Alan Diaz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of terrified Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez looking at an armed US agent, has died at 71, the Associated Press said Tuesday.
The wire service confirmed the retired photojournalist’s death with his daughter. The cause of death was not immediately known.
According to “Moments,” a book by former AP photo chief Hal Buell, Diaz was in the right place at the right time in 2000.
Gonzalez, who was found clinging to an inner tube in the Florida Straits, got caught up in an immigration custody dispute that gained global attention. US officials decided to send Elian, 6, back to his father in Cuba, against the wishes of his American relatives. Federal agents forced their way into the Miami home where Gonzalez was staying.
As Buell described, Diaz awaited the moment. The boy’s family members had given Diaz permission to wait with Gonzalez for the impending raid. When an armed agent wearing riot gear entered the room, Diaz photographed him pointing a rifle at Gonzalez, who was being held in a closet. As Diaz stepped closer, the agent warned, “Back off!”
Within hours Gonzalez was back in Cuba, where the 24-year-old lives today. He remains one of the most identifiable figures on the island and one of his generation’s most outspoken supporters of the Cuban Revolution.
Diaz told CNN last year that Elian told him he knew the agents were coming. “They came in, and I am shooting this, of course.” Diaz said he had no choice but to shoot, despite being told to back off.
AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said Diaz “captured, in his iconic photographs, some of the most important moments of our generation – the bitter, violent struggle over the fate of a small Cuban boy named Elian Gonzalez, the magnified eye of a Florida election official trying to make sense of hanging chads and disputed ballots in the 2000 presidential election.
“He was gravelly voiced and kindhearted, generous with his expertise. And like all great photographers, he was patient. He was able to wait for the moment.”