Tug of War: Elian Gonzalez
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
KWAME HOLMAN: Juan Miguel Gonzalez was accompanied by President Fidel Castro himself as he prepared to depart Havana, Cuba, this morning hoping to reclaim his son, Elian. A group of friends and relatives was there to bid farewell to Gonzalez and his party. Two and a half hours later, Gonzalez, his wife and their six-month-old son stepped on to U.S. soil at Dulles Airport near Washington D.C. Gonzalez immediately read in Spanish from a prepared statement.
JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ (Translated): I’ve arrived in Washington where I hope to hug very soon and for the first time in four months my son, Elian Gonzalez. With me is my wife and six- month-old son. They are the true family that Elian has, and we love him very much. Exactly 137 days, I have been cruelly separated from my child.
Never has he needed his father and his family more, his school more, than during the and anguishing period beginning November 21. It’s been an agonizing experience to see my son submitted to cruel psychological pressures aimed at influencing his personality, already weakened by the terrible trauma.
Worse still, Elian has been paraded and exhibited in public rallies and by the media with a clear intent to obtain political advantage from this tragedy. Politicians, lawyers, journalists, publicity agents, and others unrelated to the family have been harassing my son. I’ve been told that I should still wait for two more months before I can take Elian back to his small hometown, Cardenas, where he was growing up well- loved and cared for. In the face of this new and unfair delay, I’ve asked the U.S. Government to allow me to come here with a small group of Elian’s classmates and teachers — as well as psychologists, pediatricians, and nurses who would help me care for him.
Anyone understands that in the process where my son Elian recovers from this trauma, he can be guided only by my fatherly love.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Gonzalez family then rode several miles in a police motorcade to Bethesda, Maryland, and the home of Fernando Ramirez, head of the Cuban diplomatic mission to the U.S.. Meanwhile in Miami today, Elian played in the yard of the home of his great uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. The great uncle and other Miami relatives long have said Elian’s father should come there to Miami’s Little Havana community to reunite with Elian. Lazaro Gonzalez has told reporters Elian knows his father is in the United States but one of Elian’s cousins said the six- year-old appears confused.
ALFREDO GONZALEZ (Translated): He seems unaware of what has happened. When he saw his father on TV this morning, he didn’t seem to recognize him at all.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, a spokesman for the Miami relatives said this:
ARMANDO GUTIERREZ, Relatives’ Spokesman: The family has invited Juan Miguel to come to their house, and the family has told the government that they would like to have three independent psychologists interview, analyze Elian, because all they want to find out what is best for Elian.
KWAME HOLMAN: Back in Washington, the number two official at the Justice Department, Eric Holder, also met with reporters with the Elian issue.
ERIC HOLDER, Deputy, Attorney General: There have been some who claimed that the government has acted in a heavy-handed manner. I reject this notion. In January, the INS decided, and we agreed, that only Juan Miguel has the authority to speak on his son’s behalf regarding immigration matters. Mr. Gonzalez has clearly and sincerely stated that he wants to be reunited with his son. Today we are as committed as ever to reuniting the two in a manner that is most sensitive to Elian’s well-being. This morning, we will continue discussing these issues with the lawyers for the relatives in Miami.
KWAME HOLMAN: Juan Miguel Gonzalez appeared briefly outside his temporary new home this morning, and late this afternoon his Washington- based attorney arrived for a meeting. Moments later in Miami, an attorney for Elian’s relatives there emerged from all-day meetings with U.S. Immigration officials. He complained about the government’s stance.
JOSE GARCIA-PEDROSA, Lawyer for Miami Relatives: The government will not guarantee that it will not take Elian away or try to take him away in the middle of the night. The government has made the decision, and they have told us this: That they will revoke or transfer parole and that they will change the custody to the father even though the government has never even spoken to the boy, met with the boy, or, most importantly, had the boy evaluated by psychologists or psychiatrists, trained to determine whether he will be harmed by such changes. So, clearly, this boy has not been talked to, interviewed, evaluated by the United States Government, and he has not had his day in court.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nonetheless, Justice Department officials say they want both sets of relatives to agree on when and where a father-son meeting will take place.