Elian Gonzalez, who tried to flee Cuba to US, joins young communists

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Elian Gonzalez was just a small boy when he was rescued from the waters of the Florida Straits in late 1999 and taken in by relatives on the American mainland. His case became a cause célèbre and, several months later, the US courts ruled that he belonged back with his father in his native Cuba.

Just six years old, he was barely old enough to comprehend the international firestorm that his plight kicked up. The survivor of a boat-wreck in which his mother drowned, he found love and safety among his extended Florida family. The decision by Bill Clinton's Attorney General, Janet Reno, to raid the family's Miami home in 2000 and forcibly repatriate Elian was a betrayal that Cuban Americans never forgave.

Now the nearly grown-up Gonzalez has surfaced in pictures marking his induction at the weekend into the Union of Young Communists in Havana – a ceremony that involved at least 18,000 young Cubans.

His appearance comes after Cuban officials reportedly strove for years to keep him out of the media limelight. "Elian is a young person of our times, exemplary and modest, happy and responsible, like so many others that make up the youth of the island," Miriam Yanet Martín, a Cuban official was quoted in the official newspaper Granma as saying at the ceremony. "When he was a six-year-old boy who had been kidnapped by the Miami mafia and his father demanded his return to Cuban soil, the whole population rose up to demand his freedom, from the youngest schoolchild to the most elderly citizen," she added.

And how loyal is Elian to the island's communist leaders? Entirely, apparently. "Fidel and Raul can count on us," he said at the event, according to the newspaper, referring to both the retired leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul who now runs his country. "We won't let them down."

With the first phase of his secondary schooling over, Elian, now aged 14, will take up a place at Los Camilitos, a military school from September. He said: "It's the least that someone can do, someone like me that owes so much to this people and to the revolution: study hard, but more than that, defend them under any circumstance."