Elian Gonzalez, 16, appears in Young Communist uniform
www.dailymail.co.uk – Dressed in a Young Communist uniform and waving a Cuban flag, this is child castaway Elian Gonzalez ten years after he was returned to Cuba following a heated custody battle with the U.S.
Cuba this week released photos of the 16-year-old, who is treated as a hero in his home country, attending a Communist Union meeting in western Havana.
The teenager has rarely been seen since he was returned to Cuba a decade ago amid international debate over his fate.
After his mother drowned while the pair fled Cuba in 1999, six-year-old Elian made headlines when he was found floating off the Florida coastline in an inner tube.
A dramatic seven-month custody battle followed, pitting Elian’s anti-Castro relatives in Miami against his father and the Cuban government.
U.S. authorities denied asylum requests for the boy and eventually ordered his seizure and return to his father.
Elian’s return was met with great celebration in Cuba and his father, restaurant employee Juan Miguel Gonzalez, was elected to parliament – a seat he retains today.
The custody dispute was a new flashpoint in the turbulent history of U.S.-Cuba relations since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution and the boy’s return was a victory for Cuba’s Communist government.
The new photos were posted on Cuba Debate, the same website used by Castro to post his regular essays since ceding power to his younger brother Raul in 2006.
Elian retains a celebrity-like status in Cuba and his December 7 birthday is celebrated with parades – which are closed to international media – every year.
Cuban officials released no details of the teenager’s life now, but it is thought he may be attending military school in the city of Mantanzas, near his hometown of Cardenas.
He has been pictured attending Communist rallies alongside Castro in recent years.
Elian and his father are closely watched by state authorities, who restrict their contact with the international press.