25 Photos of the Elian Gonzalez Cuban Refugee Crisis


Elian Gonzalez is a Cuban national who, as a child in 2000, became the center of an international custody and immigration battle rooted in Cold War politics.

Elizabeth Brotons Rodriguez, Gonzalez’s mother, drowned in November 1999 while attempting to leave Cuba and reach America with her son and her boyfriend. The U.S.Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) initially placed Gonzalez with relatives in Miami.

When a United States district court ruled that only Gonzalez’s father, and not his extended relatives, could petition for asylum on the child’s behalf, federal agents removed Gonzalez from his American relatives and given back to his father in Cuba in June 2000.

President Bill Clinton and then Attorney General, Janet Reno, ordered the return of Elian Gonzalez to his father with a deadline of April 13, 2000. Gonzalez’s Miami relatives defied the order, continuing negotiations with hopes of regaining custody.

On April 20, Reno made the decision to remove Elian Gonzalez from the house. Before dawn, on April 22, Border Patrol agents forcibly entered the house, while pepper spraying any protestor outside the house who approached too close.

Elian was returned to Cuba on June 28, 2000. This ordeal was a polarizing event in America. Many people viewed Gonzalez’s return to his father as a good thing because the child belonged with his father and that was of ultimate importance. Other people felt that to defy Gonzalez’s mother’s dying wish: to give her son a better life in America, and instead send him back to be brainwashed by the Communist groupthink was more important than reuniting him with his father.

Elian Gonzalez, the scared boy who was rescued off the coast of Miami, on a stretcher to be taken to the hospital to ensure his health after his rescue on Thanksgiving Day, 1999. CNN
Gonzalaz decorates a Christmas tree with his cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez in December 1999. CNN
On Thanksgiving Day 1999, 5-year old Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez was discovered floating in an inner tube by fishermen off the coast of Florida. Two days prior, a small boat carrying his mother, Elizabeth Brotons Rodriguez, and at least 10 others, capsized in the waters between Cuba and the United States. Time
A day following his Nov. 25 rescue, Elian was transferred from a hospital into the care of his great uncle Lazaro Gonzalez and his cousin Maryslesis. On Nov. 27, Elian’s biological father began to demand the return of his son to Cuba, though Gonzalez makes the case that the boy would be better served in America. Time
On Dec. 10, Elian’s American relatives filed an asylum request, hoping to keep the boy in Miami. Cubans were outraged. This sign, in the town of Malecon, reads “Return Elian to his Fatherland.” On Jan. 5, the INS announces that Elian must be returned to Cuba by January 14. Months of lobbying and legal battles on both sides ensued. In early April, Elian’s father flies to America to make his case in person. Cuban-Americans in Miami’s Little Havana began to gather around Elian’s house, to prevent any attempt to remove him from the city. Time
MIAMI: Elian Gonzalez is held by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fl., during the Three Kings Parade 09 January 2000, in Miami’s Little Havana. Elian received a subpoena late 07 January 2000 to testify before the US Congress in Washington, DC in February. RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images
Then US Attorney General Janet Reno in a news conference advocating the return of Elain Gonzalez to his family in Cuba. CNN
Federal forces keeping the crowds away with pepper spray as the van that will become the get-a-way car approaches the Gonzalez residence. CBS
The sequence of photographs depicting American Federal Agents forcibly removing Elian Gonzalez from his uncle’s care. iconicphotos
Federal Agents removing Elian Gonzalez from his uncle’s home in Miami. CNN
Elian Gonzalez is taken from his relatives’ home in Miami by a government worker on April 22, 2000. CBS News
Elian Gonzalez is loaded into the white minivan to be taken away from his home and given back to his father. CBS