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Elian Gonzalez staying out of public eye

From John Zarrella
CNN Miami Bureau

CARDENAS, Cuba (CNN) -- Not often, but every once in a while, Elian Gonzalez makes a public appearance.

And on occasion, Cuban President Fidel Castro stops by to visit, as he did in November when Hurricane Michelle flooded the Gonzalez home in Cardenas.

But so far, as the Castro government promised, the boy who was the center of an international custody battle two years ago has since led a private life with his father, Juan Miguel, and stepmother.

Elian lived in the public eye after his mother and 10 other would-be immigrants died when their boat capsized off the Florida coast in 1999. Elian was taken to Miami, where relatives gained custody of him.

After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block his repatriation, federal agents seized Elian in a raid on the relatives' Miami home, and he was returned to Cuba with his father.

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These days, visitors would never know Elian, now 8. On the streets of Cardenas, there are no pictures, signs or posters of the boy.

His family apparently wants to keep it that way. They wouldn't talk to CNN, saying the experience is behind them.

The only place with any mention of Elian is the town museum, where a room is filled with photos, mostly of the boy's return. There's also a school book from his time in Washington -- where he stayed before returning to Cuba -- and a T-shirt worn by the fisherman who rescued him.

"Elian represents for us history. He is part of our country's history, of our town, our province," one resident said.

But the Cuban facility is not the only Elian museum.

The Miami home where Elian lived with his relatives is also a museum. There, too, are pictures of a happy boy -- with Santa Claus, with his dog -- and his clothes, still in a closet. His bed is made up and covered with stuffed animals.

Delphin Gonzalez, a great-uncle in Miami, said he hoped former U.S. President Jimmy Carter would mention Elian during his visit to Cuba this week.

"If there [are] rights of free press and freedom of expression," he said, "I would ask Jimmy Carter to ask Elian in public if he would like to stay in Cuba or come back to Miami."




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