- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000

MIAMI The Cuban government said yesterday it will take custody of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez once the Clinton administration turns over the boy to his father, who is preparing to come to the United States.
"He [Elian] is a possession of the Cuban government," said Luis Fernandez, a spokesman for Cuba's unofficial embassy in Washington. Once the transfer takes place, he said, "No other entity can remove this."
Critics have long complained that the Cuban Constitution gives the state paramount rights in raising children, especially when there is a conflict with the parents.
A 1978 Cuban law requires that parents and teachers raise children with a "communist personality" and outlaws "influences contrary to communist development."
The claim by Cuba's government came as the 4-month-old international custody battle over the child who survived a November boat wreck in which his mother and 10 other refugees perished approached a climax.
In other developments:
The United States granted visas to Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and five others to come to the United States to press their claims.
Cuba said the six visas granted in a proposed 28-member delegation were not enough for the father to travel immediately. An official statement read on state television said the father "remains firm" in his insistence on two options going alone to pick up Elian and bring him back immediately, or leading the full delegation to take charge of the boy in Washington while the legal battle with Miami relatives runs its course.
Vice President Al Gore amended his position on the case for the second time in a week, saying that the father should be allowed to take his son, Elian, to Cuba as long as he makes the request "on free soil" in the United States. Mr. Gore last week endorsed a bill that would give the boy and six of his relatives permanent resident status.
In Congress, sponsors of legislation to make Elian an American citizen or a permanent U.S. resident indicated that they may push instead for a resolution urging that the boy's custody be decided by an impartial panel.
A Montgomery County, Md., police spokesman said the force, along with the State Department and Cuban officials, had developed a contingency plan for traffic management and security in the Bethesda neighborhood where Elian's father and other visitors from Cuba are expected to stay. Media trucks already had begun stakeouts outside the two-story gray brick house that belongs to the Cuban Interests Section. It stands unfenced only a few dozen feet from the road.
Mr. Fernandez's claim that the state would take custody of the boy seemed likely to further inflame passions of Miami's Cuban-American community, which continued to threaten massive protests if the boy is removed.
Since Elian's rescue Nov. 25, critics of Cuba have said the father's stated wish, that the boy be returned to the island, was tantamount to handing him directly to President Fidel Castro for communist "brainwashing."
"Everyone is talking about who speaks for Elian, but nobody is asking who has custody of the father," said Frank Calzon, director of Washington's Center for a Free Cuba. "When you answer that question, you understand why people do not want Elian to go back to Cuba."
U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno determined on Jan. 6 that only the father can speak for the boy.
Critics often complain that in Cuba, at age 7 a child loses his milk ration. At 11, a child is taken away to a state school, where he or she works for a portion of the year, often in sugar-cane fields, and only sees the parents intermittently.
Mr. Castro has offered to remove diplomatic immunity for the house where the Cuban visitors will stay if it will help facilitate the transfer of the child to the father.
The State Department said yesterday that, while Cuba's top diplomat in Washington, Fernando Remirez, did have meetings at the State Department, removing the residence's diplomatic immunity was not discussed.
In Miami, Marisleysis Gonzalez, 21, Elian's cousin who has become a surrogate mother to the boy, collapsed under emotional stress yesterday morning while pleading for the child to stay in the United States.
During a series of emotional interviews at La Carreta, a Cuban restaurant in the heart of Little Havana, Miss Gonzalez grew faint and passed out.
Paramedics took her to a hospital, where she remains under observation.
Government lawyers and attorneys for the Miami relatives, meanwhile, remained dug in, bringing the situation closer to a confrontation that both sides hope to avoid.
The State Department said yesterday that it had granted six of 28 visas the Cuban government had requested, for Elian's father, his wife, baby son, a cousin of Elian's, a teacher and a doctor to come to the United States.
One of the passports not stamped was that for Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, and considered Cuba's third most powerful official, behind the president and his brother, Raul Castro.
"We have strict guidelines for top government officials that come to the United States, and we will adhere to those guidelines," said a State Department official on the condition of anonymity.
Those guidelines mean that Cuban officials can only travel to the United States for international forums, such as the United Nations or World Trade Organization meetings, the official said.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, said yesterday that Miami is in turmoil because President Clinton and Miss Reno are violating Florida state court orders that Elian remain in Miami until the custody issue is decided.
He said local police officials have told him that "hundreds of federal officers" are in the area preparing to enforce an INS order to forcibly remove the child.
Yesterday, in front of the Gonzalez home in Little Havana, a rumor that federal authorities were preparing to move in agitated the crowd, which broke through the police barriers to make a human chain around the house.
The police looked on as if nothing was happening, and demonstrators peacefully returned behind the barricades.
Before her fainting spell, Miss Gonzalez said that Elian's father has always been welcome at her home, noting that they have been waiting for four months for the father to come see his son.
She said he would be safe, but wondered why "a big man … with no psychological problems would put his son in the uncomfortable position of going to see him in an unfamiliar place."
"What kind of a father would do that?" she said.
She reiterated that the child does not want to return to Cuba.
Asked if the family would turn over the child, as the Clinton administration has demanded, she said, yes, under certain conditions.
The Miami family wants:
Three independent psychologists to examine the child to determine what is his best interests.
The transfer of custody to take place at the Gonzalez home in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.
Assurances that if the father takes custody of the child, that he remain in the United States until the legal case has run its course.


Gerald Mizejewski, Andrew Cain and Geoffrey Smith contributed to this report in Washington.

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