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Elian Gonzales rips U.S. embargo, says life in Cuba 'magnificent'

Elian Gonzalez in 1999 in Miami. rg/ep/Laura Cavanaugh UPI
1 of 2 | Elian Gonzalez in 1999 in Miami. rg/ep/Laura Cavanaugh UPI | License Photo

QUITO, Ecuador, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- The boy at the center of an international custody battle that saw him return to Cuba to live with his father had sharp words for the U.S. Cuba policy.

Elian Gonzalez, attending the World Festival of Youth and Students in Quito, Ecuador, said he is happy in Cuba and blames the U.S. embargo for the death of his mother 14 years ago, CNN reported Tuesday.

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"Just like her, many others have died attempting to go to the United States," Gonzalez said Tuesday. "But it's the U.S. government's fault. Their unjust embargo provokes an internal and critical economic situation in Cuba."

"But, despite that, Cuba, even with all its problems, has progressed over the years," he said. "The progress we've made is all thanks to Cuba's courage, our dignity, our continued fight for a more just model."

He told CNN he was asked to speak at the conference, but isn't quite sure what his topic will be.

"My topic could range anywhere from the lifting of the unjust blockade on Cuba to the freedom of the 'Cuban Five,'" he said. "The main reason we're here is because we want a revolutionary progressive movement that leads to socialism."

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The "Cuban Five" were convicted of espionage charges and jailed in the United States. They are considered heroes in Cuba where many say they prevented acts of terrorism.

Gonzalez was 6 years old when he was found holding on to an inner tube after the boat he was traveling in from Cuba sank en route to the United States. Gonzalez's mother and nine other people in the boat drowned. After his rescue in 1999, Gonzalez was placed with relatives in Miami, who wanted to keep him in the United States.

Gonzalez's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, fought to have his son returned to Cuba. As the two sides fought in court, U.S. immigration officials decided Gonzalez, in the United States to argue for his son's return, should have custody. When his relatives in Miami refused to go along, armed federal agents raided the home of Gonzalez's uncle and seized the boy.

Gonzalez is studying engineering at a military school in Cuba while his father became a member of the national assembly.

Gonzalez said his life in Cuba was "magnificent."

"I haven't suffered any consequences because of what happened. It has not affected me psychologically, but it has been hard for my family," Gonzalez said. "Those were tough times."

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