Elian González, the center of a heated controversy between the U.S. and Cuban government in 2000, turned 18 Tuesday, according to reports.
González, currently studying at a Cuban military academy, celebrated the birthday in his native city of Cardenas alongside his father, according to images broadcast on the nightly news. The symbol for U.S-Cuban relations also spoke with Rene González (no relation), a Cuban intelligence agent who got out of jail in the U.S. in October but has to serve three years' probation, on the phone.
Rene, along with four other spies, together known as the Cuban Five, were caught two years after the Brothers to the Rescue plane was shot down by Cuban fighter jets in 1996. American prosecutors charged them with providing Cuba with vital intelligence that led to the deadly attack on the flight.
He wished me a happy birthday, said Elian of Rene.
Elian was soon to be six-years-old when, on Thanksgiving Day 1999, a fisherman found him off the coast of Florida, clinging to an inner tube after his mother, her boyfriend and others fleeing Cuba drowned trying to reach the United States.
Soon after arriving, the Immigration and Naturalization Service placed González to live with paternal relatives in Miami, but his father, Juan Miguel González Quintana, who was separated from his mother and had remained in Cuba, demanded that Elian be returned to live with him. He said Elian was taken without his consent.
A raging custody battle ensued, eventually transforming into international headlines that weighed heavy on the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Fidel Castro supported Elian's repatriation, standing by seven months of huge demonstrations calling for just that.
While the U.S. legal system ruled that Elian go back to Cuba to live with his father, Elian's Miami relatives refused to give him up. As a result, on April 22, 2000, federal agents famously raided Elian's great uncle's home in Little Havana, Fl., and seized Elian from a closet at gunpoint.
He returned to Cuba two months later.
View the slideshow of Elian over the years.