, MIAMI, United States, Aug 25 – Elian Gonzalez, who was once at the center of an international custody battle between his Cuban father and relatives in Miami, has held out an olive branch to his family living in the United States.
The 23-year-old was just six when the vessel carrying his mother and others capsized off the coast of Florida in November 1999, leaving Elian who was able to grab onto a car inner tube the sole survivor.
Speaking in an interview with CNN that was broadcast Thursday ahead of a documentary by CNN Films that re-examines his story, he said he’d like to put the bitter past behind him.
“We are separated by laws, by the blockade, by the sea. We do not have to continue separating ourselves as a family,” said Gonzalez, who now holds a degree in industrial engineering and is working as a technology specialist.
His father, Juan Miguel, echoed the sentiment and said he hoped the family could overcome its political differences.
“I have the best intentions to forgive them so that it can continue to be a relationship of families, they with their ideals and we with ours.”
Following his rescue, Elian’s relatives and the larger Cuban-American community in Miami insisted they would not allow him to return to Cuba, fearing he faced a life of privation and political oppression there.
Eventually, US courts sided with Elian’s father and ordered that federal agents seize the boy.
Iconic news photos of the April 2000 raid showing the terrified child being taken at gunpoint were beamed around the world.
Upon his return, he was rarely heard from other than when his image was occasionally beamed on Cuban television as a model member of the communist party’s youth wing.
But he told American broadcaster ABC in a 2015 interview that he hoped to someday return to the US to personally thank those who had helped him.
It’s a wish that he still holds on to, even though he insists, as a true believer of Fidel Castro’s communist revolution, it would only be for a short while.
Had he stayed in Miami, he reflects, “I think I would have become the poster boy for that group of Cubans in Miami that tries to destroy the revolution, that try to make Cuba look bad,” he said.
“I would have been used in that way. Maybe I would have become an actor on TV or maybe I would have more money than I have here with more comforts, but I wouldn’t have my family. I wouldn’t have the tranquility I have in Cuba.”
“My two feet, my body, my mind are in Cuba,” he said.
“But there are times when I think about the United States. I wouldn’t be who I am had I not been in the United States.