Cuba: Interview with Elian Gonzalez as he Turns 20December 5, 2013 | Print |
Elian Gonzalez: “Fidel Castro Has Done Nothing Other Than Ease the World’s Suffering”
By Café Fuerte
HAVANA TIMES — About to turn 20, Elian Gonzalez declares himself an atheist, but tacitly confesses that his admiration for his mentor Fidel Castro borders on a kind of religious faith.
“Fidel Castro is like a father to me. I don’t profess to have any religion, but, if I did, my god would be Fidel Castro,” Gonzalez, today studying industrial engineering, declared during an interview published this Tuesday by the Cuban blog Quinquenio de Luz. The site is published and managed by journalism students at the University of Matanzas.
Gonzalez stated: “Fidel has done nothing other than ease the world’s suffering.”
He also spoke about how the aged leader had helped him choose a career and path in life.
“Fidel Castro is like a father to me. Fidel placed the best education at my disposal; art instructors who helped me choose my path. That’s why my father has been so demanding of me and why I work hard not to let him down,” the young man, who is to celebrate his birthday this coming Friday, said.
Elian Gonzalez, taken out of the country illegally on a raft in November 1999 that capsized and whose return to Cuba from Miami (June 2000), unleashed a heated controversy on both sides of the Florida Strait, was interviewed by students at his university days after appearing at the Plaza de la Libertad in Matanzas to blame the United States for the death of his mother at sea in November 1999 and ask President Barack Obama to release the Cuban spies [Cuban Five] serving prison sentences in the United States.
Gonzalez appears to be experiencing a re-birth as a public figure: on Monday, he was also interviewed in Havana by the US network NBC.
The young university student is preparing for his first trip abroad since returning to the island on June 28, 2000. He is to attend the 18th World Youth and Students Festival, to be held in Quito, Ecuador from December 7 to 13, as a delegate. Cuba’s standard-bearing delegation includes some 300 delegates and invitees and a group of artists.
Note: Owing to the many implications of the young man’s declarations, we decided to translate and publish the entire text of the interview and let readers reach their own conclusions about the ongoing saga of Elian Gonzalez.
THE YOUNG ELIAN GONZALEZ
By Claudia Diaz Perez
Who doesn’t remember his eyes, staring at us from behind the bars, his horrified face the night of his rescue in Florida or his childlike voice asking for a plane to take him back to Cuba?
The story of Elian Gonzalez Brotons, the 6-year-old child who lost his mother at sea during a voyage to the United States and was later held by distant relatives who refused to return him to his father in Cuba, set a record in terms of the time devoted to it by all news broadcasts.
Today, fourteen years later, many wonder about the young man who will turn twenty on December 6 this year. Gonzalez, who retains the affectionate gaze of his childhood, today aglow with happiness, eagerly agreed to grant us this interview.
Our conversation took place in an informal setting, on a bench of the Camilo Cienfuegos University in Matanzas, where Gonzalez is studying industrial engineering. A sensitive person whose voice changes when speaking about his father’s affection and demands, the selfless love of the mother who accepted him as a son, about Fidel, his bodyguards and friends, he occasionally interrupts our conversation to say hello to classmates and professors or to crack a joke about something. He even offered to share his lunch with me – the fact is that Elian has an unassuming, lighthearted and humble air to him.
What impact has being a public figure had on your life?
EG: I’m pretty shy, so, whenever I have to stand and talk somewhere, knowing that everyone is looking at me and that I’ve perhaps become the center of attention, someone many look on as a guide, a symbol, that’s quite hard for me, I feel even more inhibited then. It’s not something I got accustomed to easily. I would prefer to go unnoticed. I don’t like being the center of attention anywhere. I think that going unnoticed, like any normal kid, not having everyone follow every gesture, word or action closely, would be more pleasant for me.
What does Fidel Castro represent for you?
EG: Fidel Castro is like a father to me. I don’t profess to have any religion, but, if I did, my god would be Fidel Castro. At one point, when I was still a child, I was interviewed and asked what Fidel Castro represented for me, and I said he was like a great ship that took its crew on the right course. I still believe this. Fidel Castro means everything to Cuba. He means everything to the world because, though he has never received a Nobel Peace Prize, no one has done more for world peace than he has.
That’s why I believe that, more than a father to me, he ought to be considered a father by the whole world. He has great opponents who regard him as a monster, for the simple fact that Fidel has brought about a new alternative that has stopped their plans for expansion, conquest and development dead in their tracks, for having shown the world’s public opinion that it is possible to build a different society, were human wellbeing is the main thing. Fidel has done nothing other than ease the world’s suffering.
What do you think about your father’s decision?
EG: He’s never regretted his decision and I’ve never reproached him for having made it. I think it was the wisest decision he could make, a decision based on his ideals. It was also in response to the trust placed on us by Fidel, the revolution and all the people of Cuba. He demonstrated that we Cubans are people of worthy, noble and honorable ideals who cherish our families and do not allow ourselves to be bought with money. He was offered a lot of money, even checks, and he refused to accept them, for the simple fact that all he wanted was to be next to his family.
Imperialism cannot sully our ideals or our cause by saying my dad returned to Cuba because part of his family was still there, no, because the revolutionary leadership told him that if he wanted to stay in the United States that they would issue passports for everyone.
I had a small parrot and, at the time, they told my dad that, if his decision was to stay, that even the parrot would get a passport. This goes to show you that they didn’t want to have us in Cuba by force, against our will.
Some people perhaps think that my dad became a revolutionary then. He joined the Young Communists League and was a secretary for its base committee when he was very young. At the time of the incident, he was already a member of the Party, that is to say, he wasn’t someone detached from the revolution, as some believe. If, after what I’d gone through, what he wanted was his son’s wellbeing, then he made the best decision possible, because the best place for a child to be in the world is Cuba. There, I was guaranteed the best education, the best treatment, the most sincere affection.
What would you change about your life story, if you could?
EG: If my mother hadn’t died, perhaps things would have been easier for me. Ultimately, it’s the hand I was dealt and I have to take it. This is one of our strong points for accusing the US government of claiming many lives, my mother’s included, with the Cuban Adjustment Act.
How has your life in Cuba been, and how do you think it would have been in the United States?
EG: My life in Cuba has been like that of any other young Cuban, with the added responsibility that comes with my family’s merits, the reason I have been honored. There are some limitations, because of the guards assigned to me, out of fear of reprisals from imperialism. In Cuba, I’ve been able to be next to my parents, my siblings, my grandparents. I was able to go back to my neighborhood, play with my childhood friends, instead of with those new friends I didn’t want. I’ve been able to feel the love my city and all of Cuba feels.
I know the people of the United States supported me at the time, but it’s not the same kind of love. Everywhere I go, there’s always a child, an old woman who comes up to me and wants to meet me, not because I am a personality, but because they followed and suffered over the incident with my family.
In Cuba, I enjoy freedoms I would be denied in the United States, including the anonymity I enjoy at times, because, as time goes by, some people cease to recognize me. I can walk comfortably down the streets of Cuba without being chased by the press or by people. I would have been denied this tranquility had I stayed in the United States.
In the United States, I would be a media figure. Perhaps, they would have pushed me into politics or culture. I would perhaps have become a singer – that would have been one way of continuing to make money at my expense. I wouldn’t enjoy the peace I do here. The press would be breathing down my neck, as they tend to do with famous people. There are people who strive to be famous, but that’s not my case. I would rather go unnoticed.
Who are the people who have been an important part of your education?
EG: In terms of my education, the people who have been there for me the most have been my mom and dad. I’ve been calling my stepmother “mom” since I was a little kid because she raised me like her own son. At times, she’s even made me a priority over her other children and she’s always been a pillar for me.
My father has been everything to me. He has known how to encourage me and give me the life I deserve, the praise I’ve earned. But he’s also been very demanding. Getting a 90 or 99 on an exam wasn’t enough for him, it had to be 100, I had to shine – not because he wanted me to be better than others but because he wanted me to be the pride of the Cuban people, and himself.
My dad always told me I had to be grateful to Fidel. Fidel has also been an indispensible part of my education. He would always go to my birthday parties. I would always await that moment anxiously. It was the ideal moment to see him. I am a person of very few words; I wouldn’t say anything whenever he stood in front of me. It was enough for me to see him and hug him. I’ll always remember what he said, that I was someone the whole world knew, that what I had to do now was become good at something – that’s what he asked me to do. He didn’t care what path I chose.
It didn’t matter to him if I became an industrial engineer (which is what I’m studying to become), a civil engineer or a military officer – the idea was that I be good at what I did. Fidel placed the best education at my disposal; art instructors who helped me choose my path. That’s why my father has been so demanding of me and why I work hard not to let him down.
Fidel would always contact me at the right moment, whenever he found out I was doing well at school or about any other achievement or acknowledgment. He would give me good advice, congratulate me. He began to encourage me when he found out I liked the sea and swimming. I have the privilege of having heard Fidel say he considered himself my friend. Many people are friends of Fidel and he has proven his friendship to them, but I am particularly honored he called me his friend at a public function.
I’ve been part of the Por los caminos de la historia (“Paths of History”) project since I was a little kid, and it’s helped me find my way, forge my character as a young revolutionary, to face up to adversity. The project helped me overcome my stage fear. When I was younger, I didn’t want to talk to the press. Thanks to the project, I was able to understand the press was part of my life.
I had very good teachers, like Sarita, in the project. I am also grateful to my bodyguards, who have been looking after me since I was six. More than a team of bodyguards that protected me, they acted like my friends. On occasion, I had no one to turn to or I had the kind of problem you share with a friend and not with parents, I approached them. Our closeness became trust.
In the project, I met some of the people who are close friends of mine today. At first, everyone went their separate ways, but, today, we’re seeing the results – the years have gone by and we continue to meet up. These friends have helped me overcome many obstacles.
I’ll never forget my time in the Camilo Cienfuegos military school in Matanzas (known in Cuba as “Los Camilitos”). I owe my strength of character, my temperament, the nature of my personality to the teachers at this academy, who saw me go through my adolescence and become a young man. It was a time of change for me.