- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2000

The State Department allowed 10 Cuban government officials to visit Elian Gonzalez the day he was moved to a Maryland estate in what government critics say is an attempt to turn the compound into a "Cuban re-education camp."

The names of the Cubans who visited Wye Plantation on Tuesday were not released, although a State Department list said the group remarkable for the care of a small group of children included two first secretaries, one second secretary, two counselors, four support officers and the "spouse of second secretary." The reason for the visits was described as delivering supplies.

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.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, Thursday charged that the boy was "being placed under a systematic program of brainwashing and it is being done on U.S. soil, under the protection of U.S. officials. What do a dozen Cuban state security agents have to do with the bonding process between a father and a son. It is monstrous and Orwellian."

Cuban President Fidel Castro, in a speech in Havana this week, insisted it was essential to immediately begin Elian's "rehabilitation" process to recover from the trauma of his "kidnap" by the Miami relatives and his dramatic "rescue" by armed U.S. agents last weekend.

Mr. Castro proposed sending more doctors and friends to join Elian.

"The essential thing is to save the boy, both mentally and physically," he told reporters.

A federal appeals court has forbidden Elian from being taken to any Cuban property outside U.S. jurisdiction. The Cuban diplomats obtained permission to immediately travel to Wye Plantation on Maryland's Eastern Shore which is outside a 25-mile travel limit for Cuban diplomats to meet with the Gonzalez family on the day he was moved to the facility.

The Cubans told the State Department they were bringing supplies to the family, although department officials would not or could not say what they were.

"That is correct. We provided authorization for [the 10 Cuban officials] to go out there the day the boy was moved," said a senior State Department official. "They did not have permission to stay the night."

The official said it was not an "open-ended permission," but noted that under existing State Department policy, Cuban diplomats need only file a five-day notice that they intend to travel beyond the 25-mile limit and they can do so without question. He said a similar arrangement exists for officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

The Wye Plantation visit required approval since the five-day period was not observed.

"If people want to believe that Wye Plantation is being turned into a Cuban re-education camp, they can believe that. I don't know any way to convince people otherwise," the official said.

According to several persons on Capitol Hill and at the State Department, Mr. Collazo was on the list of 10. He is suspected of physically attacking peaceful anti-Castro demonstrators outside the section on 16th Street NW on April 14. The attack is still being investigated, but could result in Cuban diplomats being expelled.

A Metropolitan Police Department report said the incident occurred at about 7:30 p.m. when "10 unidentified Cuban employees of the mission came out and began to assault the demonstrators on the front sidewalk." The report said there were about 20 anti-Castro Cuban-Americans on the streets protesting Elian's return to Cuba.

After the scuffle, Mr. Collazo's business card was found on the street.

Cuban officials were interviewed by District of Columbia police, but refused to provide a list of names of those who were involved.

While the Clinton administration has continued to show more cooperation than confrontation with Cuba's communist government in the continuing Elian Gonzalez matter, a senior State Department official took pains to criticize as "absolutely deplorable" actions by Mr. Castro in the case.

Peter Romero, assistant secretary of state, accused Castro of using the continuing custody battle over the boy in an effort to create "a diplomatic-political clash" with the United States. He said Mr. Castro had "manipulated" the affair for "complete domestic purposes."

Elian and his family were moved to the secluded 1,100-acre farm 70 miles from Washington after the Justice Department determined they needed time outside the glare of the media to "bond."

Mr. Diaz-Balart, the Miami congressman, described the Saturday pre-dawn raid in which the boy was seized from his Miami relatives as "blatantly illegal."

"They lied under oath, after hours on Good Friday. It was based on the lie that Elian was an illegal alien. He was never illegal," he said. "Now, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, they are systematically brainwashing that defenseless boy."

Frank Calzon, spokesman for the Center for a Free Cuba, said the only people not being allowed on the Wye Plantation are the Miami relatives and the media.

"I thought this was a family dispute. Why do they need all these diplomats? They are turning the plantation into something outside the jurisdiction of the United States," he said.

Meanwhile, Elian was expected to be reunited Thursday with his former kindergarten teacher and 10-year-old cousin, along with four of his Cuban classmates, who will be accompanied to this country by their mothers and one father.

Mr. Castro personally said farewell to the students as they flew out of Havana, even chatting with the four before they boarded a direct charter flight from Havana to Washington. Three of the children's mothers, and a Cuban pediatrician, Dr. Caridad Ponce de Leon Narvaez, were also on the small Lear jet. The fourth child's father was due to take a commercial flight because there was no room for him on the plane.

The four children were dressed in the red, white and blue uniforms of the state-affiliated children's "Pioneers" movement and held Cuban flags aloft as they boarded the plane.

Among the schoolmates is 6-year-old Hanser Orlando Muniz Pedroso, whose fame in Cuba is second only to that of Elian. The pair shared a desk at their school in Cardenas, and Hanser's face has been reproduced on posters all over Cuba next to Elian's empty chair adorned with a sign saying: "This chair is untouchable."

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