Great-uncle who fought to keep Elian Gonzalez in U.S., dies at 79

Delfín González, the great-uncle of a little boy from Cuba whose solo arrival near U.S. shores in an inner tube in 1999 captured the world’s attention, died Monday at the age of 79.

González owned the home that Elián González stayed in for about five months as his U.S. family battled the boy’s father in Cuba over whether or not he should return to the island.

The boy had fled Cuba with his mother, who was part of a group that left on a boat that capsized. Elián was the only survivor.

The great-uncle was part of the family in Florida that got locked into a bitter custody battle that made international headlines.

González and the rest of Elián's U.S. relatives argued that his mother had wanted him to live in freedom, and that she had risked her life trying to give him that opportunity. But others, including Cuban government officials, said that the boy belonged with his father, who wanted him back in Cuba.

The U.S. relatives lost their battle after federal authorities forcibly removed Elián from González's Little Havana home in a much-publicized raid that showed the terrified boy being carried away by armed agents.

González turned the area of the property where his great-nephew had lived briefly into a shrine, preserving his room exactly as it had been when he was there. González ran it as a museum.

He was in a recent car accident and was hospitalized until his death, according to the Miami Herald. He was to be buried Wednesday.

“He was one of the humblest men you could ever meet. His participation in the case of Elián made it clear the love he felt for the boy,” anti-Castro activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the leader of the Democracy Movement, told the Herald. “His struggle was to see his family united and living in freedom. It’s unfortunate that he died seeing Elián become an icon of the Cuban dictatorship and that he was never able to reunite with him in a free Cuba.”

Now a young adult, Elián has done a few media interviews in which he says he is happy in Cuba and, while he would be interested in visiting the United States, he does not want to live here. He has also said he would be open to visiting with the Miami relatives who fought so hard to keep him, but that he would want them to say that they were wrong to try to keep him.

Asked by reporters to comment on his great-nephew’s remarks, González said the young man was saying only what the Cuban government would expect him to, and that he wanted to see Elián again.

“Family has nothing to do with politics,” he said.

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