Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gonzalez Lawyer Discusses Elian Saga Craig Confident of Boy's Future

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gonzalez Lawyer Discusses Elian Saga Craig Confident of Boy's Future

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Juan Miguel Gonzalez, worried that Elian might think his mother was still alive and had not begun grieving her death at sea, set a photo of her on a table six weeks ago, on Mother's Day. Elian placed a flower and card beside it.

Elian's mother, Elisabeth Brotons, drowned trying to bring the boy to the United States in November.

"Juan Miguel was worried that his son had not come to terms with his mother's death while he was in Miami," or that he even had a notion that his mother was still alive, recalled Gonzalez's Washington lawyer, Gregory Craig.

"Juan Miguel told him she was up there watching, but she would not be coming back," said Craig. "He told his son that he would always have a place in his heart for his mother."

Reviewing the turning points of this wrenching human and international drama, Craig said "the worst moment" was when Attorney General Janet Reno's talks with Elian's Miami relatives had failed. Hours later, Craig showed his client the videotape of his son wagging his finger and saying he would not go back to Cuba.

"Juan Miguel's face turned into a mask, and his eyes brimmed with tears," said Craig. "But he never sobbed the whole time he was here. At that moment it was like he was closing down, exercising enormous control over his features."

UNDERSTANDING RISKS

Several days later, Gonzalez met with Reno and told her that Elian's great-uncle Lazaro "was never going to give up the boy." He pleaded with her to take action to recover his son.

"He understood there were risks with the use of government agents to take Elian from Lazaro, but he said, 'Every day he is there he is at risk -- Elian is suffering,' " said Craig. "I think the attorney general was profoundly moved by that."

In a discussion of the Elian saga, which Craig entered in March at the request of several church groups, the lawyer said that:

-- Gonzalez, fretting about Elian but worried about long delays, came to the United States reluctantly in April to claim his son only after his lawyer told him in Havana: "If you don't come, you run the risk of losing Elian forever."

Two weeks later, Gonzalez was sitting in Craig's Washington office, "living the nightmare he feared, stuck here seeing his son only on TV in Miami," said Craig.

-- He and his client did not know the April 22 raid was coming. "Looking back, there was one sign -- when INS Commissioner Doris Meissner called requesting Elian's blood type, whether he had any allergies. I thought they might be getting ready to do something, and so did Juan Miguel."

-- There was a chance "up to the 11th hour before they left" for Cuba on Wednesday that some of the Miami relatives could have seen father and son -- if they dropped the last-ditch legal maneuvers in three separate courts. Gonzalez wrote and then called his uncle Lazaro in the last two weeks, but the Miami relatives decided to fight the case to the end, when a Supreme Court justice turned down their appeal.

-- On departure day, it was "absolute bedlam" at Rosedale, the Washington estate where father, son and 12 other classmates and adults were staying. Gonzalez told his son to get his khaki pants ironed or change them, and Elian refused.

Instead, a defiant Elian plopped on a chair, grabbed the TV remote and switched from CNN to cartoons.

"I think Elian won that round," said Craig, who has five children, including a son born the same month as Elian. …

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