Elián González, who spent months with his Florida relatives as a Cuban child at the center of an international custody dispute, said in an interview broadcast on Monday that he would like to visit the US.
Now 21, González said that if he could visit anywhere, it would be the US.
He thanked the American people for the love they showed him during the custody battle 16 years ago, and said he would like to go back “to give my love to the American people”.
He would like to see a baseball game, visit Washington museums and talk to Americans.
“I could personally thank those people who helped us, who were there by our side,” he said. “Because we’re so grateful for what they did.”
The interview on ABC News was conducted over several days and showed González with a beard and later clean-shaven.
He was a military cadet when he was in his late teens and is now studying industrial engineering at the university in the Cuban province of Matanzas, west of the capital. He recently became engaged to be married.
He was just a few weeks shy of six when his mother, Elizabeth Brotons, died at sea in 1999 while trying to take him to the US.
González survived by clinging to an inner tube and eventually ended up in Florida with relatives who fought to keep him in the US.
“I was alone in the middle of the sea – that’s the last thing I remember,” he said. He was moved by his mother’s efforts to keep him afloat while she drowned.
“She fought until the very last minute to keep me alive,” he said.
A tug-of-war between González’s US relatives and his father, Juan González, ensued, with the then-president, Fidel Castro, siding with the father and the Miami-based Cuban exile community backing family members in Florida.
For months, Cuba’s communist government organized almost daily marches of thousands of people demanding that the child be returned to the island.
Media camped outside the Miami home where González was staying and cameras were constantly trained on him and his relatives.
The case sparked a debate about parental rights that raged on both sides of the Florida Straits.
President Bill Clinton’s administration ultimately backed the father’s rights and allowed him to take his son back to Cuba in mid-2000.
González said he had no regrets about his father’s decision to stay in Cuba, and he was not angry with his Miami relatives and was open to reconciliation.