Five-year-old Elian Gonzalez sparks an international debate.
Photo: AP/Peter Cosgrove
In the late '90s, a 5-year-old boy named Elian Gonzalez found himself at the center of an international tug-of-war. On Thanksgiving Day in 1999, Elian was found floating off the coast of Florida after the boat that was taking him from Cuba to the United States sank. His mother and 10 others drowned.

Relatives in Miami opened their arms to Elian. Marisleysis Gonzalez, his 21-year-old cousin, became Elian's primary caregiver. "I guess he saw that mother figure in me," she says. "He was always attached to me."

As the months wore on, Elian's story became the focus of a fierce international debate. Some believed he should stay in the United States, while others thought he should return to his father in Communist Cuba. "We just wanted the best for Elian," Marisleysis says.
Marisleysis Gonzalez talks about the day her cousin Elian was taken by federal agents.
For five months, Elian lived in Florida. Then, one day, his father came to claim him.

With the U.S. government's help, Marisleysis says she and her family arranged for a psychologist to help determine where Elian should liveā€¦but that meeting never happened. One day, Marisleysis says federal agents stormed her house with their guns drawn and took Elian away. "It was terrifying. It was something I never expected," she says. "[Elian] was begging for nobody to take him."

Marisleysis says she hasn't been able to communicate with Elian since that day. If she could speak to Elian, she says she'd tell him she still loves him.
Today, Elian is 15 and part of Cuba's Young Communist Union.
Photo: Landov
Today, Elian is 15 years old and lives in Cuba with his father, stepmother and younger half brothers.

In 2008, it was widely reported that Elian joined Cuba's Young Communist Union. Since then, he's been seen in the front row at government functions, leading parades and attending Communist party celebrations.

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