April 22, 2015

Fifteen years ago today the news media reported on the seizure of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez by armed U.S. federal agents. The story had begun a few months earlier:

“On Thanksgiving Day 1999, 5-year old Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez is discovered floating in an inner tube by fishermen off the coast of Florida. Two days prior, a small boat carrying his mother, Elizabeth Brotons, and at least 10 others, capsized in the waters between Cuba and the United States.

A day following his Nov. 25 rescue, Elian is transferred from a hospital into the care of his great uncle Lazaro Gonzalez and his cousin Maryslesis. On Nov. 27, Elian’s biological father begins to demand the return of his son to Cuba, though Gonzalez makes the case that the boy would be better served in America.”

— “Brief History of the Elian Gonzalez Saga
Time Magazine

A page one headline from the Farmingham Daily Times:


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This excerpt from the Miami Herald story, “Raid returns Elian to father,” is part of a collection of the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting about Elian Gonzalez:

“It took five months for the custody battle over Elian Gonzalez to build to a tense standoff. It took federal agents less than three minutes to end it.

In a cleanly executed predawn raid that caught Elian’s Miami relatives off guard, armed and helmeted U.S. Border Patrol officers pushed aside a handful of demonstrators to batter in the door of their Little Havana home. At gunpoint, they took the boy from the grip of his Thanksgiving Day rescuer, fisherman Donato Dalrymple.

‘We’re taking you to see your papa,’ a Spanish-speaking female agent, Betty Mills, told the terrified boy as she carried him out of the house to a government van.

Before most of Miami awoke Saturday to what had occurred, Elian had been reunited with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C.”

Alan Diaz, who took the famous AP photograph of the Elian Gonzalez’s seizure, was also awarded a Pulitzer. The following excerpt comes from the award’s website:

“The saga of the 6-year-old Cuban boy gripped the nation for five months, and Diaz’s pictures were often on front pages. He was the only photographer to capture the pivotal moments inside the home in Miami’s Little Havana section, and his dramatic pictures were immediately transmitted to AP members and subscribers around the world. ‘I was just doing my job,’ he said afterwards, ‘I did what I always do — I shoot pictures.'”

In 2010 the Associated Press posted this video about the tenth anniversary of Elian Gonzalez’s return to Cuba:

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