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Official: Dad May Call off Trip

April 4, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Government talks with the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez were suspended until Thursday to allow lawyers for both the relatives and for Elian’s father to consult with their clients over two unresolved issues in the longstanding custody battle.

American diplomats in Havana issued visas Tuesday to Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, but Cuban officials said he will call off his proposed trip to the United States unless he is assured of temporary custody of his 6-year-old son.

A source close to the case, who requested anonymity, said Juan Miguel’s lawyer, Gregory Graig, was going to Cuba on Tuesday evening to see if his client was willing to come to this country with just a handful of associates as a start to the process of gaining final custody.

Meantime, immigration officials met again twice in Miami on Tuesady with lawyers representing Elian’s great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, who has temporary custody of the child.

No agreements were reached, and the ``the talks were postponed until Thursday morning,″ Justice spokesman Myron Marlin said late Tuesday afternoon.

The relatives’ lawyers requested extra time to consult with the family before the next session because Lazaro Gonzalez is exhausted and overwhelmed and his daugther, Marisleysis, who has helped care for Elian, is in the hospital, according to a government official, who requested anonymity.

This official said there were two outstanding issues: the role of a team of psychologists and whether or not Juan Miguel would stay in the United States until a federal court appeal of the case is completed, expected no earlier than May.

The U.S. government was willing to have psychologists help design the least disruptive transfer of Elian from Lazaro’s care to his father’s, but the relatives were insisting that such a panel decide whether or not the boy should be transferred.

At one point Tuesday, an attorney for the boy’s Miami relatives said negotiations aimed at reuniting Elian with his father appeared to be breaking down without agreement, but the talks resumed briefly in late afternoon to arrange the postponement.

Outside the Miami home where Elian has lived since he was rescued from a Thanksgiving shipwreck that killed his mother, about 200 angry protesters broke down a barrier and formed a human chain. ``Elian is not leaving!″ they chanted.

Olga Hernandez said they ``saw a bus and they thought they (Immigration and Naturalization Service officials) were coming to take him.″

City of Miami Police just stood by and watched.

Earlier Tuesday, Elian’s cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez was hospitalized for exhaustion after fainting during a round of television interviews. Hospital officials said she was in stable condition and family spokesman Armando Gutierrez said she would stay in the hospital overnight.

After visiting her in the hospital, her father, Lazaro Gonzalez told reporters: ``The government is going to destroy this family. We are only trying to protect this child.″

Immigration officials have spent the past two days negotiating with the Miami family over how to transfer temporary custody of Elian from Lazaro Gonzalez to Elian’s father. U.S. officials raised the possibility that Juan Miguel Gonzalez could travel to Miami to get his son.

Absent an agreement, a Justice Department official said a letter could be sent to Lazaro Gonzalez announcing that temporary custody would be transferred from him to Elian’s father. A follow-up letter would provide instructions on how and when the transfer would take place, said the official, asking not to be identified.

In Havana, Vicky Huddleston, the chief of the U.S. Interests Section, delivered to Cuba’s Foreign Ministry visas for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his wife and their infant son, as well as a male cousin, a kindergarten teacher and a pediatrician.

In late March, a federal judge affirmed an INS ruling that Elian belongs with his father in Cuba. The Miami relatives have asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to overturn the lower court ruling; opening arguments are set for the week of May 8.

If arrangements can be worked out for a transfer of custody, Juan Miguel Gonzalez would stay at the home of the head of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington, Fernando Remirez.

Entering the State Department on Tuesday afternoon for a meeting, Remirez said the elder Gonzalez’s U.S. travel depends on ``the assurance he will get temporary custody.″

U.S. officials are reviewing 22 additional visa requests, including 12 from Elian’s classmates. Remirez said his government believes all visa requests should be approved because the additional 22 compatriots will help facilitate Elian’s ``recovery″ after four months away from home. He stopped short of saying their approval was a precondition for the father’s visit.

Remirez lives in a split-level brick home in suburban Maryland near a country club.


EDITOR’S NOTE _ State Department reporter George Gedda in Washington and Alex Veiga in Miami contributed to this report.

On the Net: INS: http://www.ins.usdoj.gov

Miami relatives: http://libertyforelian.org

Cuban newspaper Granma: http://www.granma.cu


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