April 3, 2000

Resolution taking shape over Elián González's fate

By David LaGesse / The Dallas Morning News. 04/03/2000

Key issues remain in custody discussions that continue today

WASHINGTON - A potential resolution of the confrontation over a young boy in Miami took shape Sunday as both sides described a transition that would reunite Elián González with his Cuban father.

Key issues remain to be settled in negotiations that resume Monday in Miami, but a member of Congress said none appeared insurmountable.

"I think this is eminently a resolvable case," said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J. "I actually believe the parties are much closer than it now appears."

Still, harsh words continued to fly between attorneys for Elián's father, Juan Miguel González, and the Miami relatives who are caring for the 6-year-old.

Miami attorneys repeated allegations Sunday that the father is abusive to Elián. They highlighted those concerns on Friday, when several attorneys suggested the family would be unwilling to give Elián to his father even if Mr. González travels to the United States.

An attorney for Mr. González angrily denounced the allegations of abuse, saying they were just another effort by the family to stop Elián from returning to his father in Cuba.

"They have changed their position . . . raising new obstacles," said Gregory Craig in an appearance on CNN's Late Edition.

A family attorney denied that the allegations were new. "One of the lawyers on our team met with the attorney general at the beginning of this process and raised those types of concerns," said attorney Manny Díaz in an appearance on ABC's This Week.

The Miami attorneys are scheduled to meet again Monday morning with federal negotiators. The government wants a written agreement for Elián's handover if the family loses a pending court fight.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service said it wants an agreement by Tuesday morning, a deadline the agency has extended twice.

The Miami relatives are appealing a federal court ruling that backed a Justice Department order to return Elián to his father.

Elián has lived with the Miami family of his great-uncle since he was found floating in the Atlantic Ocean four months ago. The boy survived a boat accident in which his mother and others fleeing communist-ruled Cuba drowned.

Despite the animosity, both sides on Sunday discussed ways to ease a change in Elián's status.

Both suggested involving professional counselors. But federal officials have rejected a family proposal that counselors decide Elián's fate.

The family attorneys still argue that Elián should remain in the United States even if that means he would be separated from his father. But they also said the family would obey an INS order that the child go to his father.

Several of the family attorneys argued for a gradual transition Sunday, saying the child has developed a strong attachment to a cousin who has cared for him.

"She's like a surrogate mother," said attorney Spencer Eig on CNN's Late Edition. "Elián's in a fragile state."

Mr. González last week said he'd be willing to travel to the United States and stay pending the outcome of the legal fight - as long as he was reunited with Elián.

"We need these assurances that he will have custody of his son," Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Craig said the father was willing to discuss a process for handing over Elián. "We care about this transition as much as they do," he said.

Elián's great-uncle has insisted the father come to his Miami home to retrieve the boy. It's unclear whether Mr. González will even go to Miami, where he is likely to face hostility from exiled Cubans. The INS is insisting the handover occur at a neutral site.

During an appearance Sunday on national television in Cuba, President Fidel Castro said Mr. González was willing to travel alone to the United States Monday morning if U.S. officials promise to turn over the boy to him and let them return to Cuba right away.

Failing that, visas would be sought for Mr. González and an entourage of more than 27 people, Mr. Castro said. U.S. officials said it's unlikely they would approve so many visas. Mr. Craig has said he initially would apply for four visas.

Mr. Castro also announced Sunday that the chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington was willing to give up diplomatic immunity over his residence in Washington, where the communist government has proposed Mr. González would stay with Elián. He said that was meant as a gesture to Elián's Miami relatives so they cannot balk at handing Elián over on the pretext that the residence is considered Cuban territory.

Staff writer Nancy San Martin in Miami and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Dallas Morning News



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