Posted on Mon, Oct. 03, 2005

TV INTERVIEW
Elián, five years later: `I've grown up'
Elián González talked about his turbulent Miami experience Sunday in a CBS television interview broadcast on `60 Minutes.'

edevalle@herald.com

He is now 11, likes math at school and computers, calls Fidel Castro a friend and ''father,'' and says he could go into politics, although he hasn't given it much thought.

Oh, and he has a girlfriend, but he won't reveal her name.

''It's a secret,'' said Elián González, flashing the only smile during the much anticipated interview with CBS reporter Bob Simon, aired Sunday on 60 Minutes.

During the rest of the 13-minute segment, the famous little rafter boy is grim, seemingly on the verge of tears, as he talks about the journey to Miami and his memories.

''Everything has changed,'' Elián said. ``Time has passed, and I've grown up. I don't like to be alone. I always like being around others so I can be calm and not remember what happened.''

He was a month shy of turning 6 when he was plucked from a floating inner tube on Thanksgiving Day 1999 by two cousins fishing off Fort Lauderdale.

His mother and 10 others drowned when their homemade boat capsized on its way from Cuba, and he was quickly thrust into an emotional international custody battle. That ended when federal agents seized him five months later at his Miami relatives' home and took him to his father, Juan Miguel, in Washington, D.C.

Elián also said in Sunday's broadcast interview that he didn't know he was coming to Miami when his mother and the others carried him to a boat on Nov. 22, 1999.

``They told me we were going fishing and we could see my uncles. Since I was little, I didn't understand what that was, to see my uncles?''

`I DIDN'T SEE ANYONE'

When the boat capsized in bad weather, he remembers being placed in an inner tube that his mother and her friends clung to. He said his mother argued with others before he fell asleep. ``And when I opened my eyes, I didn't see anyone.''

Elián also said his Miami relatives tried to turn him against his father, who demanded his return.

''They were also telling me to tell him I did not want to go back to Cuba, and I always told them that I wanted to,'' Elián told Simon, who talked with the boy for more than an hour last month at a museum near his Cárdenas home.

FATHER AT INTERVIEW

His father was present, but a CBS spokesman said that no government officials monitored the interview and that no questions were off limits.

Between footage of Elián at school, riding his bike, embracing Castro or attending a political rally, the boy talked about his memories from Miami.

He couldn't think of anything when asked what his favorite part was. His least favorite?

''The nights,'' he quickly said. ``I had nightmares. My uncles would talk to me about my mother, and for me, it was better that they didn't talk to me about that. It tormented me.''

During his months in Miami, he said, he didn't understand the constant commotion outside his Little Havana home.

''I couldn't figure out what was going on,'' he said. ``They were not telling me what was happening, why [demonstrators] were shouting.''

He also spoke of April 22, 2000, when federal agents raided the home at dawn and took him back to his father.

''I was sleeping, and suddenly I woke up and they hid me in a closet. At that moment, I felt afraid,'' he said, referring to the uniformed agents armed with rifles. ``I thought they were going to scold me or do something to me. When they said I was going to see my father, then I felt joy that I could get out of that house.''

Simon also interviewed Elián's uncle, Delfín González, and Cuban exile leader Ramón Saúl Sánchez. Both say the boy has been brainwashed.

''When you see a child talking the same exact way that the dictator has talked for 40-some years,'' Sánchez said, ``you know he has been indoctrinated.''

`ALWAYS SMILING'

Delfín González, often photographed playing with the boy during his stay in Miami, said he does not believe that Elián was unhappy here.

''He was always smiling with me,'' said González, who watched the broadcast at the Little Havana home, now a museum and shrine to the boy.

The Herald was unable to reach other relatives after the broadcast. But Elián said in the interview that he wanted to see them again: ``Despite everything they did -- the way they did it, it was wrong -- they are my family, my uncles.''





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