The rope in a game of tug of war
between the exile
community of Cuban-Americans in Miami
and Fidel Castro
, Elián Gonzalez is a young balsero
who survived the trip across the Florida Straits
to the United States
He was brought to Miami on a boat after being rescued. This is significant because, under the dry land policy, his rescuers were supposed to have sent him back to Cuba.
To the exile community, Elián represents each one of them. Many Cubans in Miami personally risked a rather painful death at sea to get to the US; many more have parents who did so. It's difficult for them not to identify strongly with Elián.
To the rest of the world, Elián represents the lopsided immigration policy practiced under the Cuban Adjustment Act: a person who risks their life to come to America is either welcomed with open arms or sent back immediately, depending on whether they came from Cuba or from any other country.
I should say something about my personal involvement, to make clear any bias I might have. I grew up in Miami, and I have a personal grudge against Castro because of the death of my friend Mario de la Peña, a volunteer with Brothers to the Rescue. But I'm also amazed that would-be immigrants are kicked out as fast as our boots will fly just because they're not fleeing the right kind of misery. I don't mean to debate the policy here, I just want to be explicit about the biases I might have.
On June 28, 2000, Elián was finally allowed to go back home to Cárdenas with his dad, hopefully never to see another TV camera again.