From Miami streets to the Web

The battle over the custody of Elian Gonzalez is just as fierce and constant in cyberspace.

Topics: Cuba,

As the Elian Gonzalez custody battle remains tied up in the courts, sites about Elian Gonzalez abound on the Web, updating constantly with breaking news, many advocating positions on whether Elian should stay or go — and arguing who has done the most harm to the child.

For background on the Elian story, Time’s photo essay shows all the major players, while CNN weighs in with brief bios of the same and MSNBC has a timeline of the Elian saga.

There are surprisingly few sites advocating Elian’s return to Cuba. Not so surprising is that many of them have some ties to the Cuban government.

Leading the charge for sending Elian back is the Cuban state newspaper Granma International, which has a subsite dedicated to the Elian controversy titled Kidnapping in Miami. Predictably, it contains plenty of propaganda mixed with journalism. The Granma site also contains a portion of NBC’s December interview with Fidel Castro about the growing controversy.

The Cuban government also has a site devoted to Elian in Spanish which features a composite photo of the child looking skyward with the caption, “I want you to take me back to Cuba” (Yo quiero que tú me regreses p’a Cuba) in a childlike scrawl. The site contains articles — one is titled “The Miami mafia dismisses a father’s rights” (La mafia de Miami ultraja los derechos de un padre) — photos of the protest march in Havana and political cartoons.

Another pro-return site called Sendelianhome.com opens with a flash animation asking “Imagine, you have already lost your mother and now the dirty game of politics is keeping you from your father? Only in America! Only America!” It’s a thin site which really only has a single page devoted to pro-Castro views and an electronic petition advocating the child’s return to Cuba.



Pathtofreedom.com pitches the idea that “Family values count for all nations,” and contains personal commentaries, links to news articles and an activist section with petitions and advice on what to do to help return Elian to his father.

The advocates of keeping Elian in the United States have a far more vocal and widespread Web presence.

Capitalist magazine has a particularly strong site that argues that Elian should remain in the United States because his human rights would be abrogated by the social slavery of the Castro regime. The site contains essays, news, faqs, petitions and much more targeted at keeping Elian in the United States.

LibertyforElian.org is another activist site with much of the same purpose.

NoCastro.com is primarily dedicated to the “struggle to achieve democracy in Cuba now and to maintain it for generations to come.” But it has a considerable amount of material advocating Elian’s asylum in the United States.

ElianWatch contains a fairly extensive link list of articles updated daily covering the Elian saga from January to the present with a “keep him here” slant.

But the most obvious spot to look for news about Elian hosts no content. The domain names eliangonzales.com, .net and .org and eliangonzalez.com, .net and .org are all registered to Jesus I. Lizarazo. Lizarazo, who lives in Potomac, Md., says he initially registered the domains early this year because he wanted to create a Web site “so that the people, especially the children, could communicate their feelings” about the Elian case.

“You see all the reporters, policemen or the politician, but no one has bothered to ask the children. You never ask them to see what they say. I thought that the Web site would give a person a more intimate way to express themselves instead of a Gallup poll.”

His plan stalled after he failed to get support from the Spanish language TV station Univision. He contacted the show that was his inspiration, “Sabato Gigante,” which has a brief segment devoted to children giving advice to child callers. When Lizarazo didn’t receive any answer, he tried to reach out to members of the Cuban exile community in Miami, none of whom responded to his idea. “I was kind of discouraged and disappointed about it,” he says. “I’m not a computer guy.”

When asked about his own take on the Elian case Lizarazo said that he has “mixed emotions” and “some reservations” about both sides of the issue. “Most of us have some sort of political involvement. The kid should be here, he should be with the father but here.” Lizarazo says he has been “personally feeling the Cuban tragedy through my wife,” who fled Cuba when she was 16.

Now that the Elian case has heated up, Lizarazo has received many queries about the domain names. He says the latest offer was for $16,000, but he’s not sure whether he’ll sell. “If I decide to sell it I think that I will give some of that money to a children’s cause.” He is especially interested in organizations that deal with custody issues in which a parent of foreign birth takes a child with them to their home country, leaving the spouse behind.

Max Garrone is Salon's Vice President for Operations.

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