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Elian 'feels very normal,' father says

Elian Gonzales
Elian during his 7th birthday  

Father says child likes stepmother

CARDENAS, Cuba (CNN) -- Elian Gonzalez, whose personal and political drama captured world attention, is 7 years old and everyone in Cuba knows it.

Elian's birthday was celebrated Wednesday in schools all over Cuba. The biggest party, at his own school in the coastal town of Cardenas, was attended by Cuban President Fidel Castro.

"It was for all the children of Cuba," Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, told CNN. "It was a collective birthday party for all the children."

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Juan Gonzalez speaks with CNN's Lucia Newman on the occasion of Elian's seventh birthday

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Elian lived in the public eye after his mother and 10 other would-be immigrants died when their boat capsized off the Florida coast. Elian was plucked from the sea and brought to Miami, where relatives gained custody of him.

He became the subject of an international custody dispute between his father in Cuba and the U.S. relatives; he was returned to Cuba only after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block his repatriation.

Gonzalez, who was divorced from Elian's mother before her death, said Elian has bonded well with his stepmother.

"After everything that happened, he has sought in my wife the maternal support that he lost. From the moment they were together in Washington, he called her mama," Gonzalez said.

Juan Gonzales
Juan Gonzales during his interview with CNN  

"Not that his own mother has been forgotten. On Mother's Day, for example, there is a photograph of Elian's mother, and I told him to put flowers by her photo and give her a kiss. She's always present."

Wednesday's party was the first time Castro has been seen publicly with Elian since the child's return, but his father says he is not being manipulated.

"My son has at no time been manipulated here by anyone. Nor has he been used politically," he said.

"When it is said that he should be a symbol, it means that he should be an example, a child who is well brought up, well educated, with respect to all that happened. Simply that," Gonzalez told CNN. "He feels very normal ... he has the same privileges as everyone else; the same treatment. There's nothing exceptional."

CNN Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Elian goes back to school in Cuban hometown
September 1, 2000
Elian case generates pressure for policy changes
July 1, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Cubaweb
U.S. State Department
  • Information on Cuba
  • Cuban Adjustment Act Fact Sheet
I.N.S. Information for Cuban Immingrants
Amnesty International
  • 1999 Report on Cuba


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