Cuba: Interview with Elian Gonzalez as he Turns 20

December 5, 2013 | Print Print |

Elian Gonzalez: “Fidel Castro Has Done Nothing Other Than Ease the World’s Suffering”

By Café Fuerte

Elian Gonzalez from the blog Quinquenio de Luz.

Elian Gonzalez from the blog Quinquenio de Luz.

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.
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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.

Elian Gonzalez when he was in a military academy.

Elian Gonzalez when he was in a military academy. Photo: cubadebate.cu

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.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Pobrecito….this kid is a product of the toxic relationship between the US and Cuba. His deformities aren’t physical, they are psychological. Fidel Castro…a god? Is it just a coincidence that many North Koreans say the same thing about Kim Jong-un and devout Iranians believe as much about Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. How has he come to blame the US for his mother’s death? She drowned trying to escape Castro’s tyranny. Even the lefties who comment frequently here at HT should admit that this kid is twisted. Sad interview.

  • ronbobel777

    need to end the embargo on cuba. we are the only country to have such a policy. OFAC has more important things to do than to spy on americans going to cuba.

  • Lauren

    Elian needed to be with his dad and to go home. Had he remained in Miami, he never would have had a moments peace. All we need to do is just wish him the best and leave him be. He’s happy where he is.

    • Moses Patterson

      I disagree. He, like everyone else, would have had his 15 minutes of fame and then he would have been left alone. OK, maybe on the 10th and 20th anniversary, some news producer would track him down for one of those “where are they now” segments. Every few years, there has been some high-profile Cuban who has escaped Castro’s tyranny and they have received the same treatment. It’s just the nature of celebrity here in the US.

      • Informed Consent

        In this case I must disagree. When the mother tragically died and the father reclaimed him, irrespective of political motivations, he needed to return to Cuba. It’s tragic that the mother gave her life to try and provide her sun a better one, and that the father didn’t give his son the opportunity the US would have given him, but return he must.

        Today The United States government is working with many families in a similar situation in which children have been taken removed, seeking their return. In fact a few years ago there was a much publicized case of a father in Boston trying to have his son returned from Brazil. The mother had illegally removed him from the US. That probably would have tragically the end of it except the mother died of cancer shortly their after. The mothers family tried to prevent his return to the US (sound familiar?) but the father finally prevailed

        He needed to return. Unlike other Cuban children, Elian has enjoyed a privileged life, unfortunately used as the very propaganda piece critics feared he would become in the US. How many Cuban children can claim an Uncle Fidel, a sort of perverse Castro Clause.

  • Moses Patterson

    Really? I knew it wouldn’t take long before you would resort to name-calling. If you can’t argue against the message, shoot the messenger. A strategy straight from the Castro playbook. One more thing: If Cuba had a wet foot/dry foot policy just for you, would you go? Why not?

    • John Goodrich

      Calling you a liar is only stating a necessary fact.
      I am careful to point out your lies of omission with the hard facts.
      I am always willing to point out bullshit when I read it whether from the corporate media , the imperialist U.S. government or those like you who are witting accomplices in those lies.
      It’s been my way for some 45 years .
      I regret only not having the time to respond to every untruth since most of my time is taking up in researching the historical facts that back up my arguments.
      That said, I will admit that I have taken a special interest in your factually weak posts and am trying to respond to as many as I can to put the lie to them .
      Shooting fish in a barrel CAN be fun for a while.
      As to your question, my family, my friends, my culture are all centered in the U.S.
      They are all the same reasons anyone stays where they are .
      Secondly and to the point, it is my moral duty as a citizen of the world and this country to try to fix the myriad problems in my own country and not run away from them as you would prefer.
      I also prefer that the Cubans work out their own affairs without the U.S. interfering as they have in scores of countries over the past century.
      You seem to have a problem with self-determination and no problem at all with imperialism. .

      • Moses Patterson

        Please point out a “lie of omission” or “bullshit” in any comment that I have made. Prove your point. BTW, given your reasons to remain in the US despite your differences with our government, how bad would your life have to be to leave everyone you love behind and risk it all in a rickety boat to travel to the another country. That is how bad life is for many Cubans. They marry foreigners that they do not love, they risk everything because they believe there is no future for them in their native country. How bad would your life in the US have to be to feel that way? You need to talk to Cubans as a part of your “moral duty” before commenting on Cuba.

  • John Goodrich

    You might want to consider that a great many people in the U.S also consider the brain-addled Ronald Reagan as something of a conservative/imperialist idol to this day .
    On this occasion of Nelson Mandela’s death it is worth noting that Reagan vetoed the embargo against apartheid South Africa and termed Nelson Mandela a terrorist .
    Also worth noting is that the U.S. corporate media will make no mention of Nelson Mandela praising the Cubans and especially Fidel Castro as the only people, the only nation to come to the aid of the black South Africans when they needed the help most.

    • Informed Consent

      …Do you just make this stuff up? Case in point; “US Corporate Media will make no mention of Nelson Mandela…praising Fidel Castro” I think you had best go to the home page of MiamiHerald.com, I am sure that’s just one of many stories out there in the corporate media. I think a fair question is why the average Cuban directly access havanatimes.org?

      …thank you but I’ll take the corporate media every time.

    • Moses Patterson

      Wrong again. Wolf Blitzer just reported on CNN how Congress finally overrode the Reagan veto to impose sanctions of the Apartheid South Africa. He also very clearly reported how “loyal” Mandela was to his friend Fidel Castro. US corporate media is more left-wing than you realize.

  • Informed Consent

    How ironic is it then that the very ‘wet foot, dry foot” policy has kept the Castro regime in power. It must be very convenient to be able to simply have your social agitators and malcontents simply cross the gulf stream and leave the country. That so many millions would choose to do so is a testament to your socialist paradise. Funny how it doesn’t seem to work in reverse.

    …by the way how much time do you have on your hands for all this research you say you’re doing. No wonder you hate capitalism, you don’t seem to be working.

  • Dan

    They have Elian. We have Marco Rubio. Damn it.

  • informed Consent

    Cuba a good example of a successful economy? The failure that is Cuba is the failure of communist central planning. A historic failure as it has brought misery and poverty to every country that has tried it!

    There is nothing worse than your type of armchair Bolshevik. Someone that sings the praises of communism while safely ensconced in the bosom of the US. Your comments would even be laughable if they weren’t so personally offensive. Having personally experienced the wonders of your socialist paradise I can only say I don’t recommend it. Thank god that after much effort and heartache my parents were able to send me to the U S

  • NAM

    I HOPE and STILL PRAY he “DEFECT” to the US

  • Moses Patterson

    Do you honestly believe that but for the embargo, Cuba would have emerged as some economic success story? Like a Latin American Sweden? Are you nuts. More like a Guatemala. Cuba was likely doomed to be poor regardless of the embargo. Even with millions of Soviet Rubles, the Castros did not do the necessary infrastructure maintenance. Fidel singlehandedly destroyed the sugar industry. But for the Venezuelan oil subsides and remittances fro family abroad, Cuba would be in the tank. There was, no has there ever been, a fear that Castros Cuba would work. How did it work out for the USSR?

    • john goodrich

      The more important issue is the living standards of all the Cuban people whom your embargo has attempted to impoverish such that it would resemble the poorer capitalist nations .
      Again, check the Human Development Index of the U.N.’s W.H.O . and you’ll see that Cubans are doing much better than the peoples of the other 150 or so countries that are ranked under Cuba.
      AND…they have accomplished this having had the most powerful country to ever have existed wage a 50+ year economic war on them.
      Absent their socialist-style method of distributing essential goods and services , the country would have suffered the same fate as the other 50 or so countries into which the U.S. has intervened over the past 100 years or so and been forced into returning to your beloved poverty-creating capitalism.
      Your argument about socialism being a failure is, of course, absurd because were it a sure failure, the 50+ year U.S embargo would not then be necessary , would it ?
      Sure , the embargo is successful in doing what was intended in creating misery and hardship throughout the entire Cuban society but it remains unsuccessful in the aim of the embargo which was the collapse of the revolution and the return to capitalism.
      It must be most annoying to you to see that those stupid, stupid Cubans just refuse to see things your way .

  • Moses Patterson

    Earlier in this posting you state that the major media would NOT report the truth and now you change your story to they HAVE to report the truth. So admit you were wrong. Why do they HAVE to report it? Because it’s a competitive business? That’s called CAPITALISM. Yes, news outlets are owned by rich people. Why is that a bad thing? You say there are no socialist owners or managers or reporters? I disagree. How do you know the political beliefs of these people? Their job is to report the news, not reflect their beliefs. Does a socialist reporter report a car wreck or a hurricane different than a capitalist reporter? I should hope not! The more you comment, the more you sound like a Junior High School debate student…who lost!

  • Informed Consent

    Feel free to point out where I’m wrong as I gave no statistics here. Cuban’s vote with their feet and flee Cuba on a daily basis (I notice no ones fleeing TO Cuba) Whatever their exact numbers it’s a heck of a lot! And I’m afraid it’s you that bandies about those banal pejoratives of yours on every single post. You lack only a podium to bang your shoe on.

    …and no I’m not about to read your idea of a serious academic book. I don’t find Chomsky particularly appealing. Even his linguistic theory has been discredited. ….yes I’m sure that’s a nefarious attack by right wing imperialists as well.

  • Moses Patterson

    Thank you for attempting to respond to my comment in English. It is clearly not your native tongue. One simple comment. Cubans do not have access to drugs manufactured in the US because the Castros choose not to purchase them. Medicine is excluded from the embargo. So the next time a Cuban whines about not having Nyquil to help his stuffy nose, blame the Castros, not the US embargo.

  • Rakel

    que poco objetivo el muchacho…salio renco de la cabeza…pero se mira q esta rico para otra cosita.