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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A familiar face in the Cuban and Cuban-exile community appeared Tuesday morning as some on the island nation mourned the loss of Fidel Castro while others continue to celebrate his death.
“I am very proud,” said the now 22-year-old Elian Gonzalez, in Spanish on Cuban television, while at the Plaza de La Revolucion, paying his respects to the former Cuban leader.
He said he could not be sad because he sees Castro alive in each youngsters and other Cubans.
“It’s a reason to be proud, to feel stronger,” said Gonzalez.
To those who he says talk bad about Castro, he had a message.
“To those who denigrate his name, this is the response. Look at the community, the community who is crying about the loss of their friend, their father, of those who gave them love and now they’re showing that love in return,” said Gonzalez.
Elian Gonzalez was a child when he became the center of an international custody battle that ended with a Miami raid by federal agents and riots in South Florida.
Gonzalez has said he does not remember much of the Thanksgiving day when the inner tube raft he was traveling on from Cuban to the U.S. with his mother and her boyfriend sunk in the Florida Straits. Elian was the only survivor.
Elian would live with Miami relatives for five months and be at the center of a custody fight between his dad in Cuban and family in Miami who was part of the Cuban exile community.
The fight was over when federal agents raided the family’s Little Havana home, took Gonzalez and returned him to Cuba.
After his return to the island, Gonzalez became a Communist party rock star with the support of Castro.
While Gonzalez has said he does not agree with his mom’s actions to take him to the U.S., he says he credits her with saving his life.
Over time, some have viewed Elian Gonzalez as a propaganda tool while others have put him behind them.