When he was six, his terrified face – photographed during a raid by armed immigration officers on his family’s Miami home – became one of the most memorable images of cold war tensions between the US and Cuba.
Now 29, and more than two decades after he was forcibly deported from Florida to his homeland at the direction of the US supreme court, Elián González is poised to become one of Cuba’s most senior lawmakers.
His nomination for a seat in the 470-member national assembly, announced in the Caribbean island’s government newspaper Granma on Tuesday, is seen as a high honor at a young age for González, who has long been critical of US policy towards Cuba.
Hailed by the outlet as “representing the most worthy of the Cuban youth”, González will join the members who meet several times a year to discuss and set laws for the island’s communist regime.
The months-long custody battle over González began in 1999, when he survived the sinking of a ship bringing Cuban refugees to Florida. His mother died, and the child was looked after by relatives, including his great-uncle Lazaro, at their house in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.
The tug-of-war between the boy’s father – still in Cuba – and his relatives in Florida for custody soon evolved into a full-scale diplomatic face-off, with the communist dictator Fidel Castro bombastically threatening to dispatch guerrilla squads to snatch Elián back.
The tense situation created a headache for the Bill Clinton White House. Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, became a pariah among Miami’s influential Cuban expat community for siding with the father and ordering the early morning seizure of the boy at gunpoint. His angry relatives said Reno had tricked them by ordering the military-style raid while they believed they were negotiating a voluntary handover.
González was treated like a hero on his return to Havana, and he was used frequently as a prop by the Castro r