FILE - In this June 30, 2010 file photo, Elian Gonzalez attends an official event with Cuba's President Raul Castro in Havana, Cuba. The young Cuban raft boy who was the subject of a high-profile international custody dispute more than a decade ago, turned 20 on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Cuban state media report that Gonzalez is in Ecuador as part of a delegation of the World Festival of Youth and Students, his first trip overseas trip since he was reunited with his father in 2000. (AP Photo/Adalberto Roque, File Pool)A2010
382995 10: Elian Gonzalez celebrates his seventh birthday at the Marcelo Saldo school in Cardenas,100 miles east of Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Jorge Rey/Newsmakers)Getty
He has stayed put on his island since he made his first international-headline-making trip outside of it in 2000 – escaping on a small boat with a group that included his mother, who perished along the way.
Elián González, now 20, the young Cuban who as a boy survived the boat sinking and became a political football during the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign as the subject of an international custody fight, is on his first trip overseas since being reunited with his father.
Cuban state-run media said González is in Ecuador this week as part of a 200-strong delegation to the 23rd World Festival of Youth and Students, which runs through Friday.
In a recent interview published on the official website Cubadebate, González said living in Cuba afforded him more privacy than if he had stayed in the United States.
"I'm a little shy, so when I stand up somewhere and know that the whole world is looking at me and I'm perhaps the center of attention ... it's pretty tough," González said.
"I'd rather pass unnoticed," he added.
González was just shy of his sixth birthday when the small boat that was carrying him, his mother and a dozen others went down near Florida. González's mother was among those who died, but he was found floating in an inner tube, rescued and taken to the U.S.
A bitter court battle ensued between González's father, who demanded the boy be returned to him in Cuba, and Miami relatives, who insisted he stay with them.
González became a political cause celebre both in Cuba, where the government organized mass marches proclaiming his right to be with his father, and among Florida exiles, who argued it would be inhumane to send him back to Communist-run Cuba and said his mother's wish to take him to the U.S. should be respected.
The case culminated with a dramatic raid on a house where U.S. federal agents retrieved González at gunpoint, and he was flown back to the island in June 2000.
González has been almost entirely out of sight since then, his privacy fiercely guarded by his father and Cuban officials. He attended a military academy as a cadet for a time and is now studying industrial engineering at Camilo Cienfuegos University of Matanzas.
In the interview, which was published to coincide with his 20th birthday on Friday, González said the young man he is today was shaped by lessons from his parents. He also spoke of his admiration for retired leader Fidel Castro, who kept close tabs on his welfare over the years.
"He always came for my birthday. I always looked forward to that moment," González said. "I'm a person of few words (and) I clammed up when he was there, but it was enough to see him and give him that hug."
"I always remember what he told me: That I was already somebody, that the whole world knew who I was, and now what I had to do was be good at something, that's what he asked of me," González added. "He never cared which path I took ... the intention was that I be good at whatever I did."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.