Elian's Father Arrives to Take Son Home

By Sands, David R.; Carter, Tom | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 7, 2000 | Go to article overview

Elian's Father Arrives to Take Son Home


Sands, David R., Carter, Tom, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The father of Elian Gonzalez arrived in Washington from Cuba early yesterday, demanding immediate custody of his son and an end to what he called "cruel psychological pressure" applied by U.S. relatives seeking "political advantage from his tragedy."

Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his family flew past Miami, where his son is staying with relatives, and came directly to Washington, where they will stay in a house owned by the Cuban government, accompanied by Cuban minders.

The confrontational tone of Mr. Gonzalez's remarks swelled the crowds and hardened the attitudes around the modest bungalow in Miami's Little Havana section, where the 6-year-old has been staying with his Cuban-American relatives since he was plucked from the Atlantic Ocean off South Florida on Thanksgiving Day.

The child survived after a frail boat sank, and his mother - Mr. Gonzalez's ex-wife - and 10 others fleeing Fidel Castro drowned.

"For exactly 137 days, I have been cruelly separated from my child," a grim Mr. Gonzalez told a throng of reporters and a small group of anti-Castro protesters gathered in the gray dawn on a remote runway at Washington Dulles International Airport.

"Never has he needed his father and his family more, his school more, than during the anguishing period since November 21," he said, with his new wife and infant son standing nearby. His wife wore a grim expression, too.

With the Justice Department yesterday signaling it will move quickly to reunite the boy with his father, there was a growing sense that the bitter international custody fight that has roiled both capitals was moving to a conclusion.

President Clinton said he is satisfied that Elian's father is a "fit parent" and "in the end, the rule of law will prevail."

"The fact that the father has come here, and will be in a position to show his concern for, and desire to be reunited with his son, should be a big help," Mr. Clinton told CBS News.

Cuban refugees in Miami charged that the father, a clerk in a travel agency in the provincial town of Cardenas, was reading remarks prepared for him by the Cuban government.

"I think the father didn't mean [what he said in Washington] from the heart . . .," said Raisa de la Paz of Miami, echoing a popular sentiment in the Cuban community there. "He looked like he was hiding something. He wouldn't say Elian's name. He needs to come here and talk, with no one from the government - Cuban or U.S. - interfering."

Said Roger Bernstein, an attorney for the Miami relatives: "Those might have been his lips moving, but they were the words of Fidel Castro."

A long meeting of the boy's Miami relatives, including Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, and officials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) broke up in bitterness yesterday, with the relatives claiming the federal government had dismissed their entreaties.

The relatives have repeatedly said they will obey the law, but want the father to come to Miami - free from intimidating pressure of the Castro government - to discuss the boy's future. They also seek a psychological evaluation to determine whether returning Elian to his father would bring on more trauma for the boy.

"This is a very sad day in the history of American jurisprudence," said Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, an attorney representing the Miami relatives. "The government will not guarantee that they will not try to take Elian away in the middle of the night."

Asked yesterday whether the boy understands that his father had arrived in the United States to reclaim him, Lazaro Gonzalez replied: "Yes, and he knows that his mother drowned trying to get him to a free country."

Now that the father is on American soil, the INS said yesterday it is preparing a letter to Lazaro Gonzalez informing him that custody has been transferred to Juan Miguel Gonzalez. …

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