MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who survived a dangerous journey to South Florida aboard a boat that sank and was later taken at gunpoint by US agents from Miami relatives turns 18 in Cuba Wednesday.
He was only 5-years old when the boat he was on with his mother sank while they were trying to defect to the U.S. He was one of three survivors. His mother was among those who drowned.
It was Thanksgiving Day 1999 when a fisherman found Elian clinging to an inner tube.
He was taken to live with relatives in Miami but his father, who was separated from his mother and had remained in Cuba, demanded that the boy be sent back, saying Elian was taken without his consent. The dispute turned into a headline-grabbing international custody battle that weighed heavy on the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Fidel Castro threw the weight of the Cuban government behind the case, mobilizing seven months of massive demonstrations calling for Gonzalez’s repatriation.
In the end, the Attorney General Janet Reno ruled Gonzalez should be returned to his father. When his Miami relatives defied the order, federal agents raided Elian’s uncle’s home in Little Havana and seized the boy from a closet at gunpoint. He returned to Cuba two months later.
Elian currently studies at a military academy in Cuba and took part in an 18th birthday celebration Tuesday in his native city of Cardenas alongside his father, according to images broadcast on the nightly news.
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