Elian Gonzalez is 21 years old now. He’s studying engineering and is engaged to be married. And some day, Gonzalez said in an interview with ABC News, he’d like to visit the United States.

“I want the time to give my love to American people,” Gonzalez told the network.

When he was a child, Gonzalez became the focus of a controversial custody case, which pitted his father in Cuba against his family in South Florida. The boy’s mother had died at sea while they were fleeing Cuba in 1999; he was eventually reunited with his Cuban father following a surprise raid in which he was removed from a Miami home in April 2000.

“The agents corralled the frightened family inside at gunpoint,” read a Washington Post report on the operation. “Elian was found in a bedroom, halfway inside a small closet, in the arms of one of the Florida fishermen who had rescued him from the Atlantic Ocean on Thanksgiving Day. A female agent bundled the boy into a blanket and rushed him out the door and into a van that quickly backed away from the home.”

The operation, which involved more than 100 Immigration and Naturalization Service agents, came after fierce debate over who should raise the boy and triggered outrage in Miami’s Cuban American community.

Gonzalez has been in Cuba ever since; Fidel Castro attended his birthday celebration when the boy turned 7.

Five years ago, the Cuban government released photos of Gonzalez — then aged 16 — wearing a military school uniform and attending a Young Communist Union congress, the Associated Press reported at the time.

Here’s what Gonzalez has to say about visiting the United States now, according to ABC News:

Today, Gonzalez says he’d like to come back to the United States, but only as a tourist, telling ABC News he’d like to see a baseball game, visit Washington museums and talk to Americans.
“For my family it has always been, we always have the desire to say to the American people, to say to each household our gratitude, appreciation and love that we have,” he said. “Perhaps one day we could pay a visit to the United States. I could personally thank those people who helped us, who were there by our side. Because we’re so grateful for what they did.”

In the interview, Gonzalez also discussed his mother, who died during the attempt to reach U.S. soil.

“I believe that if today she is not here with me it is because she fought until the very last minute for me to survive,” he said, according to ABC. “After giving life to me, I believe she was the one who saved me. She was the one who gave life back to me at a time of danger.”

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