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Cuban Elian Gonzalez, rescued at sea as boy, now running for parliament

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Elian Gonzalez first gained notoriety when on Thanksgiving Day 1999 fisherman rescued the 5-year-old from a flimsy boat floating between Cuba and Florida./AFP
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Feb 08, 2023 - 10:03 AM

HAVANA, CUBA — Now age 29, Elian Gonzalez has grown up from the child whose 1999 family crisis became the unwitting symbol for the breakdown of Washington-Havana relations to this week becoming a candidate for a seat in Cuba’s parliament.

State newspaper Granma on Monday released the list of the 470 candidates running for a spot in the upcoming session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, which included Gonzalez, who is currently an executive at a public company.

Gonzalez first gained international notoriety when on Thanksgiving Day 1999 fishermen rescued the five-year-old from a flimsy boat floating between Cuba and Florida after his mother and 10 others had died while trying to reach the United States.

Seen by many as the youth candidate, Gonzalez is running to represent Cardenas, a city 135 kilometers (84 miles) east of Havana.

Candidates were submitted by municipal delegates last week, while voters will have the chance to approve or reject the choices in late March.

After Gonzalez’s sea rescue as a child, a dramatic and widely watched custody dispute ensued. Some relatives argued he belonged with them in Miami, while his father fought to bring his son back to communist-ruled Cuba.

The episode became an international flashpoint and provoked fascination within both countries — sparking debate over immigration policy in the United States and mass demonstrations in Cuba calling for the boy’s return.

Months after he first arrived, armed US federal agents raided the home of Gonzalez’s relatives in Miami to retrieve him and send him back to live with his father in Cuba.

Since his return to the island nation, Gonzalez has taken on a visible position in pro-revolution politics, though he has said he also hopes to reconnect with his family in Miami.

“We have been separated by laws, by the embargo, by the sea. We don’t have to continue to separate ourselves as a family,” he told CNN in 2017.

The now-industrial engineer and Communist Party member has sometimes re-emerged in the public eye in Cuba, including receiving birthday wishes from President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who also appeared on the candidate list for the next legislative session.

Also on the list is retired revolutionary figure Raul Castro, the 91-year-old brother of Fidel Castro, and several other former and current members of the party.

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