- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2000

U.S. government officials delayed revoking Elian Gonzalez's temporary status until tomorrow, and Cuban President Fidel Castro said the boy's father was ready to come to the United States to stay with Elian during the ongoing legal battle.
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials and the boy's great-uncle met for five hours yesterday and will continue meeting this morning to try to work through the impasse.
Mr. Castro said last night that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, father of 6-year-old Elian "is ready to immediately" go to Florida to take custody of his son while the boy's relatives pursue their legal fight.
He said during a live television broadcast in Havana that the trip was conditional on guarantees that the U.S. government would turn Elian over to his father or at least make a maximum effort to do so.
"The passports are ready" for the boy's father, Mr. Castro said. "And of course the airplane is ready."
The INS has demanded that Elian's Miami relatives promise in writing to hand him over if they lose their court battle to keep Elian in this country.
The INS had said it would revoke the boy's temporary permission to stay in the United States at 9 a.m. today if the family did not agree.
Responding to the earlier deadline, 22 mayors from South Florida yesterday warned President Clinton they would hold him and Attorney General Janet Reno responsible if Miami erupts in violence over federal efforts to deport the boy to Cuba.
Mr. Castro's statements last night were the first time anyone has said the boy's father would be willing to stay in the United States during the legal process.
Mr. Castro said Gregory Craig, Mr. Gonzalez's U.S. attorney, was seeking U.S. visas for the father and a large entourage, as well as the guarantees the father had sought.
Mr. Castro said Elian's father was waiting for final word from his attorney that the guarantees had been delivered. He did not offer any specifics on where the plane would go initially, but said Mr. Gonzalez would wait out the court process with his son in Washington.
Lazaro Gonzalez, the Miami great-uncle with whom Elian has been staying, has said he would be willing to release the boy to the father, if the father personally came from Cuba to pick him up.
Apparently calling the great-uncle's bluff, Mr. Castro said not only would the father go, but he would stay for the entire court process.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez had said in the past that he would travel to the United States to claim his boy only if he could just pick him up and come back to Cuba.
Elian's Miami relatives have refused to sign a statement drafted by the Justice Department demanding they hand over the boy if they lose the court battle to retain custody of him.
The family's lawyer, Kendall Coffey, said, "We are not going to sign what we consider to be a blank check that could have a psychological effect on the child," he said.
The mayors' warning came in anticipation of expected citywide protests should the INS make good on its threat to revoke Elian's permission to stay in the United States.
"If their continued provocation, in the form of unjustified threats to revoke the boy's parole, leads to civil unrest and violence, we are holding the federal government responsible, and specifically Janet Reno and the president of the United States, for anything that may occur in this community," said Alex Penelas, the Metro-Dade County mayor who is of Cuban descent.
The mayors, all from towns near Miami, said they would withhold local police cooperation in any attempt to seize Elian, who has been at the center of an international custody dispute since he was rescued last November after a shipwreck killed his mother and 10 other Cuban refugees.
"We will not lend our respective resources, whether they be in the form of police officers or any other resources, to assist the federal government in any way, shape or form to inappropriately repatriate Elian Gonzalez to Cuba," said Mr. Penelas.
President Clinton yesterday, speaking at a White House news conference, said both sides should abide by the law, however the courts decide.
"I would hope that the law would be followed by everyone," including Elian's Miami relatives, Mr. Clinton said.
Asked whether he would permit U.S. marshals to forcibly take the child and return him to his father in Cuba, Mr. Clinton said he did not think the situation would reach that point.
"Surely, we're some distance from that … if [Elian's Miami relatives] do not prevail in court, they will clearly appeal," he said.
Tensions were running high yesterday in Miami, a city of 2 million, which is home to some 800,000 virulently anti-Castro Cuban-Americans.
Last night, Elian was playing in the yard with other children on a swing set as news helicopters flew overhead, and about 250 protesters stood outside his home. A prayer vigil was being held nearby, and about 60 trucks that had blocked the streets earlier in the day in protest had moved away.
Cuban exile groups said they would begin a campaign of civil disobedience including a human chain around the home where Elian is staying, a traffic slowdown at Miami's airport and protests across the city if the government moves to send Elian back to his father in Cuba.
"We are asking for the people to conduct the activities in a nonviolent way … in the philosophy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King," said Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the exile group Democracy Movement. "We are telling people that whoever commits any violent act will be denounced."
Mr. Saul Sanchez said Democracy Movement's plans called for residents to drive slowly through Miami International Airport to disrupt traffic and to form blockades at the Port of Miami tomorrow when cruise-liner activity peaks.
"We have to protest in an energetic way, otherwise Elian will be repatriated without having his day in court," Mr. Saul Sanchez said.
In an interview with the Telemundo TV network, Lazaro Gonzalez said he would not voluntarily turn over his nephew to immigration officials.
"I won't cooperate in anything. The boy lives in my house, and they'll have to go find him there. I'm not going to deliver him to any immigration office," he said.
Last week, a U.S. judge dismissed the relatives' demand that Elian receive a political asylum hearing and upheld the INS' January ruling that the boy belongs with his father. They appealed the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which will hear oral arguments the week of May 8.
The INS and the Justice Department yesterday reiterated the demand that the family agree to turn the child over when and if, after exhausting the federal court system, the courts find in favor of the U.S. government.
"If we do not receive the written assurance we want, we will not wait for the appeals process to go through," said INS spokeswoman Maria Cardona yesterday.
She said that if Elian's parole is revoked, the family would be sent a set of "specific instructions to begin the orderly transfer of Elian."
A U.S. government official involved in the case said on the condition of anonymity that Elian would not be taken in 24 hours, indicating 48 hours is more likely.
ABC, meanwhile, aired footage yesterday quoting the boy as saying he didn't want to be sent to Cuba.
Elian said in Spanish he didn't want his father to visit him in Miami "because he'll take me to Cuba and I don't want to go to Cuba," according to the English narration by ABC's Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America."
"He can stay here. I don't want to go," Miss Sawyer quoted him as saying.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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