- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2000

The young woman who has become Elian Gonzalez's surrogate mother said yesterday the boy is terrified of being returned to Cuba and that, despite public calls to the contrary, Elian's father wants him to remain in the United States.

In emotional testimony that had many in the audience in tears, Marisleysis Gonzalez, a second cousin to Elian, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Juan Miguel Gonzalez called her family in Miami on Nov. 22, three days before Elian was rescued by fishermen.

Take care of Elian " 'until I am able to come over there,' " Mr. Gonzalez requested, she said.

Miss Gonzalez, 22, said that while Elian is adjusting remarkably well, he is terrified of being returned to Cuba.

Elian sleeps with her in her room and if she wakes up in the night, he runs to her side begging her not to leave, she said.

"Every night, he asks God to return his mother to him, so he can stay here," said Miss Gonzalez, breaking into tears.

Elian, 6, became the center of an international tug-of-war soon after he was found clinging to an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day off the Florida coast. His mother and 10 others traveling with him drowned in an effort to flee Cuba.

After the boy's rescue and while he was recuperating in a hospital, Miss Gonzalez said Elian's father reiterated in a telephone call his request that his Miami relatives care for the boy in the United States.

She said he changed his public statements after the Cuban government got involved. Even then, she said Mr. Gonzalez has tried to communicate his wish that the child stay in the United States.

"I appreciate everything everything that you are doing for Elian, do you understand what I am trying to say? Do you understand what I am saying?" she quoted him as telling her in a telephone conversation she believes was monitored by Cuba's Communist regime.

"I told him I understand," she said, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief.

It was clear to her, she said, that he was offering his support for efforts to keep Elian from being returned to Cuba.

She said that, in her opinion, Elian's father is acting under government pressure, sometimes phoning the house three times a day in calls that she believes are monitored by Cuban authorities.

She said that she must coax and cajole Elian to speak with his father, who sometimes demands that Elian sing Cuban revolutionary songs.

Lazaro Gonzalez, a great-uncle, has sued the Immigration and Naturalization Service in federal court, challenging the agency's decision to send the boy back to Cuba.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore plans to hear arguments in the federal case next week.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and committee chairman, said the dispute "is not just a custody matter, but a case where one of the options considered is returning this child to one of the last prison nations in the world."

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said that Elian belongs with his parent and he rebuked Republicans for politicizing the case.

But Alina Fernandez, Fidel Castro's daughter whose dramatic escape from Cuba in 1993 made international headlines, told him it would be a crime to send Elian home.

"Parental rights, family rights do not exist [in Cuba]," she said. "If this child is returned to Cuba, when he is 11 years old, he will be taken from his family and placed in a school where he is allowed to visit them three days a month."

She said her father was demanding the boy's return because he was publicly embarrassed when Cuba's human rights record was attacked by Mexico's President Ernesto Zedillo at the Ibero-American Summit that Cuba hosted in Havana a few days before the child was rescued.

"He had a temper tantrum," she said.

Juan Carlos Formell, a Grammy-nominated Cuban musician who left a life of material luxury to defect in 1993, compared Mr. Castro's obsession with Elian to the Bible's King Herod, who wanted to kill the baby Jesus.

Noting that Cuba's patron saints are always pictured holding a child over water, and Cuban Santeria folklore venerates anyone rescued at sea, Mr. Formell said that Mr. Castro is well aware of the powerful symbol Elian represents for Cubans.

"Fidel Castro's hysterical insistence on the return of the child is based on his knowledge of this icon," he said. "In his mind, the future of the regime rests on regaining this child."

Miss Gonzalez said that Cuban government assertions that the boy was kidnapped are absurd, noting that the trip was planned for six months.

She said that everyone in her family in Cuba knew the Miami branch had taken care of other cousins and family members who had made the perilous raft journey across the Straits of Florida seven months earlier.

"My family is very close," she said.

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