—Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy at the center of an international custody battle five years ago, said in a new television interview that Cuban President Fidel Castro is his friend, but also that he hopes someday to see his family in Miami again.
Posted September 29 2005, 3:23 PM EDT
``Despite everything they did, it was wrong, they are (still) my family ... my uncles,’’ Gonzalez said in the interview with CBS’s ``60 Minutes,’’ which released excerpts Thursday for the program that airs Sunday night.
Gonzalez, now 11, set off a seven-month custody battle after he rescued off the Florida coast in November 1999 during a failed attempt to reach the United States. Gonzalez was one of only three survivors _ his mother died at sea _ and his Miami relatives and Cuban exile groups fought to prevent his return to Cuba.
The boy was reunited with his father in Cuba after an armed federal raid April 22, 2000, on his relatives’ home. In the years since, Elian Gonzalez has been treated as a hero in Cuba, with Castro attending his elementary school graduation and having him give a highly publicized speech this year on the fifth anniversary of the Miami raid.
``It’s also very moving to me and I also believe I am his friend,’’ Gonzalez said of Castro in the interview. He said he considers Castro ``not only as a friend, but also as a father.’‘
The boy’s aunt, Angela Gonzalez, told The Associated Press on Thursday that she isn’t sure whether what Elian said in the interview represented his true beliefs because of Cuba’s controls on information. She said family members in the United States have been prevented from having any contact with the boy since he returned to Cuba.
``We love him. He is always on our minds,’’ said Angela Gonzalez, who had U.S. custody of Elian and whose former home was the site of the federal raid in 2000.
In the interview, Elian Gonzalez faulted some of his U.S. relatives’ actions during his time in Miami.
``They were telling me bad things about (my father) ... They were also telling me to tell (my father) that I did not want to go back to Cuba and I always told them I wanted to,’’ he said.
He also said that he had a hard time sleeping while in Miami. ``I would have nightmares and my uncles would talk to me about my mother. It was better not to remind me of that because that tormented me. I was very little,’’ he said.
Ramon Sanchez, founder of the Cuban exile group Democracy Movement, said he and other Cuban-Americans believe that Elian ``is under the control of the government’’ in Cuba.
``Obviously what we have seen after he was sent to Cuba is exactly what we feared, that he was going to be subjected to the control of the regime and that he would be brainwashed,’’ Sanchez said. ``It is very hard to determine if that is his own opinion or not.’’