- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

MIAMI — The small home where Elian Gonzalez lived for a few months in 2000 has become Casa Elian — an unusual tourist attraction dedicated to the Cuban boy and maintained by the bitter relatives he left behind.

Located in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, the house is a shrine to all the virtues he represents to the city’s exile community: innocence, faith in Jesus Christ, patriotism — and contempt for tyranny.

About 15 or 20 people a day visit the house, says Delfin Gonzalez, a great-uncle of Elian who keeps the house open at his own expense.

“People come here from all over, and from as far away as Argentina, Poland, the Czech Republic and Japan,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

Plucked from the sea in November 1999, Elian was 5 when he became the center of an international custody dispute. He was one of three survivors of a group of 14 Cuban refugees who had set off from Cardenas, hoping to reach Florida. His mother was among those who died.

Elian was taken from his Miami relatives in April 2000 and two months later sent back to his father in Cuba, where dictator Fidel Castro had demanded the boy’s return.

Today, the Little Havana home where Elian was seized at gunpoint by federal agents on Good Friday five years ago has become a religious and political monument.

A large wooden crucifix strung with Christmas lights is nailed to the side of the house; nearby, U.S. and Cuban flags are draped prominently from bedroom windows. And an outdoor poster supports the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, a group of anti-Castro dissidents in Havana.

Hanging prominently between two palm trees in the front yard is a portrait of Elian and his mother, with a Spanish inscription that translates: “With my blood, I write your name, because you have made me a man.” Inside, visitors are greeted by a painting of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba.

Elian’s great-uncle, who left Cuba in 1978, says that between property taxes, electric bills and other expenses, it costs about $500 a month to keep the house open. But the 70-year-old says he is happy to do it, and he has five books filled with signatures of sympathetic donors who have visited over the years.

“We have to maintain this place for history,” he explained. “This is not a business, but an open house for people to learn about what happened to Elian. It was such an injustice.”

The walls of Casa Elian are cluttered with photographs and paintings of Elian and his family. A framed letter dated Oct. 2, 2003, and signed by President Bush, thanks Mr. Gonzalez for his patriotism.

Hanging in a bedroom closet are all the clothes Elian wore, while the bed Elian slept in is surrounded by yellow police tape. Arranged on the bedspread are a stuffed bear, a folded U.S. flag and a portrait of historic Cuban patriot Jose Marti.

Many Cuban-Americans blame former President Bill Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno for Elian’s deportation. One room of Casa Elian features an enormous blowup of the famous Associated Press photograph of machine gun-wielding federal agents taking Elian from the arms of his Miami relatives — right under a huge banner that says “Clinton/Reno: April 13, 2000: A day that will live in infamy forever.”

Many Cuban exiles in Miami are still bitter about the fate of Elian, who is now 11.

“This is still about a little boy who lost his mother at sea, trying to get to freedom. That’s all that matters,” says Alfredo Mesa, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation. “He’s being used as a trophy in Cuba. He’s constantly surrounded by bodyguards and lives in a secluded neighborhood. That’s not healthy for any child.”

His Miami relatives agree.

“The boy wanted to be here [in Miami], but he’s obliged to live in an absurd system,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Fidel doesn’t let us communicate with him. Neither Elian nor his father agrees with the regime. He went back to Cuba only because the Clinton administration pressured him to.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide