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Elian, no longer “Alien”

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July 7, 2000 


HAVANA (AP) - A shy but joyful Elian Gonzalez was seen riding his bicycle in his hometown and splashing in a pool at a nearby resort as state television aired some of the first images of the boy since his return to Cuba a week ago.

With soft music playing in the background, Wednesday night's video clips chronicled part of the surprise visit Elian and his family made Tuesday afternoon to Cardenas, where the child was born and raised. On the streets of the small port city, scores of residents cheered as a bus carrying the family drove by.

The 6-year-old was shown curiously rummaging through his clothes and toys at the homes of his paternal and maternal grandparents. He looked thrilled to find a pair of inline skates, which he tried on over his bare feet and skated a bit down a hallway.

At his school, Elian was greeted by his classmates, and a teacher leaned down to show him pictures and something written in a book.

The clips were shown shortly before Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, received one of Cuba's top civilian awards for his "heroic behavior" during his fight to bring his son Elian back to Cuba.

Gonzalez had tears in his eyes when President Fidel Castro pinned the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes medal to his dark suit after a two hour ceremony at the Karl Marx theater, an attended by about 5,000 people.

"I owe this to all the people of Cuba," Gonzalez said, following a standing ovation by the thousands in attendance, including top government officials and the Communist Party leadership. "I have not done anything out of this world. I have done what any other father would have."

Castro told the audience that when Gonzalez and his boy arrived in Cuba last week, "a small boy and a humble Cuban father, whom very few people knew just a few months ago, came back converted into gigantic moral symbols of our homeland."

Indicating that he watched the homecoming on television like most other Cubans, Castro said, "In this moment I thought: 'How great our people are!"

Then, directly addressing Gonzalez, Castro said: "You showed that in the decisive moments in the history of a country, the conduct of a man can overcome all of the traitors put together, just as those who tried to cheapen your child.

"Our most important revolutionary duty is to fight to make sure that this does not happen again," Castro said, wrapping up the ceremony. "We will keep fighting. And we will conquer!"

Beforehand, Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National Assembly and Gonzalez's main government adviser during the fight for his son, read a resolution by Cuba's ruling Council of State.

"Juan Miguel Gonzalez stoically endured the most cruel suffering of his son, of himself and of his family," it said. "Resisted with his entire being the threats, the pressures and the slanders and rejected with honor the intents to bribe and of force, always maintaining his fidelity to the nation."

The resolution compared Gonzalez to Cespedes, an important hero who fought for Cuba's independence from Spain and the father of the country. Government officials characterized the medal as one of several equally important national honors.

After a string of musical and dance performances leading to the awarding of the medal, a huge portrait of Elian was lit up at the back of the stage. A military man and color guard in dress uniforms marched around the inside of the theater and up onto the stage.

The television images of Elian shown in the hours before the ceremony were the first new glimpse of the boy seen by the Cuban public since Thursday, the day after he returned. At the time, state television repeatedly showed images of Elian's airport homecoming and a brief clip of him playing with children around his age the evening of his return.

Cuba says Elian gave a human face to its four-decade political battle with the United States, allowing many ordinary Americans their first close look at the communist nation.

"With Elian, coverage has been given to an affair that habitually was a theme only for political scientists and specialists," Alarcon said in an interview published Wednesday in a special newspaper supplement.

"Millions of people, housewives, people with nothing to do with this, soon began to see the story of a Cuban boy as the daily top news event," he said of how Americans followed the case.

The supplement, titled "Elian in the homeland," wrapped up events leading up to and including Elian's return on June 28.

Cuban officials long promised to prevent the kind of massive media coverage the child experienced during the five months he stayed with his Miami relatives while they fought to keep him in the United States.

The Miami kin were given temporary custody of the boy after he was rescued off the Florida coast. Elian's mother and 10 others perished during a sea journey from Cuba to the United States.

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