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When she picked her son up, she told the father they were going on a picnic

The Saga of Elian Gonzalez:
A Brief History

by Kelly Cogswell

FEBRUARY 6, 2000. On Sunday, November 21, 1999 a mother picked up her 5-year-old son from his father's house where the boy mostly lived. She told the father they were going on a picnic, but instead she took him to an isolated beach where her ex-con boyfriend and 11 others were waiting. They all boarded a small aluminum boat and pushed away from the Cuban shore.

They were leaving a failed utopia, which, because of its dashed expectations, felt even poorer and more stifling than its neighbors. None of the group were political dissidents. The boyfriend who organized the trip had been in jail 3 years, but only because he'd cut off a man's fingers in a bar fight. What lured them was the wealth of Miami, and a peculiar U.S. law that allows Cubans, and only Cubans, to remain in the U.S. if they can just set foot on U.S. soil.

Far out to sea, the boat developed a frightening leak. Though the group managed to return safely to shore for repairs, one worried mother sent her little daughter back home. When repairs were made, they set off again, one child less.

They weren't as lucky this time. The boat sank, and on November 25, the five-year old boy Elian Gonzalez was picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard clinging to an inner tube, one of only three survivors.

At this point, a second tragedy begins. Instead of being returned to Cuba, like most Cubans intercepted at sea, and all Haitians, Mexicans, and Chinese intercepted anywhere, Elian was placed with relatives in Miami.

These relatives, backed by the powerful Cuban American National Foundation, have refused to return him to Cuba and his father--who had been his primary caretaker--even though the INS ordered Elian's return.

Under political pressure from the Cuban American lobby, the INS delayed enforcing the order, and the Miami Gonzalez family sued for custody in a Florida Family Court presided over by a judge with proven financial ties to the family's PR consultant.

The INS did not recognize the jurisdiction of the Florida court, so the family, following Janet Reno's personal advice, is now suing her, and the INS in a federal court, demanding asylum for Elian in the U.S.: Elian now has to stay until the federal court rules.

As a backup tactic, both Representatives and Senators have introduced bills that would make Elian a citizen--against his father's objections--thus allowing his relatives to keep him in the United States.

The federal court will rule first on February 22, on whether or not its jurisdiction supercedes that of the INS, and later, if necessary, on whether or not Elian should be granted asylum.

Related link:

A comprehensive timeline from MSNBC.

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