Speaking from Havana overnight Elian, now 16, said he was not angry at his Miami relatives who fought to keep him in the US when he was a five-year-old refugee.
His rare comments came after President Raul Castro attended a state celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the famous ex-castaway’s return to Cuba.
“Even though they didn’t help me in every way possible – they didn’t help me move forward – they are still my own family,” Elian said of his South Florida relatives, speaking in a shy, almost timid voice.
“I don’t have anger for them.
“It’s only that it wasn’t the best effort possible, and thanks to a large part of the American public, and our public, today I’m with my father and I feel happy here.”
Elian was a photogenic five-year-old when a fisherman found him floating off the coast of Florida in an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day 1999, after his mother and others fleeing Cuba drowned trying to reach American soil.
Elian’s father, who was separated from his mother, had remained on the island.
US immigration officials ruled the boy should return to Cuba over the objections of his Miami relatives and other Cuban exiles, creating a furore that caused even presidential candidates George W Bush and Al Gore to weigh in.
Many believe Cuban-Americans’ outrage at how the case turned out helped cost Mr Gore the White House.
Elianz’s Miami relatives refused to give him up, while in Cuba, Fidel Castro led marches calling for his return.
Federal agents raided the Little Havana home of Elian’s uncle with guns drawn on April 22, 2000, and seized the boy from a closet to return him to his father.
It took the pair another two-plus months to return to Cuba, however, and when they made it back, men, women and children jammed the road from Havana’s airport, cheering, waving Cuban flags and throwing flowers as a motorcade carrying them passed.