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.

GALLERY: Elian Through The Years

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (3)
  1. Luis bonilla says:

    Who cares. He does not pay taxes or contribute to this economy, so why is he mentioned?

  2. nicademus says:

    No news news…

  3. MRB says:

    I have no problems with Cubans and have many Cuban friends, but this is the United States, yet it feels like living in North Cuba here in Miami. Spanish is the dominant language, but this is still an English speaking country. I really don’t like it when someone gets mad because I don’t speak Spanish, or am turned down at a job interview. People tell me to learn Spanish, why can’t they learn English like all the millions of immigrants who made this country what it is today.

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