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Elian goes back to school in Cuban hometown
CARDENAS, Cuba -- Cuba's most famous boy was just one among many on the first day of the new school year Friday, nine months after the disastrous voyage that landed him at the center of an international custody battle.
Elian Gonzalez's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, accompanied him to school in their coastal hometown of Cardenas for the start of the school year. "The boy is very happy, and me, too, because he's going back to school," he said.
Elian's studies at the Marcelo Salado school were interrupted when his mother took him on an ill-fated crossing to Florida in November 1999. She and 10 other Cubans died in the attempt, and the 6-year-old's father had to fight for his custody against Miami relatives who oppose Cuba's Communist government.
On Friday one of his classmates said fellow students were treating Elian "normal, just like all the other children," but many could not resist staring at the boy whose face they had seen for seven months on posters and T-shirts and television across the island.
Holding hands with four friends and apparently unfazed by a small group of journalists Cuban authorities let cover the event, Elian looked happy and at ease as he rejoined classmates and teachers at a special first-day ceremony.
Since his return, Cuba has kept Elian out of public view, seeking to allow him to return to "normality" and to counter charges that he would be paraded here as a political trophy.
There was no showing off of new clothes -- all the kids wear white shirts, blue bandanas and red shorts for boys, skirts for girls -- with only the brands of backpacks or sneakers marking a difference.
The most senior official at Elian's school on Friday was Yadira Garcia, the ruling Communist Party's first secretary for the local province, Matanzas. During the ceremony, there were shouts of "Long live free Cuba! Long live our commander-in-chief!" in a reference to President Castro.
Elian's grandparents also accompanied him to school. "He got up very early, happy and in a hurry to come to school," said his paternal grandmother, Mariela Quintana.
The school in Cardenas, a two-hour drive east of Havana, was gleaming from renovation work, which some but by no means all Cuban education establishments have received during the holiday. "The school has been prepared especially, for Elian and for all of us, who deserve such a pretty school," said teacher Geovanna Landrean.
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