By Adriana Hauser and Catherine E. Shoichet
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.
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.
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