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In Havana 84-year-old Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, fully recovered from a near-fatal stroke he suffered last year, has threatened to end weekly Havana charter flights from Missouri and North Dakota if Elian isn't returned to the island by year's end. Castro, who met last week with members of the Senate banking committee about plans to install American ATMs in Cuba, says he will withhold full diplomatic recognition of the United States until Elian is returned home safely.
Meanwhile Elian's grandmothers, who have visited their grandson every January for a decade, told the weekly Devuelvan Elian! throng along Havana's Malecón that the teenager would be better off attending the University of Havana. Elian T-shirts, once a hot item on the tourist black market, now are routinely sold by government vendors.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have given Gonzalez tickets to the team's National League playoff series with this year's Major League stand-out expansion team, the Cuban Sugar Kings. And Gonzalez will have a front-row seat when the Buena Vista Social Club, starring 91-year-old pianist Ruben Gonzalez (no relation) and 83-year-old Ibrahim Ferrer, makes its annual appearance next month at the Hollywood Bowl.
Although Gonzalez has not given an interview since he was rescued from the Florida Straits Thanksgiving weekend 1999, he has agreed to be the guest of honor at a film festival screening Hollywood movies and television specials about his plight. Elian has reportedly said his favorite old-time film is The Truman Show.
As congressional hearings on the nearly 50-year-old U.S. embargo get under way in Washington, D.C., House investigators are trying to determine the reason for the embargo and why it has lasted so long. North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, now 89 years old and in his seventh term, is slated to be the first witness, followed by Jorge Mas Coño, director of the Cuban American National Foundation and grandson of its founder, the late Jorge Mas Canosa.
Psychologists, alarmed that young Gonzalez has not yet displayed emotional fallout from his twelve-year ordeal, have dubbed the phenomenon "the Elian effect." Writing in the Journal of Migratory Disorders, Dr. Santiago Cardenas cautions that "keeping an individual away from his homeland for such a sustained period of time should cause protracted emotional distress. The fact that Mr. Gonzalez has not yet displayed such torment can only aggravate his ultimate fate." For four years Elian has been in the custody of his third cousin twice removed, Tiffany Abramovitz of Aventura, his closest relative with no police record.
Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, the East Coast's last independent bookstore, reports that sales of Elian books have outpaced celebrity bios, Playboy calendars, and the latest volumes in the Harry Potter, Jr., series. "It's incredible," says store owner Mitchell Kaplan. "We ordered a dozen copies of Mailer's I, Elian, and we sold out the first day." Down the street at Tower Records, the new Gloria Estefan CD, Git Down with Elian, "has been flying off the shelves," according to store manager Trinidad Camagüey. Elsewhere in Miami the Spanish-language TV network Univision has renewed its five-year pact with Cuba's Tele Rebelde to continue their joint 24-hour-a-day Elian coverage. To celebrate the new accord, both stations are rebroadcasting Gonzalez's surprise sixteenth birthday party, which took place on "Sabado Gigante."
"This whole spectacle has really turned the Cuban community upside down," opines Lisandro Perez, professor emeritus of all things Cuban at Florida International University. "Of course," he adds, "it was upside down to begin with, so now it's been righted."
Finally a half-dozen Cuban Americans continue hiding in a southern Idaho bunker. They are thought to be the last six of their nationality in the United States who have not yet offered an opinion, granted an interview, or written an op-ed piece about the Elian case.
A spokesperson for the Immigration and Naturalization Service says the agency hopes to repatriate Gonzalez to his homeland "as soon as it is feasible."
Tom Miller is the author of Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba.