- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2000

U.S. Customs Service agents seized tranquilizers from a Cuban doctor who was among 10 persons given permission last week by the State Department to visit Elian Gonzalez at the Wye Plantation in Maryland, where he has been kept in seclusion with his father.

The tranquilizers diazepam and phenobarbital were among several medicines taken from Dr. Caridad Ponce de Leon by customs agents on her arrival Thursday at Washington Dulles International Airport en route to visit Elian at the secluded Maryland resort.

Customs Service spokesman Dean Boyd yesterday declined comment on the incident, saying the agency was precluded from discussing the circumstances of any border entry.

But federal law enforcement authorities told The Washington Times the tranquilizers and other prescription drugs were taken from the doctor at the airport because she did not have a license to practice medicine in the United States.

They said the drugs will be returned to her when she leaves the country.

The other medicines included amikacin sulfate, which, according to the Physicians' Desk Reference, often is prescribed for the treatment of bacterial and staph infections; aminophyllin, an anti-asthmatic bronchodilator used in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis and emphysema; and cefazoline, often used for the treatment of respiratory, urinary, skin and other infections.

Diazepam is an anti-anxiety drug and tranquilizer often used for the treatment of anxiety and nervous tension. It is also known by the brand name of Valium. Phenobarbital is a sedative, often used to control seizures but also is prescribed for the relief of anxiety and nervous tension.

The federal law enforcement authorities said the medicines were part of the doctor's regular medical kit, and they had no information on what she intended to do with the drugs.

They said there was no specific evidence to suggest she was going to give them to Elian.

Dr. Tania Heller, medical director of Night Time Pediatrics of Rockville, Md., an affiliate of the Suburban Hospital Healthcare System, said last night it would be "a little unusual" for a 6-year-old to be given phenobarbital or diazepam, although not out of the question.

Dr. Heller described both drugs as sedatives, adding that phenobarbital was most commonly used as an anti-convulsant to control grand mal epilepsy and other types of partial seizures.

She said, however, it would be difficult to judge the appropriateness of the drugs without knowing for whom they were intended.

Officials at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington did not return calls for comment. Neither did the American Pediatrics Association in Illinois.

Marisleysis Gonzalez, the boy's cousin who served as his surrogate mother during the five months he lived with his relatives, has charged that Elian was drugged after he was taken from the Miami home to make him look happy a claim vigorously denied by federal authorities.

Over the weekend, a senior Cuban official, Ricardo Alarcon, complained to reporters in Havana that the State Department was behaving like "kidnappers" in the Elian affair, citing as an example the government's seizure of the medicines from Dr. Ponce de Leon.

Mr. Alarcon, president of Cuba's National Assembly who has served as Cuban President Fidel Castro's right-hand man on the Elian affair, said "it appears that customs officials know what kinds of medicine Elian, his cousin and the rest of the children and adults may need."

Dr. Ponce de Leon was among 10 persons allowed to visit Elian at the Wye Plantation on Thursday, along with four of the boy's schoolmates from Cardenas, Cuba, a 10-year-old cousin and a parent of each of the schoolchildren.

Ten Cuban diplomats met the boy and his father at the resort Tuesday, the day he arrived, including several top diplomats at the Cuban Interests Section. The diplomats were said to have been delivering supplies, but there was no elaboration.

The names of the Cuban diplomats were not released, also those who went to the facility were identified as two first secretaries, one second secretary, two counselors, four support officers and the "spouse of second secretary."

One of the first secretaries is believed to be Armando Collazo, who is suspected in an attack earlier this month on anti-Castro demonstrators outside the Cuban Interests Section. A federal appeals court has forbidden Elian from being taken to any Cuban property outside U.S. jurisdiction.

The government seized Elian in a pre-dawn raid April 22. He was reunited five hours later with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, at Andrews Air Force Base. The family was moved Tuesday to the Wye Plantation pending a May 11 hearing in which a federal appeals court will consider an asylum request filed by the boy's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez.

Yesterday, the father's attorney, Gregory Craig, asked the court to let Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his son return to Cuba by dismissing the Miami relatives' suit seeking a political asylum hearing for the boy.

"This father seeks to raise his family where he wants and how he wants. This right is no less important to people from Cuba than it is to Americans," said Mr. Craig in a 17-page court filing.

He said prolonging the case against the father's wishes only damaged Elian and his family.

"Juan Miguel has determined that Elian's best interests lie in being with his father, raised in a stable home environment in the town where his father, stepmother, little brother, grandparents and first cousins were born, grew up and now live," Mr. Craig said. "Juan Miguel thinks that a 6-year-old boy found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean and now caught up in the American legal system craves the familiarity of his own bedroom in Cardenas."

Mr. Craig also told the court the father had not been influenced by the Cuban government with regard to his return to that island nation, saying he has been "free to state his views honestly and openly, without coercion, without fear of retribution."

He said if Mr. Gonzalez wanted to defect, he could have done so during a private meeting April 18 with Attorney General Janet Reno and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner when no Cuban diplomats were in attendance.

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