Reno Orders Reunion of Elian and His Father


Atty. Gen. Janet Reno on Friday ordered that the Miami family holding Elian Gonzalez turn him over to his father, perhaps as early as next week, setting up what could be the final act of a four-month saga that began when the 6-year-old Cuban boy was rescued from an inner tube off the coast of Florida.

Urging a peaceful transfer of the child after meeting Friday morning with Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his father, Reno left it up to Elian’s relatives to turn the child over at a time and place to be determined. She said that three mental health experts will advise the Miami family when and how that can best be accomplished.

Family members did not say whether they will obey or ignore Reno’s order, although in the past they have said that they will abide by the law. One of their attorneys, however, was sharply critical of any meeting with the two psychiatrists and one psychologist, calling it a waste of time.


“Apparently, from what she [Reno] said, these psychiatrists, these psychologists, have already made up their minds” that Elian should be given over to his father, complained family attorney Manny Diaz.

Lawyers for the relatives said that they plan to file additional legal briefs on their request for an asylum hearing for Elian with the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. A hearing is scheduled there May 11. They also said that they have faxed a legal brief to a Dade County judge seeking a hearing in family court in Miami on custody issues, even though Reno has said that the state court has no jurisdiction.

“Elian has not had his day in court,” Diaz insisted. “There has been no determination of what is in his best interests.”

Reno urged calm in Miami and stressed that the Gonzalez relatives there should keep Elian’s safekeeping in mind.

“One of the wonderful things they could do would be to set an example for everybody as to what happens when you get into difficult situations which are very heartbreaking and sad,” she said.

“You can still summon the strength to abide by the law and to move forward.”


Juan Miguel Gonzalez in the past has spoken bitterly about how his Miami kin have treated his son after the boy was rescued in November. He has accused them of parading the boy in front of the news media and interfering with telephone conversations between him and his son.

After meeting with Reno, he said that he is convinced the boy will soon be in his custody again.

“The United States has assured me that it’s going to be that way. And I am sure that it’s going to be that way. And I am going to have my child soon,” he said.

“They gave me all their support in resolving this as soon as possible. They have assured me, the state and the government has assured me that this will be done.”

Reno said that the Miami relatives will be advised in a formal letter by the middle of next week on how and where to relinquish the boy.

Father Reluctant to Travel to Miami

Elian’s father is reluctant to travel to Miami, where hundreds of public protesters have argued against Elian being returned to Cuba. His Miami relatives, on the other hand, do not want federal officials coming to their home to retrieve the boy.

One of the relatives’ greatest concerns is that the father will immediately return to Cuba with Elian, ending any hope of a life in the United States for the boy.

Compounding their worries was Reno’s acknowledgment that the father has expressed no desire to stay in the United States once he has custody of his son.

“He said people here believe that he wanted to come to the United States to live,” Reno said after their meeting. “He said: ‘My feelings are exactly the opposite.’ ”

She added: “At this present moment, there is nothing to stop him from returning to Cuba. . . . There is nothing to prevent him from going.”

However, Reno did say that she hopes he will remain with Elian in the United States at least until the May 11 hearing in Atlanta.

“It is time for this little boy, who has been through so much, to be with his father,” Reno said.

“The law is very clear: A child who has lost his mother belongs with the sole surviving parent, especially with one who has shared such a close and continuous relationship with his son.”

To emphasize that the transfer was a legal order, the attorney general added: “The government is going to be the one that decides how it is done. The issue is not whether it’s going to be done but how it is going to be done.”

She said that the Miami relatives would receive two letters.

The first will ask them to meet Monday with two psychiatrists and a psychologist to map out the transfer “with as little disruption for Elian as possible.”

She said that the three experts already had advised her office that the best way to accomplish a smooth transfer is to reunite the father and son “promptly.”

After that meeting, a second letter will go to the relatives specifying a time and place for them to give Elian back to his father.

Elian, she said, “deserves the very, very best, and the best we can give him. He has been through so much and, in his own way, rather than tear us apart, he has brought us together to understand the strength of the human spirit.

“Let’s not disappoint him.”

Elian stayed home in Miami again Friday and was seen outside, shirtless and waving a small American flag, as he climbed on a yellow plastic slide in the side yard.

One of those who watched the boy from behind police barricades--erected to keep news media and spectators away--was Elizabeth Valldares.

‘We Want Elian to Stay Here’

“The Cuban people are not going to give up that easy,” she said of the day’s news from Washington. “We want Elian to stay here.”

Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his wife Nersy and their infant son Hianny started their day at a meeting in Reno’s fifth-floor office at the Justice Department. The family, their attorney and an interpreter sat on one side of the conference table, while Reno and other federal officials sat on the other.

The session broke up an hour later in smiles, sources said, with Gonzalez showing the attorney general photographs of his family, pointing to the snapshots and saying in broken English: “That is my mother. That is my father.”

The 31-year-old hotel doorman then gave the photos to her and hugged Reno and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner. He also expressed his gratitude to the fishermen who rescued Elian at sea last November, and thanked the American people who have supported him.

“It was a moment in a meeting that had great emotion,” said his lawyer, Gregory Craig.

Gonzalez said: “I have been able to explain the suffering that I have been going through and the suffering my son Elian has been going through.”

He has been so positive about getting his son back that, on Thursday night, he spoke by telephone in a state broadcast hookup to Cuba, telling his countrymen there that “very soon we will have the boy with us in Cuba.”

Reno said that Gonzalez clearly longed for his son. “All you had to do was listen to him and look at him, and see how much he obviously loves this little boy.”

But she stressed that she did not share his politics.

“I wholeheartedly reject Cuba’s system of government,” she said. “Mr. Gonzalez and I do not share the same political beliefs.

“But it is not our place to punish a father for his political beliefs or where he wants to raise his child. Indeed, if we were to start judging parents on the basis of their political beliefs, we would change the concept of family for the rest of time.”

She also praised the people of Miami, her hometown, and said that she hopes the reaction from Cuban Americans there would not turn ugly.

“Miami has prospered and has grown, and is a wonderful city which I love very, very much,” she said.

There was no discussion in the meeting of the Gonzalezes defecting, sources said. The Gonzalez family did not mention it, nor did government officials make any overtures.

However, government sources said, they have quietly begun planning how to react should there be a defection.

A high-ranking administration official said that Reno has not approved any plan to use force to remove Elian from the Miami home. The official added, however, that that does not mean officials have not given thought to a “hypothetical scenario” of what would happen if the Miami relatives refuse to cooperate in the custody transfer.

Asked at her news conference “what the government is prepared to do if the relatives resist,” Reno said: “The relatives have indicated that they intend to comply with the law and I respect them for that, and so I don’t think we have to get to that point.”

In another development, Delfin Gonzalez, one of Juan Miguel Gonzalez’s uncles, flew from Miami to Washington on Friday and went to the Bethesda, Md., home of the Cuban diplomat where Juan Miguel Gonzalez is staying.

He had hoped to talk to his nephew, but he was rebuffed.


Serrano reported from Washington and Clary from Miami. Times staff writers Robert L. Jackson and Norman Kempster in Washington contributed to this story.