Elian's grandmothers delay departure from U.S.
'We will keep fighting'
January 29, 2000
From staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez are not planning to return immediately to Cuba "because they want to talk to Congress," a U.S. Customs official told CNN Saturday.
Mariela Quintana and Raquel Rodriguez are in Washington where they already have met with about 50 members of Congress to lobby against legislation that would give their grandson U.S. citizenship. They had been expected to leave for Cuba on Saturday.
On Sunday, members of the National Council of Churches will meet with the women to arrange talks with representatives of other churches next week.
The women have been in the United States since January 21. Last Wednesday, they visited with Elian for about two hours in Miami.
They have acknowledged they will leave without the 6-year-old boy. But Rodriguez, Elian's maternal grandmother, said she expects to eventually have her grandson back home in Cuba.
"We will keep fighting," Rodriguez said. "We're going to bring him back. Right now, we can't do it."
Elian has been the focus of an international custody fight since he was rescued November 25 off the coast of Florida, one of three survivors of a shipwreck that killed his mother and 10 other people on their way to the United States from Cuba.
Elian has been staying with relatives in Miami who fiercely oppose Fidel Castro's communist government. They are fighting a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service order that he be returned to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, in Cuba.
After the INS ruled Elian had to go back to Cuba, his Miami relatives took their cause to a state judge in Florida. The judge granted temporary custody to Elian's paternal great- uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. But the U.S. government fought back, arguing the state court had no authority over Elian.
The family filed suit in federal court seeking to have the INS ruling dismissed and supporters began pressing members of Congress to make Elian a U.S. citizen -- which would remove his case from INS jurisdiction .
U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler had scheduled arguments over whether to dismiss the lawsuit for March 6. But on Friday, he moved up the hearing to February 22 after reports that he had set the later date to give the boy's family more time to lobby for citizenship for Elian.
"I am concerned only with the legal matters," Hoeveler said. "I have no interest in bills going through in one way or the other."
Elian's grandmothers have won at least a delay in congressional efforts to get Elian U.S. citizenship. On Friday, they met with Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, who said the right thing to do is to send Elian back to his father.
"Juan Gonzalez has a wonderful reputation as a father," Waters said. "Elian had a good life in Cuba with his father."
Quintana, Elian's paternal grandmother, told reporters the women have only one concern.
"We don't care about politics, we care about our grandson," Quintana said.
Congressional support for citizenship may be fading. On some issues, "politicians just have to step aside," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
After a meeting of GOP House members, Hastert, R-Illinois, would only say "there's a difference of opinion" among Republicans about how to proceed. Hastert has supported the legislation but declined to predict its fate.
Hastert said the bill would not be rushed to the floor, as its sponsors had hoped.
In the Senate, there was strong Democratic opposition to the bill, and Republicans were divided. Rep. Charles Rangel, D- New York, who supports returning Elian to Cuba, claimed lobbying by the grandmothers helped build congressional opposition to the citizenship bill.
The Dominican nun who hosted the grandmothers' reunion Thursday with Elian in Miami traveled to Washington on Friday to appeal to U.S. Attorney General Janet to let Elian stay with his Florida relatives.
"These are good women. They love their grandson," O'Laughlin said. "But I felt that they had restrictions and external fears ... and perhaps some of that was transferred to the child," Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin said.
Sister Peggy Albert, an associate of O'Laughlin who also spent time with the boy and his grandmothers, said she thought Elian was more apprehensive that she had expected.
Cuban President Fidel Castro says Elian Gonzalez' mother, Elisabeth Brotons, was "practically kidnapped" by her boyfriend and intimidated into leaving for the United States.
Many who want Elian to remain in the United States say Brotons was trying to bring him to freedom.
But Castro, speaking to a conference of economists Friday, blamed the tragedy on Brotons' boyfriend Lazaro Rafael Munero, who apparently organized the trip. He also died in the shipwreck.
"The mother was practically kidnapped along with the boy" to make the trip, Castro said. "The mother was taken in conditions of intimidation."
Castro called Munero a "ruffian" on whom Cuban police had amassed "100 pages of reports."
According to sources quoted by the Miami Herald, Munero -- who reportedly drove a taxi in the Cuban city of Cardenas -- had fled to Florida in June 1998 and returned to Cuba later that year, only to be jailed for several months.
Castro called Brotons "an excellent girl" who had suffered seven miscarriages before delivering Elian.
"One who is born among eight pregnancies: How desired that child must be," Castro said. Brotons had separated from Elian's father several years ago, though both continued to see the child regularly.
Castro said Cuba could carry on such protests -- which have continued daily for two months -- "for 10 years."Correspondent Martin Savidge, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Judge moves up hearing date in Cuba boy case
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