BY MAKI BECKER | New York Daily News
Elian Gonzalez, now 10, hits the books in Cardenas, Cuba, where he lives with his father.
Four years after little Elian Gonzalez was plucked from the seas off Florida’s coast and sparked an international custody battle, the young boy is leading a sheltered and almost normal life back in Cuba.
Elian lives with his father in their hometown of Cardenas and he still sports the same impish grin that captivated the world back in 2000.
In an interview with NBC’s “Dateline” to air Sunday, Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, says he has generally kept Elian out of the limelight, even moving to a secret location in town to avoid the press.
“The media (in Miami) intimidated him, pressured him most of all,” Gonzalez said in his first interview in three years. “It totally overwhelmed him.”
As Elian’s American relatives fought to keep him in the U.S. and his father sought to take him back to Cuba, hundreds of reporters camped out outside their Miami home, recording every movement of the photogenic little boy.
The custody clash even led to a war of words between Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and the boy’s fiercely anti-Castro American relatives.
The stalemate ended dramatically as heavily armed federal officers stormed the house in the middle of the night, snatched the terrified boy and took him into protective custody.
Elian still grieves for his mother who drowned when their boat capsized on its way to Florida, Gonzalez said, but he has adjusted to life well.
“I can truly say that since his return, my son has never had to see a psychologist, or anyone else,” Gonzalez told “Dateline NBC.”
Elian is learning karate and has two girlfriends, Gonzalez reports.