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Elian Gonzalez

In 1999, the 6-year-old boy, Elian Gonzalez was found floating on the remains of a capsized boat off the coast of Florida. His mother had brought Elian along in an attempt to flee to the US, but had been surprised by a storm. In all 11 people drowned, including Elian’s mother and stepfather. Elian was brought to Miami where he was placed in the care of his American relatives. This was the start of a 5 month diplomatic tug-of-war between the US and Cuba. His family in Cuba demanded his return, while the Cuban exiles and his relatives in Miami argued that no democratic country would return an innocent child to Communist Cuba. Five months later, after having created a diplomatic row between Cuba and the US, he was returned to his father. The return of the five-year-old boy became the greatest victory for Fidel Castro since the revolution in 1959.

Listening Exercise

Listen to the BBC program (10 min). Take notes as you listen. After the program, compare notes with a partner before you decide on 10 points that sum up the information you are given.

BBC Witness: Elian Gonzales

Reading for information

Go through the sites below - articles and videos - before you answer the questions:


  1. Explain the circumstances how Elian ended up in Florida in the first place.
  2. Explain why Elian became a problem for the US government. What was President Clinton’s opinion on the matter?
  3. The Elian Gonzalez case was loaded with strong emotions. Why?
  4. Elian’s family in Miami described the removal of Elian from his Florida-home as a kidnapping. His Cuban family on the other hand described it as a rescue. Who do you think is right?
  5. What happened to Elian after he returned to Cuba?
  6. Some would say that the end justifies the means, and that keeping Elian in the US would be best for the child in the long term, even though he was being kept from his father. In your opinion, to what degree has a government the right to intervene in individuals’ lives, arguing that “we know what is best for you”?
  7. Compare and contrast at least two of the sources above. Comment on purpose and language.