- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2000

MIAMI The Miami family of Elian Gonzalez won more time Thursday in their battle to keep the boy in the United States, sparking cheers from a crowd outside the home.
The Justice Department extended until Tuesday the deadline for Elian's Miami relatives to sign a statement agreeing to surrender the boy if they lose a court appeal or risk having the child seized and sent to Cuba.
The new delay capped a day of cascading developments that pushed the international custody battle toward a climax:
Vice President Al Gore urged Congress to block deportation of the 6-year-old boy to Cuba by making him a "permanent resident" of the United States.
Elian's father in Cuba for the first time sought a visa to come to the United States in an attempt to gain custody of his son.
In Cuba, the government of President Fidel Castro waited for word on its offer to send a delegation of 31 persons to the United States, including Elian's father, stepmother, half-brother, the leader of Cuba's National Assembly and half the boy's first-grade class.
Demonstrators linked arms to rehearse a human blockade to be used in an attempt to stop immigration officials should they attempt to remove the boy.
Attorney General Janet Reno said she was determined to resolve the dispute quickly according to the law, which she said clearly backs the father's bid for custody.
Even pop diva Gloria Estefan, who fled Havana for the United States soon after Cuba's 1959 revolution, weighed in by accusing the Clinton administration of denying Elian his "day in court."
Cuban-Americans gathered outside the modest house where Elian has lived with great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez since he was plucked from the ocean in November after surviving a boat wreck that killed his mother an 10 others in an attempt to reach the United States.
"We are willing to die to prevent the violation of this child's rights," Raul Sanchez, leader of the Miami-based Democracy Movement, told a roaring crowd in the city's Little Havana neighborhood.
Gregory Craig, who represented President Clinton during impeachment hearings, said he had filed for visas for Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and other family members to come for as long as it takes to complete the appeals process.
A federal appeals court in Atlanta has scheduled the case for May 11.
"The relatives in Miami do not speak for Elian. The lawyers in Miami do not speak for Elian. The only person who has the legal and moral authority to speak for Elian is his father," Mr. Craig told reporters in Washington.
"It has been four months since Elian has been separated from his father and lost his mother. It is time for this little boy, who has been through so much, to move on with his life at his father's side," Miss Reno said.
Perhaps the most dramatic twist came from Mr. Gore, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, who broke ranks with the president and urged Congress to grant permanent residency to Elian, his father, stepmother, half-brother, grandmothers and grandfathers.
"It now appears that our immigration laws may not be broad enough" to resolve the case in "Elian's best interests," Mr. Gore said in a prepared statement.
Mr. Gore's abrupt split with his boss suddenly thrust Elian's case into the presidential election campaign, with both Democrats and Republicans accusing the vice president of flip-flopping for political expediency.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the probable GOP nominee, wasted little time in needling his rival.
"This is an eleventh-hour copycat decision," said Mr. Bush, who for months has urged the Justice Department to cede jurisdiction to Florida courts.
"I would hope the vice president would use his influence with the administration," Mr. Bush said in Milwaukee. "I think that the administration has been heavy-handed and I believe they ought to listen to the cries of many at the local level to have the case heard at a family court in Florida."
Permanent residency status would end jurisdiction by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, an arm of Miss Reno's Justice Department, and turn it into a custody battle between the boy's father and great-uncle that would be decided by a state judge.
Outside the Miami home, Daylen Rodriguez, a Cuban-American who arrived here just 10 years ago, said she was elated at Mr. Gore's change of heart.
Standing in the searing afternoon sun, she said she would consider voting for the vice president if he becomes more vocal in his support for the boy.
"I would do anything to help Elian stay here," she said.
Negotiations between Elian's Miami family and the Justice Department, which have resulted in one earlier postponed deadline, remained deadlocked and are slated to resume Monday.
"There has been no agreement reached," said Jose Garcia Pedrosa, one of the family lawyers.
Moments later, a local INS official read a statement to reporters saying they had agreed to postpone a deadline until Tuesday at 9 a.m. and promising that no action to remove the child would be taken until then.
Mr. Sanchez of the Democracy Movement urged Elian's supporters to remain on high alert.
At one point, he organized some 70 demonstrators in a human chain and explained how to march together arm-in-arm and sit down in the street to block any attempts to remove the boy.
But in a conciliatory gesture, he also said that if Elian's father came to Miami he would instruct the Cuban-American community to "give the family space" so that a resolution could be found.
"If Juan Miguel [Gonzalez] gets a visa, I think he will defect," said Olga Rodriguez, who came to the daily demonstration outside the Miami home for the first time Thursday.
"This has been going on for four months," said Rubin Someillan, a contractor. "Where was the father four months ago?"
Staff Writer Bill Sammon contributed to this report in Washington.

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