April 13, 2000

For boy's sake, it's time to act

By Adrian Walker, Globe Columnist, 4/13/2000. The Boston Globe.

MIAMI - If federal authorities really intend to make good on their threats to reunite Elian Gonzalez with his father by force if necessary, they seemingly missed a good opportunity early yesterday morning.

A driving rain, coupled with the announcement that the Gonzalez relatives would not be traveling to Washington as planned, had reduced the barricade brigade to perhaps 20 soaked stalwarts. There hadn't been so little organized resistance in weeks. Besides, everything comes to a halt in Miami when it rains; it could have been the Feds' big chance to end this standoff with little fanfare.

Seriously, though, the puzzling reluctance of both sides to resolve this struggle has had the effect of prolonging and compounding the anguish and anxiety. Despite world-class posturing on all sides, the case has effectively been stuck in neutral for weeks.

Attorney General Janet Reno is said to favor allowing the family to hash this out, if at all possible. To that end, she enlisted Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin to try to act as an intermediary. Elian, his great-uncle Lazaro and his cousin Marisleysis all went yesterday morning to O'Laughlin's house in Miami Beach, which has been proposed as a neutral site for the Miami relatives and Elian's father, Juan Miguel, to attempt, yet again, to meet. As of last evening the relatives waited there, but Elian's father showed no signs of coming to them. Reno met with the relatives in Miami Beach last night but was unable to broker a settlement.

Reno has said from the beginning that families settle issues such as this far better than courts do. Perhaps so, but the government's constant threats of action, followed by persistent inaction, have done nothing to move this forward. Worse, it has created the impression that the government is being held hostage by a recalcitrant family backed by a handful of agitators. That is hardly the resolve that made America strong.

The events of Tuesday night and yesterday were particularly weird even by the standards of this strange story. First, the families had agreed to meet outside Washington. Then the meeting was off, undermined by the government's refusal to guarantee that Elian would not be returned to his father once the boy was safely out of Miami. That was followed, surprisingly, by the meeting with Sister Jeanne and a psychologist, which was - perhaps - a response to the relatives' complaints that experts should meet with and evaluate Elian, not just his adult caretakers, before any transfer takes place. Where it goes from here perhaps not even Janet Reno knows.

Miami Mayor Joe Carrollo, who met with Reno on Tuesday, said he believed she should have granted the assurance that Elian would not immediately be whisked out of the country, implying that until she does, the family meeting is unlikely to happen. He also regurgitated suspicions that Juan Miguel is a puppet of Fidel Castro, still not free to speak his own mind.

''The world deserves to know that Juan Miguel's final decision is his own,'' Carrollo declared.

Juan Miguel has stated his wishes several times since arriving in the United States; he wants to take his son home to Cuba. What's lacking is the will to enforce that choice. For the sake of the family (all branches of it), for a city growing weary of life on the edge of catastrophe, and most of all for Elian himself, it's time to act. Deadline has been followed by deadline. Is is any wonder they are scarcely taken seriously anymore?

Anyone who spends a few days here can't help but develop a deeper appreciation for how gut-wrenching this case has become for the people involved. But allowing it to drag on for four months, giving rise to hopes that the law could somehow be disregarded, given enough determination, has only made it worse. That error is being magnified every day.

Even opponents of returning Elian to his father acknowledge that it will happen sooner or later. Yet the family continues to stall, and the government continues to wring its hands and write letters. Both sides pay lip service to the best interests of this child, but it doesn't seem likely that endless uncertainty serves those interests. The time for closure is now, and if that means coping with public anger and frustration, then that's the price of action.

Adrian Walker's e-mail address is

This story ran on page A34 of the Boston Globe on 4/13/2000.

© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.



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