- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2000

MIAMI The family resemblance between uncle and nephew is not in the jaw or the brow. It's in the neck short and stiff.
For all its political, legal, and moral overtones, the battle over 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez is also a clash between two stubborn men: Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the boy's Cuban father, and Lazaro Gonzalez, the Miami great-uncle who has cared for the boy since his rescue from the sea Thanksgiving Day.
Cuban-Americans here say the bitter clash between the 31-year-old hotel cashier and the 49-year-old auto body shop worker is at heart a clash between rival family patriarchs, each of whom is convinced only he knows what's best for the boy.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez, enduring a frustrating wait outside Washington to reclaim his son, accuses his father's brother of "kidnapping" Elian.
Lazaro Gonzalez, enduring an unending media circus and brutal battle of wills with the U.S. government at his modest Little Havana home, counters, "I cannot let this little child go back to Cuba. There is no future on that island."
Striking to many here is that the Elian custody battle is being fought out almost entirely among blood relatives. Elisabeth Brotons, the boy's mother and Juan Miguel Gonzalez's ex-wife, drowned in the Florida Straits during a November attempt to flee Fidel Castro's Cuba.
Except for a maternal grandmother who visited the boy in January, the custody battle has been an exclusive Gonzalez family affair, with Lazaro Gonzalez, brother Delfin, and Lazaro's daughter Marisleysis on one side and Juan Miguel Gonzalez and uncle Manuel Gonzalez on the other.
"That's what makes things so much harder here," said Michelle Lastre, a housewife from Little Havana who had brought her 1-year-old son Brandon to the vigil being kept by Cuban-Americans on the street outside Lazaro Gonzalez's house. "It's blood against blood."
Locals here say both men take their traditional role as family patriarch seriously and take as a personal affront any challenge to their authority.
Supporters of the Miami relatives here say they have grown tired of the constant television pictures from Washington showing Juan Miguel Gonzalez holding his infant son Hianny in his arms as his second wife looks on.
"You'd think his arm would fall off by now," said one protester, dismissing the images as more Cuban government propaganda.
But the father, in an interview over the weekend on CBS' "60 Minutes," contended he represented Elian Gonzalez's "real family" the stepmother, the half-brother and the grandparents all still living in Cuba.
And with his neat blue jeans, omnipresent Marlboros and ring of keys hanging from his belt, Lazaro Gonzalez clearly is in control at the Little Havana house.
Older brother Delfin Gonzalez, who actually was jailed by the Castro regime as a political prisoner, has a broad smile and a chatty rapport with the crowds here.
Marisleysis Gonzalez has cared for Elian Gonzalez and has been hospitalized eight times since the November standoff began because of stress.
But it is clearly Lazaro Gonzalez who is in charge of the confrontational legal strategy to keep his great-nephew from returning to Cuba.
Orders from the Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service focus almost exclusively on Lazaro Gonzalez and have warned that he risks jail time and heavy fines if he continues to resist.
U.S. mental health experts, who met with the great-uncle last week in a futile bid to have the boy handed over voluntarily, say Lazaro Gonzalez's insistence on his rights as family head helped torpedo an agreement.
Dr. Jerry M. Wiener, professor emeritus in psychiatry at George Washington University Medical School, sent by Attorney General Janet Reno last week to talk with the family, said he found Lazaro Gonzalez "absolutely stubborn."
"He said: 'I will only meet in my house. In my territory,' " Dr. Wiener recalled.
Despite the bitter enmity, the uncle and the nephew have much in common.
Both hail from the small Cuban coastal town of Cardenas. Both speak minimal English. Both have quick tempers, which have been on display repeatedly as the confrontation nears its climax. With modest working-class positions, both are unlikely candidates for international celebrity. And both have been burned in the media glare as the Elian spectacle has ground on.

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