Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Elian Gonzalez Affair

with 11 comments

In November 1999, 5-year old Elian Gonzalez, his mother and 13 other Cubans had tried to flee across the Florida Straits, and their boat sank. Elian, who had been lashed to an innertube, was rescued by fishermen, and taken to his relatives in Little Havana, Miami. (Only two other adults survived). By April, the Clinton administration was demanding that Elian be turned over so he could return to Cuba with his father, but his Miami relatives refused.

For months, photographers and reporters camped out outside the front pouch of Gonzalez’s refuge in Little Havana. They were not allowed inside the fence nor speak to Elian. Freelancer Alan Diaz who was soon hired by AP to cover the Elian Gonzalez Affair was one of the first photographers to be on the scene.

In the pre-dawn darkness of April 22nd 2000, the United States Border Patrol was authorized to break into the house and take Elian away to be reunited with his father. Diaz heard heavy boots stampede the backyard. “It’s going down,” Diaz yelled as he grabbed his camera, which he’d placed beneath a towel to protect it from the early morning dew. He jumped the fence; a family member let him in and locked the door behind him. Pandemonium awaited him inside; Elian’s frantic relatives were scurried around the living room, and after a few minutes of searching, Diaz found 6-year-old Elian held in the closet by Donato Dalrymple, who helped pull the boy from the ocean five months earlier.

From inside that room, Diaz took the photograph of a federal agent with an assault rifle confronting a screaming Elian and a stunned Dalrymple. That photo would win Diaz a Pulitzer, and would later become the defining moment of the entire saga. In moves reflective of the nation’s divided opinions over Elian, some magazines showed a joyful photo of Elian being reunited with his father, while others ran Diaz’s photo. Time magazine showed both photos on its cover, but the caption which says “Papa!” revealed where the editorial staff’s real sympathies lay.

The aftermath of the raid was equally tumultuous. “Assassins!” yelled protestors who attempted to stop the federal agents. An American flag were ripped apart and burnt, and riots and demonstrations ensued. Juan Gonzalez, Elian’s father, became a national hero for resisting the Americans and was elected to Cuba’s National Assembly, in 2003. As for Elian Gonzalez, he would routinely appear up at government events next to Fidel Castro who also dedicated a museum for him.

The biggest loser of the entire saga seems to be Al Gore, the-then Vice President. His retraction of initial support of a legislation to give the boy and his father permanent residence status angered the Cuban community in Florida, and lost him the Cuban American vote Bill Clinton got in 1996. Gore would go on to lose Florida by 537 votes and consequently the November 2000 election.

See Slate’s analysis of the photo and events surrounding it here.

(Click to Enlarge)

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 14, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Politics, Society

Tagged with , ,

11 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. “The biggest loser of the entire saga seems to be Al Gore…”

    I know of 300,000,000 people who 10 years later are even bigger losers…


    July 15, 2010 at 12:10 am

  2. I’m wondering… How come the contact sheet has markings for Kodak Tri-X?


    July 15, 2010 at 8:36 am

    • i guess u r the only one who noticed. i used my own template so that they will appear nicer, without realizing it is b/w tri-X. mea culpa.


      July 16, 2010 at 7:57 am

    • that struck me as odd too, not just because of the Tri-X on the strips, but more odd because the pj was shooting a Nikon D1.


      March 21, 2011 at 11:48 pm

  3. Yeah…that’s why Al Gore lost the Florida votes…sure.


    July 18, 2010 at 5:59 am

    • I was pretty much thinking the exact same thing myself. Nice to know I’m not the only one who sees that….


      August 12, 2010 at 10:41 pm

  4. Just as a side note, after he ended up at the Wye River Plantation in MD, I was on the protection detail for him. I worked 14 straight days from 7P to 7A. I was with the then INS but the detail was put on by the US Marshals. I only saw the kid once or twice and his father a couple times, mostly it was just night time with nothing happening. I still have the iconic photo that was in the newspaper in my office.


    July 22, 2010 at 3:05 am

  5. A submachine gun, not an “assault rifle”.


    August 31, 2010 at 8:18 pm

  6. I’m all for people coming here and registering for citizenship like everyone else that’s living LEGALLY in this country but I’m completely against amnesty PERIOD. do it legally or don’t do it all… NO excuses zero tolerance. in my opinion. ** — The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 revolutionized the process of alien entry into the United States. The IIRIRA eliminated the term “entry,” replacing it with “admission.” An application for admission occurs whenever an alien arrives in the U.S. regardless of whether the arrival occurs at a designated port-of-entry. Applicants at either designated ports or otherwise must submit to an inspection by U.S. customs, even if the applicant possesses an immigrant visa. The IIRIRA also employs the term “arriving alien” to describe applicant aliens attempting to enter the U.S., regardless of whether they arrive at a designated port, a non-designated point on the border, or are located in U.S. waters and brought to shore.


    April 17, 2012 at 9:39 pm

  7. […] a Sudanese child on the verge of death from hunger who is being eyed by a vulture (1993); a federal agent pointing a 9 mm submachine gun at 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez (2000); a Jewish settler on Palestinian land resisting Israeli […]

  8. […] Picture 1: This is the Pulitzer Prize winning photo from the famous April 22nd, 2000, Elian Gonzalez Affair. This photo was Taken by Alan Diaz as a federal agent entered the room to find young Elian Gonzalez with his uncle hiding in the closet. Some of my classmates and I were too young to know about what was actually going on in this photo, or even as it happened in the news for months in late 1999 and early 2000. I can honestly say that I don’t remember this at all. The beginning of this news story starts as Elian Gonzalez, his mother and 13 other Cubans attempted to cross the Florida Straits. Their boat sank, however, Elian was tied to an innertube and later rescued by fishermen who took him to his relatives in Little Havana, Miami. The Clinton Administration demanded that 5-year old Elian Gonzalez be turned over so he could go back to Cuba with his father. The refusal of Elian’s relatives to turn him over is what sparked the controversy. You can read more here […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: