(Photo from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/centralamericaandthecaribbean/cuba/7865528/Elian-Gonzalez-holds-no-grudge-against-Miami-relatives.html
Elian Gonzalez says he's not angry at his Miami relatives who fought to keep him in the United States during a nasty international custody battle a decade ago.
And he says he has "thanks to a large part of the American public" that he was reunited with his father in Cuba.
Now 16, Gonzalez's first comments to foreign reporters in years came after President Raul Castro attended a state celebration Wednesday night marking the 10th anniversary of the famous ex-castaway's return to Cuba.
"Even though they didn't help me in every way possible — they didn't help me move forward — they are still my own family," Gonzalez said of his South Florida relatives, speaking in a shy, almost timid voice.
"I don't have anger for them," he said. "It's only that it wasn't the best effort possible, and thanks to a large part of the American public, and our public, today I'm with my father and I feel happy here."
When asked about the family's Miami relatives, however, Gonzalez's father, Juan Miguel, shot back that he was still angry, "because, at any moment, having the boy there and with me giving them opportunities so they could reunite the family, they let themselves get carried away in other things."
Asked if bringing his son back to him homeland was the right thing to do, Gonzalez said, "Today I'm more sure than I was then."
Gonzalez was a photogenic 5-year-old when a fisherman found him floating off the coast of Florida in an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day 1999, after his mother and others fleeing Cuba drowned trying to reach American soil. Elian's father, who was separated from his mother, had remained on the island.
U.S. immigration officials ruled the boy should return to Cuba over the objections of his Miami relatives and other Cuban exiles, creating a furor that caused even presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore to weigh in. Many believe Cuban-Americans' outrage at how the case turned out helped cost Gore the White House.
Gonzalez's Miami relatives refused to give him up, while in Cuba, Fidel Castro led marches calling for his return.
Federal agents raided the Little Havana home of Gonzalez's uncle with guns drawn on April 22, 2000, and seized the boy from a closet to return him to his father.
It took the pair another two-plus months to return to Cuba, however, and when they made it back, men, women and children jammed the road from Havana's airport, cheering, waving Cuban flags and throwing flowers as a motorcade carrying them passed.
Wednesday marked the first time Cuba's current president stood in for its former leader, brother Fidel Castro, at an event in Gonzalez's honor.
Fidel Castro personally led major celebrations cheering Cuba's most famous youngster in years past, marching in parades or delivering lengthy speeches. But the 83-year-old has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery and giving up power — first temporarily, then permanently — almost four years ago.
The latest event was organized by Cuba's Council of Churches, which includes all major Cuban religions except the Roman Catholic Church, and was held at the Episcopal Santisima Trinidad Cathedral in Havana.
Religious elders joined Fidel Castro in leading huge demonstrations demanding the boy's return from the United States a decade ago and held a celebration in the same church days after he was brought back in 2000, with Castro in attendance.
"It was a triumph, not only of love and justice, but of logic over indecency of spirit, truth against evil," the Rev. Marcial Miguel Hernandez, president of the Council of Churches, told those assembled Wednesday night.
Gonzalez wore a red-stripped dress shirt and sat in the front row next to Raul Castro, who was in a white Guayabera shirt and embraced him and patted him on the back before the event started. Gonzalez's father sat a row behind them, and his stepmother, two younger stepbrothers and grandmother, a faithful churchgoer, were in nearby rows.