Elian Gonzalez Leaves Cuba for the First Time Since 2000
Around the State
For the first time since he was 7 years old, Elian Gonzalez, now 20, has left Cuba, according to a CNN.com report.
Gonzalez, the focus of a bitter international custody dispute after he was rescued at sea as a child, traveled to Quito, Ecuador on Friday, part of a 200-member Cuban delegation to a weeklong youth conference.
"Wherever I go, there's always a child, an old woman that comes to me and wants to meet me," he said recently in an interview published in Cuba. "Not because I am famous but because they suffered with my family."
Now a military cadet studying industrial engineering, Gonzalez also said he "would have suffered" had he stayed in the United States.
Gonzalez was only 6 years old when he was found clinging to an inner tube on the open sea after the rickety boat he was traveling in from Cuba to the United States sank. Gonzalez's mother and nine other people taking part in the clandestine journey drowned.
After his rescue, the boy's Miami relatives wanted to keep him in the United States.
But his father, Juan Miguel, fought to bring him back to Cuba. Then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro led massive protests on the island demanding Gonzalez's return.
The U.S. government capitulated and immigration officials decided to return the child to the custody of his father, who had come to the United States to argue for Elian's return. When his relatives in Miami refused to go along, armed federal agents raided the home of Gonzalez's uncle and seized young Elian.
Once back in Cuba, the government celebrated a political victory but mostly kept Elian Gonzalez out of public view and surrounded by government bodyguards.
On his 10th birthday, Cuba held a state celebration in his honor.
"Fidel Castro for me is like a father," the young man said in the recent interview. "I don't profess to have any religion but if I did my God would be Fidel Castro. He is like a ship that knew to take his crew on the right path."
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