April 5, 2000

Elian Waits Inside as Tension Grows Outside

By Rick Bragg . The New York Times. April 5, 2000

MIAMI, April 4 -- As 6-year-old Elián González teased a phalanx of news photographers today by making faces at them through a window in his great-uncle's home, demonstrators broke through metal police barricades while the police stood by and watched.

And, when an untrue rumor spread that an Immigration and Naturalization Service van was approaching the house, demonstrators formed a human chain around the yard to defy federal officers who never came.

The police said they would take no action until the nearly 200 demonstrators calmed down, and then would move those nearest the house back behind the barricades.

Day 132 of the Elián saga passed much like many recent days, as government officials and Elián's family members again tried and failed to work out a plan for the peaceful, uneventful transfer of the Cuban boy from the Miami house to his father. Talks were expected to resume on Thursday.

Elián's father, Juan Miguel González, could have custody of his son as soon as he lands in the United States, said Maria Cardona, a spokeswoman for the immigration service.

But how the actual reunion will be accomplished is still much in doubt.

Mr. González's lawyer, Gregory B. Craig, was expected to go to Cuba tonight to help arrange the father's trip, although visas for only 5 of the 27 people that President Fidel Castro has ordered to accompany Mr. González have been granted.

Mr. Craig said Mr. González would go with the smaller group if he could return quickly with the boy, and not have to wait out the outcome of a court fight over Elián's custody in the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta.

But later tonight Reuters reported that because only six visas had been issued for the father's trip, the Cuban government had made an official announcement ruling out an immediate visit. A State Department spokesman in Washington said the department had no comment on the report.

Visas have been granted for Elián's father, his stepmother, his half-brother, a cousin, his pediatrician and his kindergarten teacher.

The Cuban government wants to send a larger delegation on the trip to retrieve the boy, including a psychiatrist, Elián's classmates and Ricardo Alarcón, the president of the National Assembly. The other visa requests are still being considered, American officials said.

Elián's Miami relatives want three psychologists to evaluate the emotional trauma the boy may suffer if he is sent back to Cuba. In return for peacefully handing over the child, they also want a guarantee from immigration officials that Elián will not be sent back to Cuba before the appeals process is over.

Meanwhile today, Elián's cousin and closest friend here, Marisleysis González, was hospitalized for the second time since Elián's rescue at sea, after an emotional interview this morning in which she pleaded that Elián not be sent back to Cuba.

Elián was rescued off the coast of Florida on Thanksgiving Day.

His mother was among 10 people who died after their boat sank in the crossing from Cuba.

As the stalemate continued, polls showed that almost two-thirds of Americans questioned want Elián returned to his father.

A Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll found that of 998 respondents, 64 percent said the child should be returned to his father. An ABC poll of 930 people found that 59 percent wanted the father and son reunited.

Elian Needs His Dad

By Steve Largent.

WASHINGTON -- Politics is keeping Elián González from his father, and it's time that he is returned.

It's already been too long. The tortuous four-month-old custody battle over the boy rescued at sea last November continues to play out in the courts and in Washington. And now, the political brawl has taken an ugly turn. Elián's relatives in Miami, who have temporary custody of him and are seeking to block his return to Cuba, stooped to criticizing the boy's father, Juan Miguel González. Attempting to whip up public sentiment for their cause, the relatives have suggested that the father is somehow unfit to care for his son.

How do they know? Why are they only now raising this question? And what gives them or the court the right to decide such a thing? Do we really want the government sitting in judgment of every father when there is no apparent cause of action? How would the United States react if its role and Cuba's were reversed?

After leveling those charges against Elián's father earlier this week, a lawyer representing the boy's American relatives acknowledged on television that they had no proof.

"We're sure he loves his own son," admitted the lawyer, Linda Osberg-Braun, "and we know Elián loves his father."

Making political hay over a 6-year-old's tragedy of losing a mother may only compound his misery, experts say. Ken Dachman, a child psychologist in Chicago, said he worried that Elián's Miami relatives "are shaping this child so I don't think he will ever be able to recover fully." Mr. Dachman, who is familiar with the case, warned that the little boy would be "shadowed for a long time by feelings of distrust."

Elizabeth Loftus, a psychology professor at the University of Washington and a leading expert on memory in children, said any child as young as Elián would be particularly susceptible to suggestions that could alter his memory of his father.

Sadly, Elián's well-being seems to have little effect on the poisonous political rhetoric coming from Miami and Washington.

Some conservatives see this case as a long-sought opportunity to stick a finger in the eye of Fidel Castro. Let me say unequivocally that I am second to none in my dislike for Mr. Castro's totalitarian regime. But let's be reasonable. Elián is a little boy who has lost his mother and desperately needs his father.

This is a family issue, first and foremost. To forget that and allow our hatred for the Cuban regime to keep us from doing what is best for the child is shameful. It's already a tragedy that the child lost his mother; it would be a travesty for our government to come between him and his father.

I came to Washington with the deep-seated belief that the family is sovereign. You can't be for family values and at the same time advocate that governments be allowed to come between a father and his child.

What a tragic mistake it would be for society to allow the state or federal government to determine what's best for our children! But that's exactly what's happening in this tug-of-war over Elián González. As a father of four, including three sons, I know how important daddies are to 6-year-old boys. The question then becomes: is it better for Elián to live in our great country without his father or to live with his father in Cuba?

No contest: I say reunite Elián with his daddy -- today.

Elián's father and five other Cubans now have their visas for travel to the United States. "I'm willing to leave tomorrow," his father said in a prepared statement. "I do not want to talk to any kidnapper, nor accept any condition, or take part in any show or publicity over the handover of Elián."

So what are we waiting for?

Steve Largent is a Republican Ccongressman from Oklahoma.

Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company



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