Cuban boy's grandmothers won't fly to U.S. on Friday
January 21, 2000
HAVANA (CNN) -- The two grandmothers of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez put off plans to fly to the United States on Friday after meeting Thursday night with representatives of a U.S. religious group.
The two grandmothers -- Mariela Quintana de Gonzalez and Raquel Rodriguez -- received visas Thursday to come to the United States. A delegation from the National Council of Churches flew to Cuba on Thursday to pick them up, and Elian's father and grandparents met at the group's Cuban offices on Thursday night.
But Quintana indicated Thursday night that she would not make the trip unless she could be sure of bringing the boy back with her. And as the meeting ended, Rodriguez told reporters that they would not be flying to the United States as planned on Friday.
Details of the meeting were not available early Friday. The council delegation said only that it would meet with the family again on Friday. Representatives asked reporters to "respect the situation."
Elian has been caught in a custody tug-of-war between his father and grandmothers in Cuba and his relatives in Miami ever since the boy was found floating in the waters off Florida about two months ago.
Elian's father in Cuba, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has asked the council to act as an intermediary in the case. He has refused to travel to the United States, citing fears about his safety.
The church group was led by outgoing council president Joan Brown Campbell, who was making her second trip to Cuba in less than a month as an intermediary in the dispute over Elian's custody.
Miami relatives say grandmothers are welcome
An attorney for Elian's great-uncle in Miami said late Thursday night that the family is awaiting a visit from the grandmothers.
"Lazaro (Gonzalez) and his family have invited them to come here and visit Elian, see how well he's doing," said Spencer Eig, a lawyer for the great-uncle. "We think that that will help to eliminate a lot of the anxiety that they must feel in Cuba, where they only receive information from government sources, and the government's probably telling them that Elian is tied to a chair."
One of the boy's cousins said she tried to prepare Elian for the women's visit.
"I did tell him last night that there would be a possibility that they would come over -- both of his grandmothers -- and he asked me, 'Are they coming to pick me up?' " recounted Elian's cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez.
"I said, 'Well, they're here to see you. Do you want to leave with them?' And he said, 'No, I want to tell them that I don't want to go back over there.' "
But Marisleysis Gonzalez also said she would demand answers from the women, such as why, she said, they never asked about the fate of the boy's mother.
INS delays interview of Elian
Less than 24 hours before the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service was to talk with Elian and the Miami relatives with whom he is staying, the INS announced Thursday night it would indefinitely delay the interview.
The INS said it would postpone the interview procedure, called a deferred inspection, "until the U.S. District Court in Miami has had an opportunity to review both the lawsuit filed on January 19 by attorneys representing the child's great-uncle and INS's response to it."
The INS is expected to respond to that legal challenge as early as Friday or the first part of next week.
The Justice Department did say it will express by noon Friday its views on whether U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King -- who could decide Elian's fate -- should recuse himself from the case because of a potential conflict of interest. King's son and daughter have professional links to opposite sides in the case.
The now-postponed INS interview procedure to help determine whether Elian should be allowed to stay in the United States became virtually irrelevant after the INS decided that only the Cuban father could legally speak for the child.
Grandmothers may get subpoenas
State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters Wednesday that Elian's grandmothers could come to the United States if they want to, but the government cannot guarantee they will not be subpoenaed for a federal court hearing on a petition filed by Elian's Miami relatives seeking political asylum for him.
Earlier, the women had insisted they would not come without a no-subpoena guarantee. But Cuban sources told CNN on Thursday the grandmothers have backed off that demand.
Justice Department sources in Washington said Elian would not be free to return to Cuba until the asylum case is litigated, unless the families can somehow resolve their differences outside of court.
One Justice Department official said the U.S. government is in no position to guarantee to the grandmothers that they would be able to take custody of the boy.
Meanwhile in Miami, the boy's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, who was granted temporary custody in a state court, said Elian missed school Thursday because of a stomach ache.
Reno: 'Does child no good to be in limbo'
Attorney General Janet Reno, who has backed the INS in its decision that the boy should be returned to his father in Cuba, told her weekly news briefing Thursday:
"I always try to put things in terms of the human beings involved, and right now this is about one little boy. It is also about the bond between the parent and child. It is also about people's strong feelings against tyranny."
Reno also said she hopes the "passion" surrounding the custody case can be put aside, allowing the fate of the young boy to be resolved quickly in accordance with federal law.
"It does the child no good to be in limbo," Reno said, one day after attorneys for the boy's great-uncle went to federal court in Miami to challenge the INS ruling that Elian must to be returned to his father in Cuba.
The legal team filed a lawsuit accusing the INS of violating Elian's due process rights and asked the judge to prevent the agency from returning the boy before it gives him an asylum hearing.
Attorney general calls for careful thought on dispute
Many legal experts insist that Elian's U.S. relatives have no legal standing because their rights do not supersede those of his father, his closest next-of- kin. His maternal and paternal grandparents also live in Cuba.
Elian has been living with his Miami relatives since he was rescued on November 25 by the Coast Guard while clinging to an inner tube in the Atlantic off the Florida coast. His mother and stepfather were among 10 people who drowned fleeing Cuba.
Elian was among three survivors. The question of where he will live -- in the United States or in Cuba -- has prompted vociferous demonstrations in both Cuba and among Cuban-Americans in Miami.
His legal fate has drawn international attention and strained U.S.-Cuban relations. Congress has considered intervening, and the topic has become fodder for White House candidates.
"I don't think passion is the appropriate response," Reno said. "I think careful, deliberate thought about how the law should be executed is the way we should approach this."
Plane leaves for Cuba to pick up Elian's grandmothers
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
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