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Elian's Miami home to become shrine

elian house
Delfin Gonzalez, right, great uncle of Elian Gonzalez, talks with family spokesman Armando Gutierrez at the Gonzalez home in Miami's Little Havana on Thursday  

MIAMI, Florida (Reuters) -- For five heady months, the modest home in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood was surrounded by chanting crowds and jostling reporters, the nerve-center of an impassioned custody battle over a 6-year-old child.

Now, the house where Elian Gonzalez lived is to become a sort of permanent shrine to the Cuban shipwreck survivor.

Armando Gutierrez, spokesman for the Miami relatives who took the boy into their home and then fought an unsuccessful battle to keep him in the United States, said one of Elian's great-uncles, Delfin Gonzalez, bought the house Thursday.

"He's planning a house of memory for Elian, not a museum but a place of memory," Gutierrez said Friday. "He is going to keep it exactly as it was when Elian was there."

Elian, who was found at sea on Thanksgiving Day last year, was brought to the Little Havana house when he was taken in by the family of another great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. Elian's mother and 10 others died in the disastrous voyage from Cuba in a rickety boat.

But the boy's father soon requested that the child be returned to Cuba. Elian's Miami relatives refused, and a legal battle ensued.

The Miami relatives lost the legal fight but still balked at returning the boy. In April, armed federal agents raided the home in a dramatic move to reunite him with his father. Elian finally flew home to Cuba with his father in June.

After the predawn raid, the family moved out of the house they had rented for more than a decade.

For a celebrity home in a city that features multimillion-dollar mansions with private yacht moorings, the Elian house was a bargain -- just $80,000.

The Miami Herald said friends in the Cuban exile community would help Delfin Gonzalez, a lobster fisherman who lives in the Florida Keys, make the mortgage payments. Gonzalez was not immediately available for comment.

For months, the small home was the center of noisy protests by Miami Cubans who wanted to keep Elian rather than let him be sent home to grow up in communist Cuba.

Exile celebrities such as Latin diva Gloria Estefan dropped by at the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, an unemployed car mechanic, to offer support and gifts for the child.

The drama fired up long-running hostility between Cuba's President Fidel Castro and Cubans in Miami

Elian spawned a media circus and was endlessly filmed in the back yard with his cousin Marisleysis or paraded on the shoulders of an uncle.

The Miami Herald said a local sculptor had offered to make a statue of Elian that might be placed in the front yard.

Gutierrez said the new center would offer free tours to people interested in the Elian case, and would be opened on or near Thanksgiving Day, exactly a year after the saga began.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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