June 27, 2010 / 3:19 PM / 9 years ago

Cuban former castaway Elian on military track

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban shipwreck survivor, turned international child celebrity, Elian Gonzalez, is studying to become a military officer, the official media said on Sunday as it marked a decade since his return to the Caribbean island.

Elian Gonzalez (2nd R), delegate for the Matanzas province and member of Cuba's Young Communist's Union, attends the IX Congress of the Young Communist's Union in Havana in this April 4, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Omara Garcia Mederos/AIN

“A decade after being used as a toy by the enemies of the revolution, we see him wearing an olive-green uniform as a student of the Camilo Cienfuegos military school, where he is preparing to be a future officer of the Revolutionary Armed Forces,” The Communist youth newspaper, Jeventud Rebelde, reported.

The Cuban military operates high-school level academies across the country.

“The boy of yesterday (today 16) is now an ordinary Cuban,” the page long article in Sunday’s only newspaper said, but added he had recently attended the Union of Young Communist Congress where he “shared motivations, ideas and invited us to traverse the paths of the future.”

The Cuban government has shielded Gonzalez from international journalists, and he rarely appears in state-run media reports.

Gonzalez was a photogenic five-year-old when he was found floating on an inner tube off the Florida coast in November 1999.

He had survived a shipwreck that killed his mother and other Cubans who had left the communist island for the United States, but quickly became caught up in the political rip-tide of Havana-Miami politics.

In the United States, Gonzalez became the center of an international custody battle between Cuba’s government and anti-Castro exiles in Miami, his image a fixture on TV screens around the world.

Then President Fidel Castro launched an international campaign for the return of the boy to his father and grandparents in Cuba, staging rallies and marches across the country.

Cuban exiles camped out for months in front of the home where the boy was staying.

They lost a passionate legal battle to let Elian remain in Miami with his great-uncle’s family, who refused to give him up. Immigration agents finally seized Gonzalez from their home at gunpoint and reunited him with his father, who took him back to Cuba on June 28, 2000.

It was Castro’s last major international campaign and political victory against his nemeses in Miami and Washington before undergoing intestinal surgery in 2006, officially passing the reins of power to his brother Raul Castro in 2008.

Editing by Vicki Allen

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