A Storyville documentary: the story of Elian Gonzalez and the bitter custody battle between his Cuban father and American relatives that played out in the aftermath of his rescue.
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This programme contains very strong language.
I remember that day very vividly.
It was Thanksgiving.
It was pitch-black to the north,
and to the east was, like, this ray of light
coming up with us, where the sun was starting to come up.
They called me the fisherman,
but I really hadn't been out fishing a lot.
My cousin, Sam, he is more of a fisherman than me.
He said, "Look for seaweed, look for debris,"
anything that was floating on the ocean's surface.
Maybe, like, three miles off the coast, I said to him,
"Like that inner tube right there?"
He said, "Yeah, go over there."
And I said to my cousin, "Look at that, it's a sick joke."
We thought it was a doll tied to an inner tube.
We thought it was, like, a joke, you know?
We're rocking all over the boat
and all of a sudden I see the hand move.
He goes, "Hurry! Go, go, go, go!"
Before I could blink my eyes,
my cousin's not on the boat any longer.
He's in the water and he's screaming, "It's a baby!"
When I got underneath him, he reached over, he grabbed me
by the neck and I tried to kick my way back to the boat.
I'm trying not to fall into the water and he's trying to push up.
And I just grabbed this child and I held him in my arms.
And then my cousin got on the phone with his wife.
All the local news stations, they were out there on helicopters.
They were thinking, "Wow, this is
"a little bigger than what we thought it was."
Don't worry about me. Just go ahead.
Do you know this boy?
-And from the ocean waters off the coast
of Florida tonight, a real-life Thanksgiving story to tell you...
..found him clinging to an inner tube on Thanksgiving...
..part of a group of 13 Cuban rafters,
only two others rescued alive...
Elian's mother is believed to have drowned,
but he has cousins he just met in Miami.
This is the story of a little boy from Cuba,
whose mother died bringing him to freedom in the United States.
Or maybe it's the story of a boy shipwrecked in Miami,
whose Cuban father just wanted him back.
It was always supposed to be Elian's story.
Although a lot of other people would try to make it their own.
The first thing that came to my mind -
how did he survive by himself, when he's only five?
And the only thing I could probably say is that it's just a miracle.
God wanted him here for freedom.
-So, he is here.
-And he's here, and he will get it.
I'll never forget.
He was sitting there, he was about to have soup.
The first thing I said was, "Don't eat that."
So he just looks straight up at me and he's like, "Is it bad?"
And I'm like, "Yes. Don't eat that.
"We'll get you something better than that."
That moment was our first connection.
And then, after that, he would always ask me for everything.
Every raft that would come from Cuba, you would always see it on TV,
so when I saw the press there, to me that was normal,
-that's what they're there for.
When Elian and his cousin Marisleysis waved goodbye
from the hospital the next day,
the story could have ended there.
Another Cuban rafter makes his home in Miami.
Ready to go home!
Like so many Cuban families, the Gonzales clan had come apart
in the years after Fidel Castro's revolution.
From the small town of Cardenas on Cuba's north coast, aunts and uncles
of Elian's father had made their way across the Florida Straits,
settling in the Miami enclaves of Hialeah and Little Havana.
The eldest of Elian's great-uncles, Delphin,
had come in the late 1970s after spending years
as a political prisoner in Castro's jails.
He found a quiet life in the Florida Keys,
where he made his living selling lobster traps.
Delphin's younger brother, Lazaro, followed
with his wife and two children.
He worked mostly as an auto-body repair man,
but struggled to find a steady job.
Lazaro's daughter, Marisleysis,
had arrived in the United States when she was Elian's age.
At 21, she processed loans at a local bank
and dreamed of opening a hair salon.
I'm told that of all the family members,
you're the one that Elian has bonded with most.
-Do you feel that bond?
-I sure do.
Definitely. I feel like he's been my brother since a little kid.
So, if this little boy has to go back to Cuba,
it would really break your heart, wouldn't it?
His mum died for him.
And...I feel that he deserves to be here.
Cos that's what his mum wanted,
and his mum is first, to me.
We were all so scared to ask him what happened.
And then there was that day where he said,
"And I woke up and my mum was not there.
"She must have drowned. She drowned."
I swallowed real hard and I grind my teeth not to cry.
And I looked at him and I said, "She's always watching over you,
"so don't ever say your mum's dead,
"because she has to always live in your heart."
In Cuba, Elian's father, Juan Miguel,
hadn't known that his ex-wife and her boyfriend had taken Elian away
on a home-made boat, hoping to start their lives over
in the United States.
Frantic to find them,
Juan Miguel and his parents immediately began calling
their relatives in Miami. But almost from the start,
the two sides of the family were talking past each other.
I remember my dad saying that, you know,
"Juan Miguel says to take care of him till he can come over here."
In the beginning of everything, I always had a picture in my mind that
he was going to come and stay, and it was like, "Wow, my whole family's
"going to be reunited."
Juan Miguel's branch of the family was rooted comfortably in Cuba.
He and his parents were loyal members
of the ruling Communist Party,
and Juan Miguel, who had remarried,
had a good job at the nearby beach resort of Varadero.
When they needed help,
they didn't hesitate to ask the Cuban government.
Miguel, how's it going? Good. Good to see you.
Hey, Mark, how's it going?
You've got some gifts there that the Congresswoman wants to give you.
As soon as Elian's rescue made the local news,
uninvited guests began to descend on the Gonzales home in Little Havana.
People are literally dying to flee Cuba.
Among the first was Jorge Mas Santos, the head of the most powerful exile group -
the Cuban-American National foundation.
When we saw this image of this young boy who lost his
mother at sea, I think the image of everything that
Cuban Americans felt.
I thought the Cuban-American National foundation should use this
as messaging of a human story, of a human tragedy.
That's why we developed a poster and a campaign to bring attention to
something that we need to stop.
This is a typical tragic Miami story that has to do with people trying to
leave Cuba and drowning at sea.
We sent that out to a lot of different media.
All of a sudden, it became a national story.
They made T-shirts with Elian's picture and they disseminated it, choosing to highlight Elian.
It caught the interest of Fidel Castro immediately.
And it made Fidel Castro focus laser beam on Elian and said,
"I am going to use this opportunity to get back at the Miami community."
And he did it perfectly.
CHANTING: Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!
NBC News In Depth tonight - the struggle over a little boy.
White House officials clearly don't want this dispute to become a big
"Don't forget that country is in an election campaign," says Castro.
America has determined enemies who hate our values.
We've just begun to fight!
Well, of course I'd rather grow up in the United States.
There may be other considerations there.
Cuban officials are promising twice as many protesters today, as this
country unites around the powerful symbol
of a six-year-old child caught between two worlds.
The Elian case was a very important national unifying factor.
It was a moment in the long history of confrontation
between Cuba and the US.
LOUD EXPLOSION, SCREAMING
The uprising that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959
overthrew a brutal dictatorship
that was closely allied with United States.
The revolutionaries promised a more just and democratic society,
even as Castro consolidated his own power quickly and ruthlessly.
Well-off Cubans began fleeing to Miami
as soon as the rebels took power.
And the exodus continued as Castro confiscated private property
and nationalised American-owned oil refineries.
-Are you a Communist, Fidel?
Well...well, wait for the history.
The history will state what we are.
With Castro drawing closer to the Soviets,
the American government punished Cuba with an economic embargo.
Then it backed an invasion by Cuban exiles at the Bay Of Pigs.
The bitter exiles would blame their defeat on the Americans'
But Castro revelled in his victory,
which made him a hero to revolutionaries around the world,
and gave him enemies in Miami and Washington that he would exploit
for years to come.
New waves of Cuban refugees poured into Miami.
What are conditions like there now?
-Bad condition. We have no address, we have no food.
We have difficulty for all things there.
Where do you plan to settle here in the United States?
In Miami. Where my mother lives, and my sister.
The Cold War never ended in Miami.
A mother died getting her kid out of Cuba, to get him to freedom.
Of course we're going to hold that child,
because we don't want him to go back.
UPBEAT MUSIC PLAYS
We really want, we NEED him here.
We have a role to play in protecting freedom.
And when people risk everything to come, even if
they are a five-year-old kid, they ought to be allowed to stay.
Relatives of Elian Gonzales say they saw a different side
of the six-year-old - a boy simply filled with joy and happiness
at the Disney World visit, but family spokesman Armando Gutierrez
says Elian showed some lingering signs of his ordeal
and rescue at sea when he went on the It's A Small World water ride.
He was a little bit frightened at one time with the boat and
asked the question, "Is this boat going to sink?"
Toys for a tot torn between two countries.
Elian Gonzales has officially captivated a community.
We wanted to give him a life where he felt comfortable
and everything was normal.
Then we got him to go to school.
He was so happy to go to school.
CHILDREN CHANT: Elian! Elian! Elian! Elian!
# Does that star-spangled banner yet wave
# O'er the land of the free
# And the home of the brave? #
They were summoned by President Fidel Castro
for what he calls the second stage of the battle of the masses.
Thousands demonstrated again in front of the US diplomatic mission
Fidel asked me to work with Juan Miguel to help him
to recover his child.
Everybody in this island was on the side of Elian,
his father, and his family.
-The boy's father joined other Cubans
at a weekend rally demanding the child be returned.
American immigration officials will interview the father
here in Cuba to give him a chance to assert his rights
and prove his paternity.
We have this very unusual circumstance of a father in Cuba
asking for the son to be returned to him.
It was pretty unprecedented.
I mean, typically, people who came to the United States from Cuba
came because they wanted to stay here.
As the immigration service,
we had to determine whether this WAS actually the father,
and, since the child had come to the United States with the mother,
whether the father had a relationship with the child.
What was the family's story?
Juan Miguel and Elisa had married as teenagers.
And it had taken them years, and seven miscarriages,
before Elian was born.
Strains on the marriage eventually led them to separate.
But they set aside their differences to build a new relationship around
the son they both adored.
# Happy birthday to you... #
# Happy birthday, dear Elian.
# Happy birthday to you. #
For me, seeing my cousin on TV speaking the way he used to speak
about us and then seeing Fidel next to him,
made me think, "Are you for real,
"or do you just have to play this role?"
My Uncle Delfin said to me,
"That's probably not even what he really wants to say,
"so don't take it to heart."
Delfin was a person that I listened to
because that was the person that I knew that experienced
the torturing of Cuba when he was in prison.
He would say, "That is how the government works.
"They try to destroy the family.
"They try to keep us apart."
So I was fighting for both of their freedom because I was hoping
for the day Juan Miguel could meet with Elian here and be free as well.
What do you want everybody to know about how you're feeling right now?
Well, right now I'm feeling that if it will be up to him...
I want him to stay. It is not my decision and it is very hard for me.
So... I just hope they made the right decision.
The case of Elian Gonzales has been a difficult one,
complicated by the fact that several people, other than Elian's father,
claimed to represent him.
INS has determined that Elian should be reunited with his father.
And then we said...
By January 14th, he is to be turned over to the INS,
so that he can be returned to his father.
What did I think at that time?
Did I think it would happen? I don't know.
Marisleysis, could we ask you about your reaction?
They are only letting the dad decide what's best for the kid
and everything like that. As we all know,
when Elian came and found himself lonely in this country
without no family, without his dad not having the freedom
to get an aeroplane and come here to support his child
when he most really needed it,
because he couldn't even sit down in a bed because he will fall,
I was there and so was my family supporting that.
Until then, they didn't let us support him and being there for him.
Why aren't we given the opportunity at this point to speak for him?
His dad doesn't have freedom because otherwise, as a father,
as we all know, we would do the best for our child.
We would have got on an aeroplane and come to this country
and see how was our kid. And his words were,
"I haven't lost anything there."
What about your son?
A fight was on, a fight was on.
This community has asked for, since day one,
the due process of Elian Gonzales.
With help from Jorge Mas,
the family tried to go around the immigration service, turning to some
of the Cuban American National Foundation's powerful allies
We thought the best way to make sure that the judicial process
was followed was the issue of subpoena.
This is a federal subpoena which we believe protects Elian Gonzales
from being forcibly and illegally removed
from the United States, back to Cuba.
In Miami, people celebrated the subpoena, which orders
little Elian to appear before US Congress in an effort
to delay his return to Cuba.
Several congressmen and at least one senator say they will offer bills
as early as February to grant Elian Gonzales permanent US citizenship.
But it's not just Congress.
At last night's Republican presidential debate,
all the candidates demand that Elian be allowed to stay here
and his father allowed to join him if he wishes.
The man ought to be brought to the United States,
given a whiff of freedom so he can see how wonderful our country is.
-Why has this become so political?
Because Cuban-Americans are a critical voting bloc
in Florida's Republican presidential primary and a lucrative source
of campaign money for BOTH political parties.
The six-year-old may have even more politicians as playmates.
I know that this is where he wants to stay, and if that is the case,
I will take care of him like if he would be my son.
But I feel that we should have the right to take his chance to court.
Can you remember when you were six?
There were some days I wanted to run away from home.
And there were other days I wanted my mommy so bad I couldn't stand it.
I think the law has indicated and it's certainly, I think,
the experience of most people that six years old is too young
to speak for themselves.
Under US law, it was the Attorney General, Janet Reno,
who had the final say on Elian's immigration case.
Trying to find a compromise,
she set aside the deadline for returning Elian to Cuba,
and invited his Miami relatives to plead their case.
Today we have filed a very significant lawsuit
in federal court.
It is the case of Elian Gonzales versus Janet Reno.
My hope is that people will look at this little boy
and get him into a situation where he can live a normal life
without television cameras and the world in his face.
Elian himself had said almost nothing in public
during his time in Miami.
But one night in January,
a camera caught him yelling at a passing aeroplane.
And his words quickly became a point of contention.
The family disputed the initial translation by local television
and insisted that Elian had really said
he DIDN'T want to return to Cuba.
-He has been manipulated.
That is what really concerns me
and has been concerning me for a long time.
It has been suggested, in some quarters,
and I'm going to give you the opportunity to respond,
that the reason you did not come to Miami
is because the Cuban government is afraid
that once you get to Miami, you will defect.
How do you respond to that?
-Who said that? Who said that?
I think I have been extremely clear.
People think, or some people think, that I am under pressure here.
I have always said, I haven't lost anything in Miami.
And sometimes what I would like to do is go down there with a rifle,
I don't know, to get rid of how many people.
Are you serious about that, sir?
That's obviously a very inflammatory remark.
And what about... Isn't it inflammatory, what they are doing
with my son?
I did see his anger. And I did see his frustration.
But as a parent, you get on the first flight you can
and you just come and get your child.
He's not allowed to do that. I had to take care of his child,
my dad had to shelter his child.
Juan Miguel's frustration should be with the Cuban government,
not with me, or with our family.
Neither Juan Miguel nor the Cuban government
offered any compelling reason why he couldn't just go and get his son.
Cuban officials cited concerns for his safety in Miami.
But the widespread belief there was that Fidel either feared Juan Miguel
would defect or simply wanted to keep the battle going
for as long as he could.
This was not a simple matter of a parent saying, "I miss my child,
"I need to bring my child home."
This was going to take time and there was always the possibility
that they would not be able to get him home.
I've been involved in Cuba for almost 40 years,
and if you've been to Cuba and you come to know Cuban people,
you really have a very different view
than if you've only lived in the United States.
The National Council of Churches decided to see if, by our efforts,
we could get this child returned to his family in Cuba.
First of all, we needed to win over the American people.
It's a very emotional thing to hear a family talk
about the loss of a child.
And I knew that the grandmothers had a passion
about getting this little boy back home.
So I had to go to Fidel Castro and I had to ask permission to take them.
The grandmothers came, and we tried to arrange a visit
for them with Elian who, of course, was in Miami.
And then ensued a back and forth over the terms because, in fact,
there was such tension and unresolved issues and disagreement
within the family itself.
It was not a negotiation.
It was dictated to them that they must present the boy tomorrow
or his status would be changed and the boy would potentially
be sent back to Cuba immediately.
I'm very concerned it was going to happen tomorrow
because every night I go to sleep, he tells me,
"Don't let them take me back,"
and I am going to be the one taking him to this house,
where I don't know what's going to happen,
and I don't have control of.
With local television stations covering the tug-of-war live,
Elian met with his grandmothers at the home of a Miami nun
who was an old friend of Janet Reno.
I wasn't allowed to stay in the room with them.
And this was the perfect time for him to tell her,
"I want to leave with you," if that was what was in his heart.
If that would have been me, I would have run to my grandma
and told her, "Take me." But he didn't.
Actually, he did the opposite.
He ran out of the room and all he said to me was, "Run, run!
"They are going to take us."
Just made me feel, well, I need to fight for his freedom,
just like his mum gave her life for it.
I think for the grandmothers, the meeting was extremely frustrating.
And they felt that he was in danger.
They felt he was drugged.
But they did go home, having seen Elian,
and they did go home more determined that they had to get him home.
I feel great.
And I feel confident, yeah.
Strong, and that I have more feelings that I had before.
Now I feel that he's more towards this side than to that side.
Where are you going in a big-ass hurry, man?
At that time I was a freelancer for AP.
One morning, I get a call from my editor and he says,
"All right, this is what I want you to do."
You cover Elian every day.
Miami police shut down the street,
the whole half-block was blocked off.
There were TV stations that were paying 500 a day
just to have a crew in front of the house.
Back in 1999 to 2000,
we weren't actually living in 24-hour news cycles.
It was a very different landscape.
All of a sudden, we've got media stakeouts and they are, you know,
using this child almost as a prop to tell a story,
you know, having him out,
playing with an American flag at 11 o'clock at night.
So we'd not seen anything like that.
Rewarding this atrocious behaviour,
this trotting out this kid the way they did,
and then you're acting shocked and surprised that it's happening.
They wanted a full media blitz, and we gave it to them.
We had things like, you know,
Diane Sawyer going to have playdates with Elian.
We spent some time drawing.
Himself in an inner tube.
"Me," he said, "I was sinking."
I always tell him I'm his cousin.
-He tries to call you Mom, sometimes?
-Yeah, he says Mari stands for mom.
And nobody cares about a little boy who lost his mother,
who has lost everything, and is now about to lose the only thing
that he has, which is me and it's hard to say when he tells me,
"Please don't ever leave me."
People just say return him to his father,
but people don't live with this little boy.
People don't see how this little boy feels.
Just the family stuff is enough to throw someone over the edge.
Now, when all of that is being witnessed on a daily basis
by the entire world, not easy.
I mean, I've been involved in politics all my life,
I'm a practising lawyer, a public speaker, you know...
I have the training, as best you can,
to be able to do something like that. This family had zero, zero training.
I have been in this for four months, not for political issues,
not to look good in front of people,
but for the best interests of this child.
I remember the Today show, where I think we might have even left
the show and gone to the hospital, because she really took a beating,
an emotional beating from that process.
It was a loving family.
They got caught up in the collective hysteria,
that this was the apocalyptic battle against Castro.
I was under a lot of stress, I wasn't getting enough sleep,
sometimes I would just pass out.
A day in that house was crazy.
I had people walk in and out my room and I was like,
"Who are these people?"
What people saw in the Elian story often depended on where they stood.
As the weeks passed, national polls showed a deep divide,
with more and more Americans outside South Florida
in favour of returning the boy to his father.
But in Miami, the exiles' fury continued to grow,
spilling over into protests that blocked traffic on the highways
and exasperated many of the city's non-Cubans.
I am a parent. And I believe that a child should be with his father.
I, by now, had seen the anger in Miami.
I had seen the determination of some of the Miami Cubans
to make sure that Elian did not leave.
Senator Lahey came to me and he said,
"We're going to get that little boy back to his father.
"And I'm going to help you, but you're never going to make it happen
"if you don't involve a lawyer in this. I have a lawyer for you.
"His name is Greg Craig. I'm calling him now. He won't say no."
I went to the Justice Department and said,
"I'm going to go to Cuba, and I want to be able to tell Juan Miguel
"that when he comes back to the United States,
"he will be able to take custody of his son,
"within the space of a few days.
"That he is not going to have to sit in some room
"and watch his son on television being paraded around
"by these relatives."
They were not willing to give me that commitment.
I had nothing going down to Cuba, other than to say,
"Now is the time to do it."
To be clear, Castro was in the middle of this decision-making.
Castro was waking up from a nap,
you could just tell that he had been asleep
and he was putting himself together.
The meeting was forever, it lasted forever.
And we drank more coffee and more water
and people would be getting up and going off to relieve themselves.
Castro didn't move for four hours.
I think perhaps he had a device!
He would shake his finger at me and said,
"Why do you think an American court would ever rule
"in favour of a Cuban national?
"There has never been a case where a Cuban National has won."
And my only argument was, I don't know of any time when the government
of the United States has been on the same side of the case
as a Cuban national, which in turn, you know,
on the same side with the government of Cuba.
That's never happened in history. So maybe the result will be different.
We're talking with Dr Andrew Wilde,
the author of Eating Well For Optimal Health.
I think it is fine for lower cholesterol levels.
Let me cut you a second. Let's go to Washington to Greg Craig
at the offices of Williams & Connolly.
My name is Gregory B Craig.
I'm pleased to report that Juan Miguel Gonzales,
his wife and six-month-old son, will be coming to the United States.
They will arrive tomorrow morning, Thursday, April 6th,
at 7am at Dulles Airport.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
It was the next day that we had the meeting with the Attorney General.
I'm driving the car and I'm saying to myself,
now is the time to tell Juan Miguel what his options are.
There is no Cuban diplomats, Fidel Castro is not in the room.
It's just the family.
So I said to Juan Miguel,
"If you want to get Elian back this afternoon
"and stay in the United States with your family,
"you have that opportunity because you are going to have
"the Attorney General of the United States, you are going to have
"the Commissioner of INS, and they will grant that request,
"if you want to do that."
He says, Thank you very much."
At a certain point, the Attorney General asked
that everybody else leave the room.
It was a very powerful meeting.
He cut off the conversation almost when it started, saying,
"I stand by my word, I have a family in Cuba, I have a life in Cuba,
"my son is going to grow up as a Cuban
"and I am not going to be claiming asylum."
He was a very proud... very clear person.
I called my cousin and said, "Look, we need to meet with his father
"and find out what he really wants to do.
"This is our time to go and find out the truth."
Donato was instantly, instantly drawn to a camera.
I begged him, "No more shows, Donato. No more shows."
And we got off the airplane at Dulles, and it was probably
the biggest media centre I've ever seen in my entire life.
Once we got into the car from the airport,
it was within 60 seconds that I knew I was in the car
with the Cuban National Foundation.
They were already brainwashing Donato and trying to brainwash me.
They wanted it to look like that once we got there,
that Juan Miguel refused to meet us.
Juan Miguel came in and, in a very sincere way, thanked them
for having saved Elian's life.
Juan Miguel was a very, very... heart-warming, loving father,
with tears in his eyes when he would talk to me.
My heart told me the right thing, and he wants his child back.
We are talking about a six-year-old little boy here, people.
It's a child. That's what we need to be concerned about, and nobody else.
The rest of it is all BS, man.
We need to put this baby to rest right now.
Donato has to speak for himself.
I said, "I'm Donato, the fisherman, the one they call El Pescador.
"I was there when your son was about to drown."
And, man, this guy's eyes started to well up with water.
And I ran over there and I grabbed him and I hugged him.
We didn't kick him out, but we had to urge him to leave.
I don't stand in the way of this father.
But I can tell you this,
I don't feel that he is free outside of his lawyer here.
Juan Miguel said that he is not going to go down to Miami,
so what's going to happen?
We needed a family meeting away from the media,
governments pitted against each other,
the Cuban American National Foundation
versus the Castro brothers. We needed to get out of that.
And we needed a neutral third party,
which I thought was the Catholic Church.
We got the blessing of the Pope
about using the Vatican embassy in Washington.
I had a private jet prepared,
Elian was going to be taken to my home that evening,
so that he could be on a plane at four in the morning.
-I got a call from Jorge Mas,
saying to go to Elian's house and tell the family
to bring Elian to Washington.
I went into the house and I said, "If you ask me, I wouldn't do it."
"Because if you are going to ask me for any guarantees as to what is
"going happen, I can't give them to you."
And I remember there was a huge thing of seafood,
a paella or something, and Lazaro was so tense by this time
that he grabs his phone and throws it in there.
And I'm just sitting there and I'm watching this phone,
you know, sinking into the rice.
There is a new element to this story -
the boy's Miami relatives released a video tape of Elian
recorded last night.
It shows him on a bed, we are going to show it to you.
It's not clear who was in the room with him,
whether he was coached or not.
After the Miami relatives refused to bring the kid to Washington,
it became clear that if we wanted Elian,
we were going to have to go into the house and take him.
SHOUTING AND CHANTING
For the last couple of days, we weren't even 100% sure
that Elian was even inside the home.
He was not being brought out by family members,
he didn't make appearances into the crowds.
The less we saw of him, the more concern we had as to his welfare.
If it comes to taking Elian by force,
US law enforcement officials have a plan.
Elements of the SWAT Special Operations group
are available. The 1,100-member Miami Police Department
and the Florida Highway Patrol has placed units on alert.
The final go or no-go order will come only
from Attorney General Janet Reno.
For weeks, the government had been assembling a shock force
of federal agents to seize Elian if necessary.
But Janet Reno had misgivings that went beyond her loyalty
to Cuban exiles in Miami.
Seven years earlier, just after taking office as Attorney General,
Reno had ordered federal agents to raid the compound
of a religious cult near Waco, Texas.
More than 70 people died, including 25 children.
We must all reflect on how we, as a society,
can, in the future, prevent such a senseless, horrible,
tragic loss of human life.
One thing that really, I think did haunt her was Waco.
But Janet Reno was somebody who made her decisions
based on the facts and the law.
Instead of discussing HOW Elian should be reunited,
the attorneys for the relatives continue to demand
that we revisit the issue of WHETHER Elian should be reunited.
That is not what the law provides.
Demonstrators break through those barricades to try to form a human
chain around this house,
if indeed federal agents came to seize Elian Gonzales.
There were people in the crowds that had violent police records,
there were armed individuals in the crowd.
The entire event was a potential powder keg.
We wanted to effect a search warrant as soon as possible.
The only delays were last-ditch efforts made by the US government
to negotiate a peaceful, so to speak,
surrender of the child to the US government.
Miss Reno was willing to exhaust every option,
so when members of the community came in and said, you know,
"We think we can broker a deal," she was willing to talk to them.
We were afraid that this was going to bring a lot of harm
to the community, and the perception of the community.
This was spinning out of control.
My focus was to get the community to have
a unanimous position that we're going to do this peacefully.
In my view, we were very close to doing, in two days,
that which had not been done in five months.
We are going to create a scenario where the two families would go
to a military base, have an opportunity to talk to each other
and look for an elegant solution and a settlement.
We developed the points and we faxed them to Janet Reno.
We get the fax off and we had been instructed by Aaron Podhurst,
everything is good.
You guys are fine. The agreement is still not finalised,
but our expectations were that
we'll be out of here in a couple of hours.
The offer was the same as had been made repeatedly by the family
and that ultimately not only hadn't succeeded,
but was not willing to, in any way, concede turning over the child
to the father.
It was just another effort, I think most of us thought, to delay.
We had identified 5am to be an optimal time
to execute the search warrant.
We were ready well prior to that and still awaiting a final green light
from the Department of Justice.
We were all in the Attorney General's office.
She stayed on an open line with Mr Podhurst.
I stayed on an open line with the INS people in Miami.
Because I needed to give them the order that it was a go.
I had two lines, one to the house and one to the Attorney General,
Janet Reno. It never occurred to me that there was a raid planned,
and I kept saying to the Attorney General,
"What's the big rush about?"
She gave them deadlines, she told them, "After this point,
"it's going to be too late and then you are out of time.
"You are running out of time."
That was the only night that Elian didn't sleep.
He was scared that they would take him.
It's well past midnight.
I tell them, "Look, I'm beginning to feel very uncomfortable,
"like there's a problem here.
"Because there is no reason... this is a one-page document."
There was questions in the room, "Are we on hold? Is it a go?"
And Miss Reno said, "It's a go."
Then, about four o'clock, we get a call from Aaron,
and his voice is almost shaking.
And he says to me, "You have got five minutes to wake everybody up."
I woke everybody up.
And while we're having that conversation,
there's a bunch of yelling and screaming outside.
And I said to Aaron, "Aaron, the feds are here."
Let me go live. Are we shooting it?
Stay back behind the barricades!
Back behind the barricades!
Hordes of people were going to do everything in their power
to prevent us from reaching the front door.
They chanted, they screamed, lights went on.
They formed human chains.
We virtually had to push our way to the front door.
Behind us, there was a riot going on.
It was clearly organised resistance.
I pounded at the door.
"Federal agents, we're executing a search warrant.
"Open the door, open the door."
I had to give the order to breach the door.
When I look, I see all these people with guns.
They were dressed in green,
so I thought they were like Cuban commandos.
So I started screaming, "Cuba is coming!" And Lazaro said, Cuba!
So everyone in the house thought it was Cuba.
I clearly remember the lady that came in to get him,
saying, "Where is the F kid? Where is the F goddamn kid?"
I did step forward, a little bit aggressive, you know, like mad?
And she says, "If you take one more step, I'm going to shoot."
I'm running to the front and then, you know,
Elian jumps on me and then I give him to Donato.
If there was anybody, it shouldn't have been me that night,
that got Elian into my arms.
But everyone seemed to be running for shelter
because they are hearing the same thing I'm hearing,
"Get down or we'll shoot."
We are thinking, "Oh, wow, they're going to kill us."
I see out of the closet, Donato and Elian.
The boy says to me, "Que esta pasando? Que esta pasando?"
I said, "Nothing is happening, baby, but everything
"is going to be all right."
Boom! The door busted open and there is a federal armed agent
with an assault weapon, and he's got that thing pointed directly at me
and Elian. All I hear is...
HE IMITATES A CAMERA FLASH
I'm flashing, I'm strobing this guy in the face.
It was, you know, freedom of press.
You can't touch that.
And he's screaming, "Give me the kid. Give me the effing kid."
Within seconds, a woman appeared in the room
and that's when I handed Elian over to the agent.
Get ready to get the boy.
They've got the boy, they've got the boy.
All I could hear was Elian screaming, "Prima, Prima, Prima!"
You know, just calling out.
And I couldn't do anything.
SHOUTING AND SCREAMING
Elian was just a kid, and that day, they risked his life.
I sometimes wonder what Juan Miguel felt about that.
I would have never wanted my child to be taken out like that.
Elian Gonzales is, as we speak, being flown
to Andrews Air Force Base, just outside of Washington,
where he will be reunited with his father.
Pictures taken by an Associated Press photographer
which the administration will have to answer to.
There is a picture...of that little boy's fear, he's scared,
so Janet Reno and everybody else,
don't say you came here with no violence,
and that this boy is OK. How can this boy not be...
How can this boy be OK when he had a gun at his head?
Marisleysis Gonzales expressing her feelings on what happened,
and describing what happened here this morning.
-They treated us like criminals.
They broke Elian's bed.
He was saying, "Que pasa? Que pasa? What's going on?"
I just held his head like this.
My God, America, what did you do to this boy?
All right, Marisleysis Gonzales, Donato Dalrymple,
thank you very much.
Up until the last, we tried every way we could
to encourage Lazaro Gonzalez to voluntarily hand over the child
to his father.
Unfortunately the Miami relatives rejected our efforts,
leaving us no other option but the enforcement action.
An election in turmoil.
A presidency in the balance.
A nation waits.
Who will emerge the winner in the historic Florida recount?
There were 10,000 Cuban-American Democrats
who became Republicans post-Elian.
Had the Elian event been handled better,
hell, we might not have had the Iraq war.
I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear...
President Bush became the President of the United States in 2000
because of Elian Gonzales. There is no doubt in my mind.
And I think that the numbers prove that out.
Marisleysis and her family would not see Elian again.
In late June, almost seven months after his rescue at sea,
the Supreme Court finally lifted the order
keeping him in the United States.
He and his father were back in Cuba before nightfall.
CROWD CHANTS: Elian! Elian! Elian! Elian!
Castro was, in fact, dedicated to getting that little boy home,
and it became a matter of his heart.
It was not now just a government victory.
And Elian became virtually like a child of his.
As Elian grew up, Fidel continued to celebrate the boy's return as a
triumphant chapter in the larger story of Cuba's revolution.
In the aftermath of the Elian affair,
new Cuban-American leaders challenged the intransigence
of the old guard.
Even the Cuban American National Foundation retreated
from its hardline past, appealing to an exile community
that was less defined by the old hatreds and paving the way
for historic changes in American policy.
We definitely began focusing on a younger and different generation.
Both here and in Cuba.
We have to talk to their hopes and aspirations.
They are going to be the key to the future.
The first American President in 88 years touched down
just a few moments ago, here in Cuba.
-I have come here to bury the last remnant
of the Cold War in the Americas.
Havana is only 90 miles from Florida.
But to get here, we had to travel a great distance.
Over barriers of history, and ideology...
..barriers of pain and separation.
In many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers
who have been estranged for many years.
I want the Cuban people, especially the young people,
to understand why I believe that you should look to the future with hope.
Hope that is rooted in the future that YOU can choose,
and that YOU can shape and that you can build for your country.
MILITARY DRUM PLAYS
Did I want him to stay in America?
He was going to have scholarships, he was going to go to college,
he was going to have the American Dream.
But, you know, in the end,
I realised that that American Dream wasn't for him.
As he lives out his life, what role he will play in Cuba,
what role he will play in the Cuban revolution
that is to come, inevitably,
he will be part of a new generation.
And how he will weather that, how he will respond to that
is probably partly related to what will happen to Cuba,
and some of that depends on us.
I shouldn't be happy because a person has died.
But he separated my family, my parents never got to see Cuba again.
So today, I rejoice for this.
As Cuban-Americans celebrated Fidel's death,
Miami talk shows replayed Elian's comments
and revisited a long-running question.
What sort of man had the miracle boy become?
People have told me, "Oh, did you hear what Elian said?"
He is brainwashed.
I say he's not at fault for what he has become,
where he's at right now, he doesn't know any better.
So I don't judge him.
I just sit and wait.
I would love to see him here.
Even if it's just a visit.
But I don't see myself going back to Cuba.
I feel that I would be betraying his mother.
I'm not in his future, I'm in his past, so...
Years can go by and it's the same thing over and over.
Whoever is right or wrong, we are family.
And we love each other.
I dream till the day comes that I can speak to him.
I love him.
No matter who, or what he chooses to be.
On 25 November 1999, a six-year-old Cuban boy was found floating alone off the Florida coast after his mother drowned during an attempt to escape Cuba for the United States. Set against the tense and acrimonious relationship between the two countries, The Boy Who Changed America tells the story of Elian Gonzalez and the bitter custody battle that played out in the aftermath of his rescue between his Cuban father and American relatives. Eighteen years later and in the wake of Fidel Castro's death, the now 23-year-old Elian and his family tell their story for the first time.