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Elian Gonzalez, One Year LaterAired November 23, 2000 - 2:25 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, by all accounts, Elian Gonzalez is a typical, happy-go-lucky school boy back home in Cuba. His family insists he is doing fine after that lengthy ordeal that ended with his return to Cuba. It was last Thanksgiving Day that Elian was pulled from the sea and pushed into the international spotlight.
CNN's Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman went to Elian's hometown.
LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): In the small, Cuban coastal town of Cardenas, there's nothing to show that anything earth-shattering ever happened here, except perhaps for this poster that reads: "Elian, this is your land."
It's one of the few remaining signs of a saga that became a Cuban and, at times, international, obsession.
(on camera): It was from here in Cardenas, on Cuba's northern coast, that Elian Gonzalez, his mother, and a dozen others left on a small boat, hoping to reach the United States. On Thanksgiving Day, Elian was rescued at sea, after his boat sank, and taken to Miami, unleashing an international custody battle of unforeseeable dimensions.
(voice-over): A year later, the child who became a living symbol of 40 years of political conflict between the United States and Cuba is back in Cardenas. His great aunt says Elian comes by all the time to play with her puppy; adding the boy shows no sign of any trauma.
OLGA HERNANDEZ, ELIAN'S GREAT AUNT (through translator): Elian is very happy. It's incredible. We never thought he could bounce back so well. I wish you could see him.
NEWMAN: But no one can see him, at least from the news media, which has been vigorously kept away from his home and his school in keeping with his father's wish to shield Elian from the limelight.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who once said that when his son returned to Cuba he never wanted to see another camera pointed at him again, has also consistently refused interview requests.
The last time Elian was allowed to be observed was on the first day of the school year, where he chanted slogans praising Che Guevara and communism. Life back to normal.
But for the Cuban government, which mobilized an unprecedented number of its citizens and resources in a 7-month battle for the child's return to Cuba, things have changed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A year later, the people of the United States know our reality better and understand that they, like us, are victims of their government's irrational and obsolete policy.
NEWMAN: How much of an impact the Elian saga had on Americans' perceptions of Cuba is still unclear. What is unquestionable is that Elian's return to Cuba was a resounding political victory for Cuba's president, and a devastating blow to his arch-enemies, the anti-Castro exile community in the United States.
President Fidel Castro channeled the emotions of the custody battle into a campaign to bolster nationalism and sagging revolutionary fervor, especially amongst Cuba's increasingly disenchanted younger generations.
As for the child who provoked so much commotion, his family is trying to make sure he doesn't stand out, something almost impossible for a boy whose name is unlikely to be forgotten by Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.
Lucia Newman, CNN, Cardenas, Cuba.
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