- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

Elian Gonzalez's father Thursday pronounced himself "very happy" with a federal court decision giving him clear custody of his son, but braced himself for weeks of legal wrangling before he can take the boy back to Cuba.

In a rare public appearance, Juan Miguel Gonzalez left the Cleveland Park compound, in Washington, D.C., where his family has been living.

With his attorney, Gregory Craig, at his side in front of Mr. Craig's downtown office, the two appealed to Elian's Miami relatives to drop their appeals.

"I've always felt from the bottom of my heart that a child belongs with his father," Mr. Gonzalez said in Spanish, adding in English: "I want to thank the American people."

Said Mr. Craig, a $400-an-hour lawyer who was a key part of President Clinton's impeachment defense team: "Elian's relatives in Miami say they love Elian, they say they are concerned about his future. But their love and their concern are best expressed today by calling a halt to this legal battle."

The Miami relatives have been prevented from seeing the boy since he was seized.

Granma, the official Cuban government newspaper, reported that the Castro government may not send Elian Gonzalez to a special indoctrination boarding school because his "recovery" his indoctrination at Wye River and in Washington under tutelage of Cuban teachers is well along. The Castro government may allow him to return to his former home in Cardenas, a resort town about 60 miles east of Havana.

Watching the father's press conference Thursday, Mercy Viana, a Cuban-American whose father was jailed for six years in Cuba for speaking out against Fidel Castro, predicted that the "re-education" of Elian Gonzalez will nevertheless proceed in earnest if the boy is sent back to Cuba.

"As he grows up, he'll be such an important symbol to the Cuban government that he will never be allowed to speak his mind or have an independent thought," Miss Viana said. "The psychological abuse will really begin when the kid gets back."

Neither Mr. Craig nor his client would answer questions after making their statements.

The Cuban government, which has taken an intense interest in the case and in the movements of Juan Miguel Gonzalez, reacted more warily.

There are "worrying elements" in the Atlanta appeals court decision, the government said Thursday, in particular the injunction that bars Elian Gonzalez from leaving the United States in the next few weeks as the appeals are heard. Such appeals to an independent judiciary are unknown in Cuba.

Except for outings such as an early May cookout at the fashionable Georgetown home of Democratic power broker Smith Bagley and a supervised trip this week to Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the Gonzalez family has been kept out of the public eye, first at the Wye River Plantation retreat in Maryland and more recently at the Cleveland Park property that is part of the 6 and 1/2-acre Youth for Understanding compound.

While Cuban diplomats have had free access to the family, the Miami relatives who cared for Elian in the months after his Thanksgiving Day rescue from the sea have been prevented from seeing the boy.

The isolation has even become an issue in the custody wars.

Kendall Coffey, an attorney for the Miami family, Thursday accused the father and Mr. Craig of "trying to hide the child," noting the court decision acknowledged the role of Miami great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez and the South Florida family in the boy's life.

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