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HAVANA (CBSMiami) – Before Elian Gonzalez was sent back to a life in Cuba, he was the center of an international drama played out between South Florida’s exile community, the U.S. government and the oppressive Castro regime.

A grown man now, the iconic image of him being pulled away from his Miami relatives, at gunpoint, will forever cause anger and heartbreak over what might have been.

Now 23 years old, Gonzalez walks down the street of his hometown in Cardenas, Cuba, seemingly happy.

He does allow himself to think about what his life might be like had he not been sent back to his father in Cuba.

“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. I would have been used in that way,” he said in Spanish.

Six-year-old Gonzalez’s forced return to Cuba, after surviving a deadly crossing that claimed the life of his mother, led to protests in South Florida and upset nationwide.

Attorney General Janet Reno, a Miami native, ordered him be sent back to Cuba to be with his father.

“It showed so many families in Cuba and the U.S. that you don’t have mix politics and money with family. Beyond ideology, whatever our principles is family. We have been separated by laws, by the blockade, by the sea, we don’t have to keep separating us as a family,” Gonzalez said.

In fact, Gonzalez’s father, Juan Miguel, is still hopeful there can be a reconciliation between his family and Gonzalez’s relatives in South Florida.

“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,” he said.

Gonzalez says he’s hopeful for U.S.-Cuba relations, even with President Donald Trump’s roll back on some of what President Obama put in place.

“I only hope that relations improve until our differences can be cleared up. Everyone can have their different point of view, have their political differences but I don’t think the countries and that families should continue to be separated,” he said.

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