U.S. Aides Meet With Cuban Boy’s Father


With report cards, birth certificates and family videos in hand, the father of a 6-year-old Cuban boy caught between two estranged nations took a major step Monday toward reclaiming his child. But U.S. and Cuban officials indicated that they failed to resolve the broader issues behind the international custody battle during a daylong meeting here on illegal migration.

Just after daybreak, Juan Miguel Gonzalez met with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officers in his hometown of Cardenas to prove that he is, in fact, the father of Elian Gonzalez, who was rescued off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day and turned over to his great-uncle and great-aunt in Miami.

Amid massive mobilizations that brought millions of Cubans into the streets last week to demand Elian’s return, U.S. officials said the meeting with his father would be a critical step toward sending the boy home.


On Monday, however, after meeting with Cuban officials here, a senior State Department representative told reporters that immigration officials in Washington will decide the boy’s fate as a normal “immigration proceeding” in the days ahead.

A clearly incensed Ricardo Alarcon, the Cuban National Assembly president, who headed his country’s delegation at Monday’s meetings, said the boy’s return is “a matter that should be decided in hours.”

Elian’s mother, Elizabet Gonzalez, drowned along with 10 other people during an ill-starred attempt to reach the U.S. that the boy survived by clinging to an inner tube. U.S. officials have said that American law clearly favors the custody rights of surviving parents over those of all other relatives.

The dispute, Alarcon said, came up several times during Monday’s session, part of regularly scheduled, twice-yearly immigration talks set up to monitor and regulate accords signed in 1994 and 1995 to end a mass exodus to the U.S. by tens of thousands of Cubans on rickety rafts and boats.

“It was just the most dramatic example of what has happened . . . because of the [U.S.] policy of encouraging illegal immigration to the U.S.,” Alarcon said.

Both Alarcon and William Brownfield, the deputy assistant secretary of State who headed the U.S. delegation Monday, agreed that their nations remain committed to the accords.


The two sides also agreed that there has been what Brownfield called “a marked shift toward organized alien smuggling of Cubans into the United States,” though there was sharp disagreement on what has caused it.

This year, in fact, has seen the greatest increase in illegal migration across the 90 miles of shark-infested straits between this Communist-run island and Florida since the “boat people” crisis of half a decade ago. The U.S. Coast Guard says it has intercepted more than 1,300 Cuban migrants at sea since January. At least 59 others are known to have died attempting the crossing.

On Monday, Alarcon reiterated Cuba’s assertion that both U.S. policy and a failure to implement it are encouraging Cubans to leave. Dubbed “wet foot/dry foot,” the policy permits Cubans who reach U.S. shores to remain, while those caught at sea are to be sent back.

Although Elian and two other survivors were rescued at sea, all three were permitted to stay in the U.S.--an apparent violation of a kind that Cuba asserts has happened all too frequently.

The boy’s case--and his fate--are further complicated by a pending application for political asylum filed on his behalf by lawyers for his great-uncle and other relatives in Miami. That bid is backed by South Florida’s vote-rich Cuban American lobby, which Cuban President Fidel Castro asserts has “kidnapped” Elian for propaganda purposes.

Even if U.S. immigration authorities decide to send Elian back to his father, his Florida relatives can contest the decision and seek an injunction to prevent his deportation.


On Monday, the State Department’s Brownfield, who confirmed that Elian’s father proved his legal status, toed the Clinton administration line that “we should not politicize the life of this 6-year-old child.”

But Alarcon, whose government formally demanded the boy’s return Nov. 27, said wryly: “If Elian had not been a Cuban boy, if Elian were a Haitian boy, he would have been returned two weeks ago, even without identifying a father.”