Elian Gonzalez, Now Grown, Opens Up About Life in Cuba

He was a little boy caught in an ugly international dispute. Now 15 years later, Elian has a message for his Miami relatives.
6:36 | 05/21/15

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Transcript for Elian Gonzalez, Now Grown, Opens Up About Life in Cuba
Elian Gonzalez was just 6 years old when he became the face that charred relations between our country and Cuba. Now a grown man and full of gratitude to the Americans who embraced him for a short, tumultuous time. His poignant words for his relatives here in the U.S. Is this face familiar? He's known all over Cuba. He could pass for a Brooklyn hipster with his beard and model looks. Or a trainer to the stars when cleaned up for our interview. To the American people, I say thank you for the love they give me. Reporter: Yes, it is Elian Gonzalez, the little Cuban boy in the middle of an international tug of love. 15 years ago. The 6-year-old are kid, frozen in fear at the business end of a federal agent's rifle came to symbolize the legacy of antagonism between the U.S. And Cuba. He has been shielded from the community since he was 11 years old. Now 21 he has agreed to a Cuban cameraman hired by ABC to give his first extensive interview in more than a decade. He took us to the shoreline where he says he was given sleeping pills by his mother and boyfriend before loaded on the on to a small, 16-foot fishing boat in the middle of the night. A boat that would not finish the trip. I remember when the boat capsized. When we fell in the sea. Reporter: Behind the boat, the rafters tied several intertubes just in case. His mother loaded Elian in to one. I remember when I was put on the raft and my mom was covering me and I was raising my head looking around. At some point I raised my head and didn't see her again. Reporter: His mother was-at sea. Her body never found. Elian was found floating on that intertube 60 miles off the coast of Miami by a fisherman. Those are the moments that no matter how hard you try to put them aside, they leave a mark on you forever. Reporter: As with the next several months of his young life N the care of his Miami family who fought to keep him in the United States, against the will of his father back in Cuba. The media circled the old Havana, Florida, home where he stayed as his relatives filled the yard with toys and proudly displayed him as a victory over communism. Translator: There were so many emotions. All at the same time. When I was with my uncle, everyone is staring at me, thinking about me. They didn't allow me that time to cry for my mother. To sit down and realize what had happened. I was simply a kid, and to me everything was a game. Reporter: In Cuba, Elian's father, Juan Miguel, launched his own media battle. Backed by Fidel Castro. The propaganda war on both sides heated up when Elian's Miami family shot this video in which the then 6-year-old, some say, was coached to say he wants to stay in the U.S. But the final word would come from the federal courts. The boy belonged with his dad. When the Miami family refused to comply, armed U.S. Agents were sent in, creating the scene few can forget. Certainly not the fisherman holding Elian in this picture. If I didn't cooperate at that moment, I blooift could have went bad and could have been bloodshed in there. Reporter: Elian returns to Cuba a national hero in his father's arms. Greeted by his elementary school classmates and a national TV audience N. This never-before-seen on TV video, provided by Cuban photographer who shot for ABC news on this story, Fidel meets with Elian privately. Today else onlives with his father in this modest house in cardanas Elian sitting beside his father. Do you have any regrets of coming back to live in Cuba. Translator: Not at all. I feel safe in Cuba. Reporter: You are 21 years old. Do you have a car? No. Reporter: Do you have your own house? No. Reporter: Do you have money in your pocket? Ten pesos. Reporter: He wants to get married and he plans to wed his high school sweetheart. Translator: He's a good boyfriend, romantic, thoughtful. Reporter: It is clear his Miami family will not be at the wedding. Elian remembers his cousin fondly. She was the young woman who cared for him during his time in Miami but he hasn't spoken to her in 15 years. Translator: She was the female figure I saw most as a mother and I tried to consider her like that. I had to be with my father. When they recognize that, I will be willing to speak to them. We reached out to her about Elian's offer of reconciliation and she's not interested in doing anything on camera or hearing any message that ABC has taped from Elian. But Elian's great uncle did talk to us. He said there's nothing to apologize for. His own father said to take care of him until he could come and get them. That's the reward a poor family gets that gave him love. I don't see why we should say sorry. Reporter: In fact the family kept Elian weeks after his father arrived in the united States. Now, Elian still may have a surprise for his Miami family. If you could in this new era, go in anywhere in the world where would you like to go? I want the time to give my love to American people. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm Jim Avila in Havana. Our thanks to Jim Avila and his team.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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