- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2000


MIAMI The Cuban community exploded with outrage Thursday at the Clinton administration's decision to send a 6-year-old child back to Cuba.
Meanwhile in Washington, a federal official said the boy's father has asked a church group to escort his son to the island.
"We can confirm that Juan Miguel Gonzalez has asked us to use the National Council of Churches as the intermediary" to return Elian Gonzalez, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) spokesman Ross Bergeron said.
Throughout the day in Miami, street protests tied up traffic and even blockaded the port as the Clinton administration all but rejected any possibility that the boy might be allowed to stay in the United States.
Helmeted riot police with truncheons confronted dozens of protesters who marched to Miami's busy seaport and sat down on the pavement at entrance and exit roads, snarling traffic. About 80 people were arrested, police officials said.
Protesters shouted "Clinton. Coward. Miami hates you," and "Liberty, Liberty" as Miami motorists honked in frustration or support of the demonstrations.
Attorney General Janet Reno said she agreed with a decision by the INS on Wednesday to return Elian to his father in Cuba.
Miss Reno said the boy's father had the "legal authority to speak for his child in immigration matters."
"Commissioner [Doris M.] Meissner did consult with me prior to making her decision, and I fully agree with her determination that the father has the legal right and the legal authority to speak for his child in immigration matters," Miss Reno told reporters during her weekly press briefing.
Miss Reno said she had not yet reviewed a letter from the boy's relatives in Miami who had sought a reversal in the INS decision to return the boy to Cuba, but doubted it would change anything.
"If there is any information that we are not privy to … I never say that I won't reverse myself. I try to be as open-minded as I can," she said. "But based on all the information that we have to date, I see no basis for reversing it."
The INS has ordered that Elian be returned to his father by Jan 14. He has been living with relatives in Miami since he survived the Nov. 25 sinking of a refugee boat off the Florida coast, during which his mother who was divorced from his father drowned when the boat capsized.
The boy's relatives, backed by Cuban exiles, had demanded that he be allowed to stay in the United States. His father and the Cuban government had argued that he should be returned to that country.
Miss Reno told reporters that the father, a tourism worker from Cardenas, Cuba, had provided to INS officials evidence that he had a "real relationship" with his son.
"I don't think anybody really disputes that. And there is something about a 6-year-old boy and his father, there is a relationship that the law recognizes, that morality and the sense of right all people recognize."
"Just think about it in the human terms," she said. "This is a little 6-year-old boy. He's got just his father left, in terms of parents. Let us work together to give him the relationship that is proper under the law."
Miss Reno said that INS investigators, in deciding to return the boy to Cuba, took into consideration the question of who, under the law, could legally speak for the 6-year-old youngster.
"He has a father. And there is a bond between father and son that the law recognizes and tries to honor. We had no information that would indicate that that legal connection, that bond, should not be honored."
She said INS investigators who met personally with the father were convinced he was speaking for himself, and not the government of President Fidel Castro.
Thursday, Elian was taken to a relative's home to avoid the crush of reporters and photographers who follow him everywhere, but later in the day he asked to return to his great-uncle's home in Little Havana, where he has been staying.
Miss Reno, asked by reporters whether she was concerned that in the time before the boy's deportation to Cuba that he might be moved, said she hopes "everybody concerned deals openly, candidly and thoughtfully about this complex matter, and that we pursue the law and the facts and do what's right.
"From my point of view, it's a community I know well, it's a community I love, and I think it will, in the end, work together to see that justice is done. That community is far stronger than some people who would try to tear it apart. It is a community that reflects America, reflects the hopes and dreams of so many different people who have come from so many different places, from tyranny and from other places."
During the day, two dump trucks and a pickup truck slowed all three lanes of downtown-bound traffic to about 20 miles an hour during this morning's rush hour on the major east-west route in Miami.
The Florida Highway Patrol issued several $85 citations to drivers slowing traffic and warned the motorists that they would be arrested if they did it again.
The demonstrations escalated at noon when dozens of exiles gathered outside a downtown federal building waving red-white-and-blue Cuban flags. They swarmed police barricades and streamed around cars on a boulevard, with small groups breaking off to sit and stand in intersections to block traffic in all directions.
"That kid should not be sent back to hell," said Maria Elena Cervera, a 46-year-old Cuban-born protester. "I went through that hell when I was a kid… . Are we going to send a child back to prison just to be with his father?"

Staff writers Jerry Seper and Tom Carter contributed to this report in Washington.

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