On Thanksgiving Day, 1999, two boaters found a five-year-old boy named Elián González clinging to a raft. His mother, stepfather, and nine others were killed two days earlier when their boat capsized. Elián was the only survivor.

American Immigration officials delivered Elián to his great uncle, Lazaro González, a Cuban exile who lived in Miami. Elián’s father lived in Cuba and was divorced from his mother. When word reached Elián’s father in Cuba, he demanded that his child be returned home. Lazaro González refused; he said returning Elián to Cuba would be equivalent to child abuse. America’s vocal anti-Castro Cuban community demanded that Elián stay in America.


Elián González was five-years-old when he was rescued from a raft in 1999.

American law clearly states that Elián’s father—his closest living blood relative—had the right to return his son to him. Lazaro argued in court that an exception should be made in this extraordinary case. United States Attorney General Janet Reno tried to persuade Lazaro to give the boy to his father, but he refused.

Ms. Reno ordered immigration agents to seize Elián from Lazaro’s house and return him to his father. Elián and his father returned home to Cuba, seven months after Elián arrived in Miami.

Federal agents seize Elián González


Immigration agents seized Elián González from his uncle’s house

Elián grew up in Cuba. He finished college and is now an industrial engineer and the father of a young daughter. In 2023, he was elected to a seat in Cuba’s National Assembly.


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Elián González in 2010


In 2010, Elián González celebrated his eighteenth birthday with his father in Cuba.