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Posted February 28, 2005 by mattlawrence in Cuban Culture

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Elián González’s maternal grandmother—who visited Miami, New York and Washington, D.C., five years ago in an attempt to have the boy returned to Cuba—died Friday after an illness, according to The Associated Press.

Posted on Mon, Feb. 28, 2005

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The death of Raquel Rodríguez sparked mixed but passionate reaction among Miami residents involved in the tug of war for the boy between his Miami relatives and his father in Cuba.

Rodríguez came for a nine-day visit in January 2000, sparking intense feelings from many in Miami’s exile community. Even today, bitter sentiments remain.

‘‘I don’t feel this woman deserves any sadness,’’ said Armando Gutierrez, a friend and spokesman for Elián’s Miami relatives during the five-month legal standoff. ``Some people live to do good, and some people live to do bad, and she was here to do bad.’‘

In the middle of the heated international custody battle, Rodríguez came to the United States with Elián’s paternal grandmother, Mariela Quintana, to lobby for the boy’s return to Cuba and his father, Juan Miguel González. Rodríguez set off a firestorm when she suggested that her daughter—Elián’s mother, Elizabet Brotons—had been forced to flee the island by her boyfriend, Lazaro Munero. His family denied her claim.

Brotons and Munero were among the 10 Cuban migrants who died after their boat broke apart in the Florida Straits. Elián and two other adults survived.

Two fishermen found the boy, then 5, clinging to an inner tube off Fort Lauderdale on Thanksgiving Day 1999.

‘‘I, who was her mother and knew her better than anyone, am convinced that after this tragedy, her last wish would have been been that the boy be by the side of his father and his grandparents,’’ Rodríguez told the Cuban press at the time.

Such statements convinced some that las abuelitas, as the grandmothers were called, were sent by Cuban leader Fidel Castro to soften public opinion about the boy’s return.

Barry University President Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, who hosted a meeting between the grandmothers and Elián at her Miami Beach home, said the women were good people who loved their grandson.

‘‘They really wanted to do what was right, but like many involved in that whole event, they were trapped politically,’’ O’Laughlin, now retired from Barry, said in a phone interview Sunday.

Rodríguez was largely seen by the Cuban exiles as the less radical or less revolutionary, of the two grandmothers. Some thought she was forced to demand her grandson’s return to Cuba.

Their first attempt to see their grandson was unsuccessful. They stayed at the Tamiami-Kendall Executive Airport for hours but left without seeing the boy after the Miami relatives refused to agree to the reunion away from their Little Havana home.

The grandmothers said they feared exiles who were gathered at the house.

Later, after they flew to Washington and met with then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and dozens of legislators, immigration officials ordered the meeting to take place at O’Laughlin’s home.

During the 90-minute visit, Rodríguez and Quintana hugged and kissed the boy and gave him an album filled with photos showing relatives, schoolmates, their homes, a dog, a parrot and an empty school desk ``waiting for him to return.’‘

After the meeting, O’Laughlin seemingly changed her neutral stance and told journalists that she felt Elián should be allowed to stay in the United States.

The Dominican nun said she thought Elián’s maternal grandmother wanted to defect, that the little boy’s father knew his ex-wife was taking his son to Miami and that the father was abusive to Elián’s mother.

But it was Quintana, the paternal grandmother, who created a stir when she said she had pulled Elián’s pants down ‘‘to see how much he has grown’’ and bit the boy on the tongue to get him to talk.

Rodríguez didn’t escape controversy. She was accused of trying to arrange a clandestine conversation between the boy and his father after she was found to have taken a cellphone into the meeting in her purse—something O’Laughlin had said they agreed not to do.

‘‘It was pretty much a disaster,’’ O’Laughlin said.

Three months after the grandmothers visited Elián, the boy suddenly was taken from his relatives’ Little Havana home by U.S. marshals and later returned to Cuba, where he remains.

Rodríguez was buried on Saturday in Cárdenas, Cuba, where she was extolled as a national hero, much as she had been when she returned to Cuba after her U.S. visit. National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon gave the eulogy for Rodríguez on Saturday, the AP reported.

‘‘Raquel is a hero of our people,’’ Alarcon declared.

O’Laughlin added:``It’s my prayer that she will watch over Elián to make a him a strong man and a good man.’‘

Herald staff writer Elaine de Valle contributed to this report.

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