- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2000

The father of Elian Gonzalez arrived in Washington from Cuba early Thursday, demanding immediate custody of his son and an end to what he called "cruel psychological pressure" applied by U.S. relatives seeking "political advantage from his tragedy."
Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his family flew past Miami, where his son is staying with relatives, and came directly to Washington, where they will stay in a house owned by the Cuban government, accompanied by Cuban minders.
The confrontational tone of Mr. Gonzalez's remarks swelled the crowds and hardened the attitudes around the modest bungalow in Miami's Little Havana section, where the 6-year-old has been staying with his Cuban-American relatives since he was plucked from the Atlantic Ocean off South Florida on Thanksgiving Day.
The child survived after a frail boat sank, and his mother Mr. Gonzalez's ex-wife and 10 others fleeing Fidel Castro drowned.
"For exactly 137 days, I have been cruelly separated from my child," a grim Mr. Gonzalez told a throng of reporters and a small group of anti-Castro protesters gathered in the gray dawn on a remote runway at Washington Dulles International Airport.
"Never has he needed his father and his family more, his school more, than during the anguishing period since November 21," he said, with his new wife and infant son standing nearby. His wife wore a grim expression, too.
With the Justice Department Thursday signaling it will move quickly to reunite the boy with his father, there was a growing sense that the bitter international custody fight that has roiled both capitals was moving to a conclusion.
President Clinton said he is satisfied that Elian's father is a "fit parent" and "in the end, the rule of law will prevail."
"The fact that the father has come here, and will be in a position to show his concern for, and desire to be reunited with his son, should be a big help," Mr. Clinton told CBS News.
Cuban refugees in Miami charged that the father, a clerk in a travel agency in the provincial town of Cardenas, was reading remarks prepared for him by the Cuban government.
"I think the father didn't mean [what he said in Washington] from the heart …," said Raisa de la Paz of Miami, echoing a popular sentiment in the Cuban community there. "He looked like he was hiding something. He wouldn't say Elian's name. He needs to come here and talk, with no one from the government Cuban or U.S. interfering."
Said Roger Bernstein, an attorney for the Miami relatives: "Those might have been his lips moving, but they were the words of Fidel Castro."
A long meeting of the boy's Miami relatives, including Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, and officials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) broke up in bitterness Thursday, with the relatives claiming the federal government had dismissed their entreaties.
The relatives have repeatedly said they will obey the law, but want the father to come to Miami free from intimidating pressure of the Castro government to discuss the boy's future. They also seek a psychological evaluation to determine whether returning Elian to his father would bring on more trauma for the boy.
"This is a very sad day in the history of American jurisprudence," said Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, an attorney representing the Miami relatives. "The government will not guarantee that they will not try to take Elian away in the middle of the night."
Asked Thursday whether the boy understands that his father had arrived in the United States to reclaim him, Lazaro Gonzalez replied: "Yes, and he knows that his mother drowned trying to get him to a free country."
Now that the father is on American soil, the INS said Thursday it is preparing a letter to Lazaro Gonzalez informing him that custody has been transferred to Juan Miguel Gonzalez.
Government officials said that letter would be followed with another letter instructing the Miami relatives to surrender the boy in about three days, at a "neutral" location away from the Miami bungalow and the crowds of protesters in Little Havana.
If that letter is not obeyed, the INS can seek a court order requiring Lazaro Gonzalez to comply.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who received a personal sendoff in Havana from the Cuban president early Thursday morning, remained inside the Bethesda, Md., home of Fernando Remirez, head of the Cuban Interests Section and Cuba's ranking diplomat in the United States.
A proposed meeting for the father with Attorney General Janet Reno and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner was put off until Friday at the earliest, but Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. hinted that the administration was determined to shift custody of the boy to his father, even as the legal fight over Elian's ultimate fate grinds on.
The father is expected to stay in the United States for an extended period, even after he is reunited with his son. Court appeals will stretch into next month, barring an agreement between the father and the Miami relatives.
"We all want to work in [the boy's] best interest, and it seems clear to me that the best interest of this child will be served by reuniting him with his surviving parent," Mr. Holder said.
Mr. Holder, noting he was the father of a 6-year-old daughter, said: "I cannot imaging the anguish of being separated from my daughter due to circumstances beyond my control. That is one reason I believe that reuniting Elian with his father is … simply the right thing to do."
Gregory Craig, the $400-an-hour Washington lawyer who defended President Clinton in his impeachment trial and now represents Juan Miguel Gonzalez, appealed to the boy's Miami relatives to end their fight and "make the inevitable easier."
But the boy's plight has become a rallying point for Miami's large Cuban-American community and for others who argue that the real cruelty would be to take the boy abruptly from his new Florida home and return him to the harsh Castro dictatorship, where, under Cuban law, he will be subjected to intensive Communist indoctrination from the day he returns.
"We have to keep the child away from Cuba," said Tomas Garcia Fuste, a well-known Miami broadcaster with Radio Unica. "Any time we have kept a child away from Cuba, we have done a good thing."
Three prominent anti-Castro congressmen Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida, both Republicans, and Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat invited Juan Miguel Gonzalez to a private "parent-to-parent" lunch on Capitol Hill Thursday to discuss the case.
"Should you, along with your wife and your infant son, decide to remain in freedom, we guarantee that all necessary legal steps shall be taken immediately so that you may do so in the United States, so that you may live together with your son Elian in freedom," wrote Mr. Diaz-Balart.
There was no response from the father, who made only a few brief appearances outside the Bethesda home Thursday, ignoring a throng of reporters, photographers and cameramen whose presence closed several streets in the quiet, well-groomed suburban neighborhood.
Mr. Remirez said the Cuban government had waived diplomatic immunity for the Bethesda residence, in effect putting Mr. Gonzalez and his family on American soil and subject to American law during their stay here.
In his Dulles remarks, Juan Miguel Gonzalez said that the family members in Miami had little or no contact with his son prior to the shipwreck. But relatives in Florida then produced a video they said chronicled Lazaro Gonzalez's extended visit to Elian's family in the Cuban city of Cardenas several years ago.
Anti-Castro supporters in Miami tossed flower petals in the street, symbolizing, they said, the welcome Juan Miguel Gonzalez could expect if he came to the city.
Jerry Seper, Sean Scully and Bill Sammon contributed to this report from Washington. Tom Carter reported from Miami.

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