Skip to main content

Elian Gonzalez's great uncle: 'He says what they taught him'

By Adriana Hauser and Catherine E. Shoichet,
updated 5:27 AM EST, Thu December 12, 2013
Elian Gonzalez now studies engineering at a military school in Cuba.
Elian Gonzalez now studies engineering at a military school in Cuba.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Elian Gonzalez's great uncle says he'd be better off in the United States
  • He says his nephew's pro-Cuba comments in a CNN interview don't surprise him
  • "He understands and says what they have taught him," Delfin Gonzalez says

Miami (CNN) -- The words that spill out of Elian Gonzalez's mouth now make his great uncle shrug his shoulders.

But Delfin Gonzalez says he's not surprised by pro-Cuba comments his nephew made in an interview with CNN this week.

"He understands and says what they have taught him," Delfin Gonzalez told CNN en Español from his Miami home on Wednesday. "He cannot understand anything else."

Fourteen years after Elian Gonzalez made headlines as the subject of a bitter international custody battle, he spoke to CNN this week from a youth conference in Ecuador.

Elian: A hero in Cuba

It's his first trip abroad since the U.S. government removed him at gunpoint from his relatives' home in Miami and, after a legal battle, sent him back to Cuba to live with his father.

When asked by CNN en Español to describe what his life has been like since he left Miami, Elian Gonzalez said "magnificent."

"I have experienced unprecedented, great growth, as a Cuban revolutionary, joining the cause," he said.

Delfin Gonzalez says he remembers when his young nephew had quite a different perception of the island.

"One time he asked me, 'How do the cats meow in Cuba?' I told him, 'Well, just like they do everywhere.' He said, 'No, there they say, 'Miami, Miami.'"

Elian Gonzalez, who turned 20 last week, was just 6 years old when he was found clinging to an inner tube after the tiny boat he was traveling in from Cuba sank on the way to the United States. His mother and nine other people in the boat drowned.

After his rescue, he was placed with relatives in Miami, who wanted to keep him in the United States.

But Gonzalez's father fought to bring him back to Cuba. Then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro led massive protests in Cuba demanding Gonzalez's return.

The case of the telegenic boy became a flashpoint between supporters and opponents of Castro's revolution.

Eventually, a U.S. federal court ruling sent him back to Cuba.

It's a day Delfin Gonzalez says he'll never forget.

"Here, we remember everything, because it was a historic moment," he said. "A boy who came miraculously to the United States, and circumstances made them return him."

In the Miami neighborhood where the boy lived, one neighbor says he still remembers that day and asks himself what would have happened if he hadn't been sent back to Cuba.

"I imagine that it would be a bit better, at least more freedom," Ramon Garcia said.

Delfin Gonzalez said he has no doubt about that.

"Of course it would be better. This is a free and democratic country where you can study what you want and you have free movement," he said.

Elian Gonzalez now studies engineering at a military school in Cuba and appears to be emerging as a new spokesman for the Cuban government.

"I haven't suffered any consequences because of what happened. It has not affected me psychologically, but it has been hard for my family," he told CNN en Español this week. "Those were tough times."

Delfin Gonzalez said family in Miami has only one consolation.

"For us," he said, "the only satisfaction that we are left with is that he is alive."

CNN en Español's Adriana Hauser reported from Miami. CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta. CNN's Cindy Rodriguez and Patrick Oppmann and journalist Andres Lopez contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT