s helped me understand my dad more,” he says. “It has made me more sensitive. It has helped me understand how all Cubans who are separated from their families and parents who cannot give all the attention and things that their children want feel.”
After being rescued, González was welcomed by relatives in Miami.
News of his miraculous survival led many in Miami’s anti-Castro community to argue that the wishes of González’s mother should be respected and that the boy should remain in Florida.
The dispute inflamed Cold War-era passions, with then-Cuban President Fidel Castro leading protests demanding Elián’s return outside the US embassy in Havana, and Cuban exile leaders vowing they would not allow for the child to return to live under a dictatorship.
Finally, after Juan Miguel, Elian’s father, traveled to Washington, US courts upheld his requests to be reunited with his son.
A nightly raid by armed federal agents on the home of his relatives in Miami sparked riots in the city and returned Elián to his father. When the United States Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case, Elián and Juan Miguel returned to the island.
In Cuba, the now famous González and his family led a not entirely normal life. Fidel Castro attended the boy’s birthday parties in Cárdenas and the family had bodyguards. Elián went to a military school and studied engineering.
When he gave infrequent interviews, he expressed his support for the revolution, which to many in Miami was proof that Elián had been brainwashed and should never have been allowed to return to Cuba.
“At 29, he is a puppet for Cuba, as many exiles feared,” said an opinion piece published by the Miami Herald Editorial Board in February. “Many historic Cuban exiles in Miami will view this news with great sadness.”
Although González grew up and moved on, anger between those loyal to the revolution and Cuban exiles forced to leave the island continues to burn red hot.
At a World Baseball Classic game in Miami in February, which was supposed to unite different countries around a shared love of the sport, exiles booed Cuban players on the field.
The authorities in Havana responded that the exiles were “worms”, an epithet that Fidel Castro used for Cubans who left the island.
More than sixty years after the Cuban revolution, as the island approaches economic ruin and the exiles are no closer to returning home, it is hard for either side to truly believe they are winning.
González is perhaps the only Cuban who has been inside the centers of power in both Miami and Havana, seeing how those who run Cuba and those who lost it think and work.
Despite being thrust into the center of that harsh tug-of-war, González says he doesn’t hold grudges, is grateful to the Americans who helped him return home, and hopes to reconcile with the Florida relatives who tried to prevent his return. .
And as a rare Cuban who has left and returned, he hopes that the exodus of Cubans currently leaving the island can also see a future in their homeland.
“What we want one day is for the Cuban exiles to stop being exiled, for them to return home,” González said.
“When the young people who left are willing to work for Cuba, for the welfare of Cubans beyond a political party and beyond ideologies,” he said. “Our doors are open to build a better country, which is what we need.”
Source: CNN Espanol