Elián González was just 5 years old when his mother, Elizabeth, took him on a perilous journey across the Florida Straits in 1999.
She drowned during the attempt, but the boy was rescued and taken to live with relatives in South Florida.
Cuban authorities demanded the boy be returned to Cuba to live with his father, Juan Miguel González, but the relatives refused, touching off an international custody dispute.
Career diplomat Mary A. Ryan said the boy should be returned to live with his father. From her statement, released on April 6, 2000:
I, Mary A. Ryan, hereby declare as follows:
1. I am the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs of the United States Department of State, a position I assumed on May 12, 1993. I am also a career member of the United States Foreign Service, in which I hold the rank of Career Ambassador.
I submit this declaration in connection with the decision made by the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and ratified by the Attorney General, that the six-year- old Cuban child, Elian Gonzalez Brotons, should be returned to his father in Cuba. The Department of State would expect a foreign government to make the same decision with respect to an American child in Elian Gonzalez Brotons’ circumstances.
The rights of parents are also recognized internationally and have long been a central premise of our consular work on behalf of Americans. It is a basic precept of our work that the parents of American citizen children, not the Department of State or the United States Government, should decide what is best for their children.
Because other countries carefully scrutinize the practices of the United States, our credibility and effectiveness depend upon our ability to adhere to the principles we espouse. If the United States fails to act in accordance with such principles, it jeopardizes its ability to insist on adherence by other countries.
The case of Elián González Brotons is straightforward because there is no surviving parent in the United States.
U.S. authorities return the boy to Cuba, disappointing critics who said he would have had a better life in America.
I wonder if the case would have been resolved in the same way today.