Cuba fascinates me! My longtime interest finally led me to travel to the island in 2016 and again in 2018. Next I read the book Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana by Ann Louise Bardach. The book details the back and forth politics between the US and Cuba based on a decade of investigative reporting including interviews with the major players all the way up to Fidel Castro himself. After completing the book, which largely focused on the Elian Gonzalez saga of 1999, my intrigue with the island nation was at an all-time high.
Twenty years have passed since the Elian event. A brief refresher might help. On Thanksgiving Day in 1999, two fishermen spotted an object floating in the distance off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale. Upon closer examination, they discovered a 5-year-old boy floating alone in an inner tube. After notifying the Coast Guard, they got the boy to shore and to a local hospital. It was later discovered that his name was Elian Gonzalez and that he had relatives living in Miami.
The boy had arrived as one of only three survivors from a small boat fleeing Cuba. (The other two were found in another location miles away.) His mother perished during the trip and his father was still living in Cuba. The couple was divorced and the father did not know of the escape. Elian was released to his Miami relatives and this is where the drama begins. A bitter custody battle ensued that held the boy in a hostage situation for nearly 6 months. It drew international attention as the two governments metaphorically fired shots over the bow at each other.
I remembered the story well. I was a sophomore at the University of Tennessee and I couldn’t wait for winter break. The talk surrounded two things at the time; Elian Gonzalez and whether Y2K would disrupt the world and wreak havoc on computer systems everywhere. For the duration of my winter break, I was inundated with images of the young Cuban boy, and “experts” prophesying the consequences at the turn of the century. When nothing happened on January 1, 2000, the world again turned to Miami and to the fate of Elian.
The saga ended when the authorities raided the small Miami home in the middle of the night and returned the boy to his father and eventually to his home in Cardenas, Cuba. The story had major political consequences that helped to influence the famous battle for President of the United States in 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Remember the Florida debacle?
Visiting Cuba in 2016 did nothing to tamp down my captivation with the socialist island. In fact, it only deepened my curiosity of the lore of the Cuban Revolution, including its main characters Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos. This modern day story of real revolution by way of guerrilla warfare happened within my parent’s lifetime. It all started with the coup d’etat that eventually led a group of defectors to victory.
After reading Cuba Confidential and another visit to Havana, I couldn’t get enough of Cuban history. By this time, I had visited the Museum of the Revolution, read Che’s Motorcycle diaries, and consumed every documentary film I could find on Castro, Guevara, and the revolution. My mind, however, kept wandering back to Elian. What was he doing now? What did he look like? I decided to find out for myself. In March (2019), I sent Elian a series of short messages in hopes that I may get a response. In July, over 4 months from my first message, I finally received that response!
At that moment, I knew I had to go to Cuba, again. This is where the story begins.