Tuesday 29 November 2016

Elián González Tributes Fidel Castro 17 Years After Infamous Custody Battle

Elián González

Elián González, who was at the centre of an international custody battle waged by Fidel Castro nearly two decades ago, returned to the public eye on Sunday to praise the leader who fought to return him to Cuba.

Echoing the round-the-clock adulation on state media, González said on government-run television that the Cuban leader’s legacy would long outlive him. It’s “not right to talk about Fidel in the past tense ... but rather that Fidel will be,” González said. “Today more than ever, make him omnipresent.”

González was five in 1999 when he, his mother and others attempted a sea crossing between Cuba and the US. His mother died on the voyage but he survived and was taken to Florida. A bitter dispute broke out between his relatives in the US, who wanted him to stay there, and his father back home.

Castro, who died Friday night at 90, made the issue a national cause celebre and led huge demonstrations demanding Elián be returned to his father. US authorities eventually sent him back.

“Fidel was a friend who at a difficult moment was with my family, with my father, and made it possible for me to return to my father, to return to Cuba,” González said.

He spoke as workers spruced up the Cuban capital’s sprawling Revolution Plaza in preparation for two days of tributes.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to visit to pay their respects starting Monday in the shadow of Havana’s towering monument to the independence hero José Martí and a huge sculpture of the revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

A mass public ceremony is planned at the square on Tuesday. “It is a great sorrow. Everyone is feeling it,” said Orlando Alvarez, a jeweller who was fishing on the seaside Malecon boulevard in the morning. “Everyone will be there.”

Cuba’s government declared nine days of national mourning after Castro died and this normally vibrant city has been notably subdued. On Saturday night, the Malecon, Havana’s social centre, was all but deserted, with dozens of people instead of the thousands who normally go to party there on weekends.

“I have never seen this square so quiet,” a Spanish tourist, Miguel González, said as he took pictures of Revolution Plaza.



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