Elian's saviours divided over rescue role

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The Independent US

The saga of Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old at the centre of a dispute between the United States and Cuba, has split the boy's family and reopened Miami's painful ethnic and political divisions. But it has also divided the two cousins who rescued the boy, leaving one as a temporary media star while the other retreats bitterly back into the shadows.

Sam Ciancio and Donato Dalrymple were out fishing on Thanksgiving Day when they saw the boy floating on an inner tube. The boat taking him and his mother with 11 other refugees from Cuba to America had sunk, and the others were dead. Elian survived, to become a cause célÿbre.

"Me and Donato didn't do nothing at all, except for be at the right place at the right time," Mr Ciancio told the Associated Press. But Mr Dalrymple has seized the issue and ridden to media fame. He figured prominently in the now famous photograph of an armed policeman trying to seize Elian as he held the boy; he is interviewed constantly, and has become a hero of the American conservative right as "the fisherman", though he is actually a house cleaner.

His cousin is bitter. "I will never break bread with my cousin again," said Mr Ciancio. 'I will never talk to my cousin again. I will never help him out again - because he used a child to get fame and glory and I just don't believe in that."' Mr Dalrymple is talking about running for office in Miami (he lives in Fort Lauderdale). "As far as I'm concerned, I understand the Cuban plight," he said.

Both met Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the boy's father who has come to America to claim him. Mr Ciancio felt that the father was genuine and deserved to have his child back; Mr Dalrymple didn't.

In a bizarre interview with The Washington Post, Mr Dalrymple spoke of his role in the affair, clearly overawed by the experience and out of touch with reality. The newspaper reported: "Thanksgiving Day was the first time The Cleaner had ever gone fishing. He didn't even want to fish, he admits, but agreed to drive the boat for his cousin, content just to be be out on the water, listening to oldies on the radio."

Mr Dalrymple told the Post: "You know, I've never felt important in my life. But I felt like the most important man in the world that night ... You know, life can be hard. But what the kid went through, and the lives he changed being with him, well, it's hard to explain. He makes people feel important and loved and powerful."

For his cousin, the affair is a personal tragedy. "The boy belongs with the father, which - I don't care what Donato says now - is what Donato originally believed," Mr Ciancio was reported as saying. "He said it to me. He'll flip positions as many times as necessary to get on television and stay in good with the relatives. Dontcha see? This is his big chance. I never dreamed that this miracle would be this much of a disaster and hurt in my life."

The US diplomatic mission in Havana handed out travel visas yesterday for four of Elian's schoolmates to join a swelling Cuban entourage hoping to "rehabilitate" the boy at a secluded home near Washington. The friends - all around Elian's age and from his provincial hometown of Cardenas - were expected to take a direct charter flight from Havana to Washington last night.