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Elian's life will be 'normal,' but he will always be special

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July 1, 2000


HAVANA, (AP) - Now that his American saga has drawn to a close, Elian Gonzalez began a new chapter Thursday in his homeland, where officials say they will work to provide the boy with as normal a life as possible.


But after months of turmoil - and with Cuba's government planning to continue the mass mobilization inspired by his plight - normalcy will be a big transition for the brown-haired 6-year-old.


On his first full day back in Cuba, Elian was far from the public eye, with his father, stepmother, baby half-brother and other relatives in a specially prepared boarding school in Havana's upscale Playa neighborhood.


"I imagine that Elian and his family must be very happy that they have now returned to daily Cuban family life," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aymee Hernandez said Thursday. "At this moment he must be doing what all children do in Cuba, having breakfast, sharing closeness with his papa and his papa's wife, who will take on the role of his mama."


In several weeks, Elian will return to his former life in the small port city of Cardenas, live in the same modest home with his father. He will go back to the Marcelo Salado elementary school, where his classmates transformed his empty desk into a shrine.


But even if he doesn't receive any special treatment, the little boy who loved kites in Cuba and wore a Batman cape in Miami will always be special.


He will be remembered by the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who marched and chanted and wore T-shirts with his portrait during a seven-month campaign to bring him home as the "boy hero," the "symbolic child," the "elfin prince."


"He will always be, rather than a normal citizen, a symbol, an example and a glory for all the children of Cuba and pride for all the teachers of Cuba," the government said in a statement.


For that reason, "our self-denying teachers and pedagogues must undertake the masterful work of making him a model child, worthy of his history, his strengths and talent," the statement added.


Elian's relatives in Miami, who fought a bitter battle to retain custody, argued the boy would be subjected to political persecution if he returned. They took Elian in after he was rescued off Florida's coast when the boat carrying him from Cuba sank, killing his mother and 10 others.


Opponents of returning Elian to Cuba predicted he would be forced to denounce his mother as a traitor for attempting to take him to the United States.


But there's been no sign so far that or any other persecution. Cuba has described Elian's mother as a good woman whose boyfriend bullied her into taking the child on the trip.


Opponents of Elian's return also fear the boy will be indoctrinated in communist ideology.


In a socialist society, with a father who is a Communist Party member, that will be inevitable - and not just for Elian. The Cuban Child Code calls for all youth to be protected from "influence contrary to their communist formation."


The government also hopes to push forward with the mass mobilization inspired by the Elian campaign to press for an end to the 40-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba and to U.S. laws that grant asylum to any Cuban who makes it to American shores. The would also demand that America return the Guantanamo naval base it occupies at the southeastern tip of the island.           


 A new rally is already organized for Saturday in the southeastern city of Manzanillo, which an estimated 200,000 people are expected to attend. Cuban officials say the U.S. laws encourage illegal, dangerous trips across the Florida Straits like the one that killed

Elian's mother.


"With Elian, we have saved a marvelous child, but millions of innocent creatures, older or younger than Elian but equally loved run the risk of drowning, dying or suffering horrible tragedies," a government statement said in the official newspaper Granma.


Meanwhile, Elian will work on his studies, helped by his teachers and classmates, who moved into the boarding school with him to help him complete the first grade in time to begin the second in the fall.


Elian and his family moved into two-story white stucco house by the sea after a muted arrival Wednesday at Havana's Jose Marti airport. They will stay there the shortest time necessary to restart his life "the most normal and peaceful conditions," the government said.


Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, was unhappy about what values taught during his son's brief time at a private Miami school. The Lincoln-Marti School teaches students that President Fidel Castro oppresses Cubans. Classes are taught in English and children salute the American flag - a hated symbol of Cuba's fiercest enemy.


The boy was returned to his father by federal agents who raided the Miami relatives' home on April 22. He then spent two months in the Washington area with his father, relatives and friends waiting for legal appeals to play out.


During that time, Elian reportedly made much scholastic progress and the government says he can now read and write.


Once ready, his family will return to Cardenas, where the government said the people will do everything to ensure that Elian has as normal a life as possible "after all the suffering he has put up with and which converted him into the most famous and well-known child in the world."


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