April 22, 2000

Reactions in Cuba mixed

Herald wire services. Posted at 11:14 a.m. EDT Saturday, April 22, 2000

Jubilation mixed with nervousness spread through Cuba Saturday morning after news of the extraction. Government radio asked Cubans to stay calm and abstain from staging street demonstrations.

``This is the happiest day in my life,'' said Juan Gonzalez, Elian's paternal grandfather, in a radio interview from Cardenas, the family's home town. ``My son [Juan Miguel] phoned me from Washington about 5:30 a.m. and gave me the news.

``Imagine, we were extremely happy. The neighbors found out and everyone came over to our house,'' the grandfather said.

Contacted by Radio Rebelde, Mariela Quintana, Elian's paternal grandmother, apologized for not making any comments, saying that she was too nervous. She asked for time to compose herself and promised to comment later.

Cubans were awakened by the radio at 6:45 a.m. local time with an announcement from the government that told about ``Elian's rescue.''

``Flash, flash, a message from the Cuban government,'' said the announcer, in a broadcast made by Radio Reloj, Radio Rebelde and Radio Progreso.

The broadcast said that the operation lasted between three and five minutes and that the agents ``barely met with resistance'' from the people in Lazaro Gonzalez's house.

Elian's extraction was ``a favorable turn toward a just, honorable and correct solution'' of the case, the radio said.

In a second broadcast, the government asked people to abstain from ``carrying out public demonstrations'' and said Elian ``is all right, on the plane, and playing with one of the people who accompany him.''

Cubans' ``attitude should be serene, discreet and dignified. Any other form of conduct could weigh negatively on the future evolution of the situation,'' the government message said.

``Fabulous! That's what they should have done a long time ago. It's great news,'' said Pedro Aran Sayas, an early riser walking through Havana.

``Our people were waiting for this news,'' said Otto Rivero, first secretary of the Young Communists Union. He called the morning's events ``transcendental.''

Sources close to the Gonzalezes said that Yasmany Betancourt, who is one of Elian's cousins, as well as teacher Agueda Fleitas and a pediatrician are ready to fly to Washington to ``render assistance'' to the boy.

The three already have visas to the United States and are part of a ``support team'' proposed weeks ago by President Fidel Castro to help in Elian's readaptation to his Cardenas family.

Radio Rebelde interviewed one of Elian's schoolmates, Yanian Daniel, who said he cried when he heard the news from Miami.

A mass demonstration Saturday in support of the boy was scheduled earlier this week for the city of Jaguey Grande in Matanzas province. By late morning Saturday, it had not been called off.

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald



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