- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2000

The Cuban government said yesterday it would advise the father of a 6-year-old Cuban refugee against visiting Miami before the Clinton administration determines that the boy may return to the island nation.

The father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, is "free in principle" to take advantage of a U.S. invitation to come to Miami, said Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba's National Assembly president.

"Juan Miguel is an adult man, an independent man, a free man who has been demanding that his right and the right of his son be respected, for more than 40 days now," Mr. Alarcon told reporters in Havana after a meeting with a U.S. Council of Churches delegation that was in Cuba to try to help resolve the case.

"Juan Miguel should do whatever he wants. But if I were him, I would ask, 'To go there for what purpose?' 'To talk again with those bureaucrats who are incapable of making the very simple decision of recognizing a father's rights?' " said an exasperated Mr. Alarcon.

A Cuban government spokesman in Washington earlier avoided direct questions about whether Mr. Gonzalez would be granted an exit visa, normally required of any Cuban seeking to visit the United States.

An official for the Immigration and Naturalization Service said the Cuban government had promised only to "look into it" when queried on whether the father could receive a visa to come to Miami if the United States decided to send the boy home.

The official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, acknowledged that the Clinton administration saw the move as a possible way of sending the boy home without incurring the wrath of the politically powerful anti-Castro Cuban-American community.

Elian Gonzalez was rescued at sea on Nov. 25 after a boat filled with illegal Cuban migrants capsized. His mother, who was divorced from his father in Cuba, drowned.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said yesterday that Mr. Gonzalez has been offered a chance to visit Florida to see his son. But, he said, he would not be allowed to return to Cuba with the child before the INS comes to a final decision in the case.

The INS official emphasized that no decision on the child's future has been made, but one could come "quickly, soon." A hearing on the boy's fate has been scheduled for Jan. 21, but the INS has said that it could decide at any time.

A State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that whatever the INS decides, someone is going to be unhappy.

"Whatever the decision, some people will be extremely unhappy and attribute political motives to a process genuinely committed to seeking a proper solution," said the official.

The INS official said the INS hoped that if Mr. Gonzalez came to Miami and declared that he wanted to return to Cuba with his son, this might defuse public protests in South Florida, where the boy has become a cause celebre.

He said that the government's need to placate the Cuban-American community was not a political concern, but one of defusing potential civil unrest.

"We are concerned about the possibility of demonstrations and civil unrest," said the official. "Given the history of Cuban-Americans in Miami, I think it is a legitimate concern."

Spencer Eig, the boy's lawyer in Miami, who has filed an asylum request with the INS, said yesterday that the child should not be used as a political pawn.

"Elian Gonzalez's future should not be settled by a political deal between Washington and Havana," he said. "It should be settled by a fair asylum hearing in which we would welcome the father's participation."

Cuban-Americans opposed to the rule of Cuban President Fidel Castro say that even if Elian's father is permitted to visit Miami, it is unlikely that he would defect something that would be acutely embarrassing for Mr. Castro while he still has relatives in Cuba.

"We know what the mother wanted for Elian. She died trying to bring the boy to freedom, but the father … as long as Castro can blackmail the father we'll never know what he is thinking," said Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, said it is inevitable that the boy will be returned to Cuba and his father.

"If the father shows up in Miami and says he wants to go back, that would convince a lot of Cuban-Americans that he's not acting under duress," said Mr. Hakim. "Yes, it would get the INS off the hook, but also, it is not an unreasonable way to proceed."

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