Sister Jeanne Defended the Freedom of Elian Gonzalez

(p. A25) Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, who was thrust into national prominence in 2000 during a tumultuous custody battle between the Cuban father of a 6-year-old refugee, Elian Gonzalez, and the boy’s relatives in Miami, died on Tuesday [June 18, 2019] in Adrian, Mich.

. . .

In early 2000 she sought in vain to ensure that Elian could stay temporarily with his Miami relatives instead of being returned to his father, who had remained in Cuba, divorced from his wife, after Elian and his mother fled in a rickety boat on Nov. 21, 1999.

His mother, Elizabeth Brotons Rodriguez, died when the boat capsized in the Atlantic. Elian was found in the water off Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 25 clinging to an inner tube, and his miraculous survival all but elevated him into a religious figure in South Florida’s Cuban-exile community.

. . .

In an Op-Ed article for The New York Times, she compared the “strong bond” that had developed between Elian and the Miami cousin who was caring for him with the absence of his father.

“It troubles me that Elian’s father has not come to the United States,” she wrote. “What, if not fear, could keep a person from making a 30-minute trip to reclaim his son? And what might Elian’s father fear, if not the authoritarian Cuban government itself?”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, Advocate in Cuban Boy’s Custody Fight, Dies at 90.” The New York Times (Friday, June 21, 2019): A25.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 20, 2019, and has the title “Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, 90, Voice in Cuban Boy’s Custody Fight, Dies.”)

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