- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2000

MIAMI Elian Gonzalez's father is flying from Havana to Washington this morning for a reunion with his 6-year-old son in the wake of a firestorm over a Cuban diplomat's statement Tuesday that the boy "is a possession of the Cuban government."

The boy's Miami relatives, who have fought to keep the child in the United States, cited the Cuban diplomat's remark as "new evidence" that Attorney General Janet Reno reconsider her decision to award custody to his father.

President Fidel Castro declared late last night that it is just matter of days before Elian Gonzalez will be reunited with his father. "I am talking about three days" more or less, Mr. Castro told hundreds of university students. "It is inevitable."

Lawyers for the family caring for Elian said they had drafted a letter to Miss Reno arguing that the boy will be a ward of the Cuban state if he is returned to his father.

"Janet Reno says the father speaks for the son, but in Cuba, parental rights are abrogated for the good of the communist system," said Manny Diaz, a lawyer for the Miami relatives, who cited Cuban law and the Cuban Constitution.

Gregory Craig, a lawyer for the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, met during the day with Mr. Gonzalez and Cuban officials in Havana and said late yesterday that "it is time for this reunion to go forward.

The Cuban boy, who was rescued at sea off the Florida coast in November, has been the subject of an international tug-of-war since that time, with the father, supported by Mr. Castro, pushing for the boy's return to Havana.

Mr. Craig said the boy's father "is prepared to stay here until he has achieved that objective."

In Washington, Luis Fernandez, a spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section, said he had been misquoted in remarks attributed to him in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times. He said he was talking not about the boy, but about a house in Bethesda, Md., where Elian could stay while legal claims are sorted out.

A review of the reporter's notes, however, reflects that Mr. Fernandez was quoted accurately.

Mr. Fernandez repeated the Cuban promise to waive diplomatic immunity of the Bethesda residence. "If it is necessary, we will give up immunity of the residence in order to avoid that anyone could use the argument that the boy should not go to Cuban territory," Mr. Fernandez said yesterday.

Asked what relationship the boy would have to the Cuban government if he is turned over to his father, Mr. Fernandez said, "The Cuban government always has been supporting this family. We will give [the father] our support and any assistance that he needs."

In Miami, however, relatives who have had custody of Elian since he was rescued from an inner tube off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving, said that even before Mr. Fernandez's remarks that the Cuban Constitution and legal code make individual and parental rights subordinate to the interests of the state.

"The [diplomat's] remark confirms what we have been saying all along," said Mr. Diaz.

"Miss Reno has always said that she is willing to look at new evidence. We think this is significant."

Article 39 of the Cuban Constitution, adopted in 1976 and revised in 1992, declares that "the education of children and young people in the spirit of communism is the duty of all society."

Law No. 16 of the "Children and Youth Code," adopted in 1978, says the state's goal is the creation of "communism's new generation" and requires all adults to help mold a child's "communist personality."

Armando Gutierrez, spokesman for Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, and his family objected that Mr. Craig's involvement was a "conflict of interest" because of his close relationship with Mr. Clinton, the ultimate arbiter in the case.

He questioned whether Mr. Craig, President Clinton's impeachment attorney, still represents Mr. Clinton, whether the president is still indebted to him for services rendered during the impeachment trial, and whether Mr. Craig has talked to the White House about the Elian Gonzalez case.

"The inherent conflict that exists by Greg Craig's participation or advocacy in the Elian Gonzalez matter is unrefutable," Mr. Gutierrez said earlier this week.

Calls to Mr. Craig's office in Washington asking for comment on all of these issues were not returned yesterday.

Before the decision of the elder Gonzalez to come to the United States was announced, he had said he would not travel to this country until he received assurances that custody of Elian would be transferred from the boy's great-uncle.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service issued a statement Monday that said, "Once Mr. Gonzalez arrives in the United States, the INS will begin transferring care from Lazaro Gonzalez to the boy's father."

Said Mr. Craig, "We take this statement from the INS to mean and be an assurance that when Juan Miguel comes to the United States tomorrow, the process for transferring to him the care and custody of his son Elian will immediately begin."

Rather than flying to Miami, the boy's father, his wife and their infant son are traveling to Washington. U.S. visas for the three, along with a male cousin, a pediatrician and a kindergarten teacher, were issued Tuesday.

Cuban officials had also requested visas for 22 others, including 12 children who were classmates of Elian in Cuba. The State Department is still reviewing those requests.

"It is a great tragedy when a young child loses a parent, as Elian did during his trip to the United States," Mr. Craig said. "But it is an equal tragedy for any parent to face the loss of a young child."

Negotiations to determine how best to transfer temporary custody to Elian's father are scheduled to resume today.

"We look to the attorney general and the commissioner of the INS to take immediate action aimed at reuniting Elian with his father," Mr. Craig said.

High ranking Cuban government officials are normally allowed to visit the United States only for international forums, such as the United Nations and meetings of the World Trade Organization.

Passions in Miami cooled yesterday along with a weather front that sent Miami temperatures plunging into the low 70s. There were fewer protesters in front of the house where Elian has been staying, although a small protest group gathered at the home of Miss Reno in Kendall, Fla.

Marisleysis Gonzalez, who has assumed the role of Elian's surrogate mother, was released yesterday from a hospital where she was admitted after collapsing from stress on Tuesday. Mr. Gutierrez said she was still recuperating at an undisclosed location.

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