HAVANA — One year after shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez returned to Cuba, his nation remembered the anniversary with pride Thursday as it seeks to build a new Elian-style campaign over five men jailed in the United States.
In a campaign similar to its massive "Free Elian" movement, Cuba has been printing T-shirts, designing banners, organizing rallies and filling state media with its latest cause celebre: freedom for the five Cubans being held on spy-related charges.
"Elian, a symbol for the Cuban nation, returned to the fatherland a year ago, as will the five compatriots jailed unfairly in a Miami prison," state news agency AIN said.
Elian, meanwhile, remained out of sight with family in his hometown of Cardenas, in line with Cuba's aim to spare him further trauma after his bitter seven-month custody saga.
Elian, now 7, became known around the world after he was picked up in the waters off Florida on Thanksgiving Day 1999, clinging to an inner tube after surviving the capsize of a boat full of would-be immigrants from Cuba. His mother and others drowned.
Elian's Miami relatives fought to gain custody of the boy. But his father and President Fidel Castro's government campaigned to bring him back to Cuba. The battle ended June 28, 2000, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling paved the way for his flight home.
There were no official ceremonies to mark the anniversary of Elian's return, but the event was recalled with pride throughout Cuba.
Havana's successful campaign over Elian has been mirrored in recent days by the drive to overturn the conviction of the five Cubans by a Miami court this month.
The men, accused of infiltrating U.S. military installations and anti-Castro Cuban American groups, face lengthy sentences. But Havana is hailing them as heroes who risked their lives to alert their country to attacks and terrorism planned against Cuba from U.S. soil.
No regrets: Former Atty. Gen. Janet Reno says she made the right decision in the Elian affair. A31