- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2000

The family of 6-year-old shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez complied with a Justice Department order and agreed to a meeting today between the boy and his two grandmothers, who are visiting the United States from Cuba.

"The meeting will take place at the time and site selected by the Immigration Service," Justice spokeswoman Carole Florman said last night.

The small breakthrough in an international tug of war over the fate of the boy followed a miserable day in Washington where the child's paternal and maternal grandmothers slogged through the snow on Capitol Hill to make a tearful plea for the boy's return.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) instructed the Miami relatives in a letter yesterday to make the child available at the Miami Beach home of Jeanne O'Laughlin, a Dominican nun and president of Barry University in Miami.

The home, in a gated area where security can be assured, "is an appropriate neutral location that would permit a private meeting," said the letter signed by Michael A. Pearson, executive associate immigration commissioner for field operations.

The grandmothers flew to Miami on Monday but left after five hours without taking up an invitation to visit the house where Elian is staying, objecting to a crowd of about 200 neighbors and reporters outside the house.

Mr. Pearson's letter to lawyers for the Miami family emphasized that the 4 p.m. meeting today "is only a visit and will not change Elian's present placement in the care of Lazaro Gonzalez."

However, the letter made clear that noncompliance with the order would be construed as "a breach" of Elian's immigration status in the United States.

The grandmothers yesterday made the rounds on Capitol Hill, walking through the first snow they had ever seen in hopes of persuading congressmen to block a bill that would give U.S. citizenship or permanent residence to Elian.

"I ask you to stop the possibility of granting citizenship to the child. It will only cause more lingering pain for us," said Raquel Rodriguez, whose daughter, Elisabet Broton, died trying to bring Elian to America in November when a small boat capsized in the Florida Straits.

"He belongs in Cuba," added Mariela Quintana, mother of Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the boy's father, who remains in his hometown of Cardenas, Cuba. "He was born in Cuba, and he's a Cuban citizen."

Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, said he would urge President Clinton to veto any legislation that made Elian a citizen.

Mr. Clinton told reporters yesterday he was considering his options. "I have not decided what to do, and I would not rule [a veto] out," he said.

Among those who met the grandmothers were Democratic Reps. Jose E. Serrano of New York and Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, both of whom oppose the bill to make him an American.

Attempts to bring the grandmothers together with Elian failed Monday when the women refused an invitation to visit the Gonzalez home in little Havana, where the family had prepared a meal and Elian had prepared gifts for the two.

The Miami family refused to bring the boy to a neutral meeting place.

"They had planned a party. I wasn't up for a party. I only wanted to see my grandson," Mrs. Rodriguez said through a translator.

Asked why she would not endure difficult conditions to see her grandson, she became angry.

"How many times do I have to answer this? I am not afraid of anything. I have been offended [by the family] on the telephone and television. I will never go to that house," she said vehemently.

The INS letter said the agency ordered the meeting when it became evident the Miami family would not accommodate the grandmothers.

"In light of the rift in the family that the recent events have caused, as well as security and publicity concerns, the grandmothers have clearly stated that they would not be comfortable visiting with their grandson in Lazaro Gonzalez's home," Mr. Pearson wrote.

The Miami relatives, who had planned to fly to Washington yesterday to do their own lobbying in Congress, were prevented by the snowstorm from leaving.

Spencer Eig, the lawyer representing Elian's great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, told NBC News that before complying with the INS order his clients would seek guarantees of the boy's security during the meeting.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International called for governments to protest the sentencing to six months in jail of Victor Rolando Arroyo, a reporter in Pina del Rio, Cuba, who was convicted of "hoarding" because of distributing Christmas toys to poor children.

He had distributed more than 100 toys and had another 140 in his home. They had been purchased with donations from Cuba-Americans in Miami.

Amnesty considers him a "prisoner of conscience," one of some 260 arrested in Cuba since November's Ibero-American summit.

"It is unbelievable that we'd send a child back to a place where it is against the law to give away Christmas toys to children," said Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Mrs. Jackson Lee refused to comment on the Arroyo sentencing.

But the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, outgoing executive director of the National Council of Churches, which has been hosting the grandmother's trip to the United States, said this was not the place to be discussing Cuban dissidents.

"We comment on dissidents in other forums. We want to focus on sending Elian home here. We don't think he should have to bear the history of Cuban-American relations on his shoulders," she said.

In Los Angeles, it was announced that CBS will produce a four-hour miniseries on the custody dispute.

A spokeswoman for CBS told the French news service Agence France-Presse that a development deal for the miniseries had already been concluded with Craig Anderson Productions. No one from the family, on either side of the dispute, was involved in the deal.

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