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20 Years Ago: International Custody Battle Over Cuban Boy Elián González Ends In Pre-Dawn Raid In Miami

MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the Elián González saga.

The international custody and immigration controversy over the 5-year-old boy was a hot topic in South Florida, especially among the Cuban American exile community.

Gonzalez was plucked out of the water on Thanksgiving Day in 1999, after his mother died during their voyage across the Florida Straits aboard a makeshift raft seeking political refuge from Cuba.

Elián was found adrift three miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale by a pair of fishermen.

For months, a custody battle over the boy ensued, with his extended family in Little Havana fighting to keep the boy here, but the U.S. government decided they had no right to petition for Elian's asylum.

This photograph released 16 April 2001 by Columbia
This photograph released 16 April 2001 by Columbia University in New York and taken by Alan Diaz of the Associated Press, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography. The photo shows Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez and Donato Dalrymple (R) in a bedroom closet as federal agents enter the Miami home of Elian's relatives and was taken 22 April 2000. (Photo credit: ALAN DIAZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Armed agents with tear gas and guns swarmed the Gonzalez family home, turning the pre-dawn raid on April 22nd, 2000 into a media sensation.

A photograph of American officers pointing a gun at a terrified and crying boy appeared on news channels and newspapers across the world, eventually winning a Pulitzer Prize.

Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who was an attorney for Gonzalez's family at the time, talked to CBS4 about the moment the feds showed up to take the young boy.

"There was tear gas all over the place inside the house.  There was a group of women who got together every morning outside the house to pray.  They'd form a circle every day and hold hands and pray.  They knocked them over and stormed the house.  It was very frightening."

After the raid, Elián was reunited with his father and stepmother. Once he was back in Cuba, he appeared with Fidel and Raul Castro over the years.

Diaz says it was a tough time but believes "We all come from these experiences a little smarter.  I think for many years we may have had this false sense that this government would act in any way except what's in the best interest of this government.  It was clear to us in this case that had Elian had his day in court, because I think that's also important to know.  The media framed that debate in terms of father, custody, son type issues.  But that was never our lawsuit."

Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban boy who was rescued off the coast of Florida 16 years ago, talks to the press at Havana's Revolution Square where people are paying their respects to Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on November 29, 2016, as tributes to the late former president are being held across the country. Castro died late November 25 in Havana at age 90. His ashes will be buried in the historic southeastern city of Santiago on December 4 after a four-day procession through the country. / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Now in his 20s, Elián is one of the most recognizable supporters of the Cuban Revolution after graduating from a military academy in 2016 with a degree in industrial engineering.

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