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Senator Clarifies Elian Comments

May 8, 2000

SALEM, N.H. (AP) _ A U.S. senator said Monday that remarks he made about Elian Gonzalez and tranquilizers were not meant to suggest the boy is being drugged to make him more amenable to returning to Cuba.

Sen. Bob Smith was quoted by The Union Leader of Manchester as saying at a town hall meeting Sunday: ``They’ve already found tranquilizer drugs with the doctors. I think you can reasonably assume that on May 11 the little kid is going to come say, ’I want to go back to Cuba.‴

Smith, R-N.H., told The Associated Press on Monday the newspaper quoted him accurately. But he said it left out other reasons he cited for his prediction that Elian will say he wants to go home _ being surrounded by Cuban officials and playmates and not having access to people with other viewpoints.

He also said he does not believe Elian is being drugged.

``I did not suggest it. If that’s the conclusion you draw, that’s incorrect,″ Smith said in a telephone interview from Washington.

He said he is concerned that drugs including tranquilizers were taken by U.S. officials from Elian’s Cuban pediatrician when she arrived for a visit late last month. And he said he is concerned the boy is living at what amounts to a Cuban re-education camp at a private conference center in eastern Maryland.

Smith described the compound Sunday as ``a concentration camp,″ according to The Union Leader. Smith said Monday if he used that term, he misspoke. He said he has consistently described the compound as ``a re-education camp.″

Elian, whose mother drowned in November during their escape from Cuba, is living with his father in Maryland while he waits for U.S. courts to decide his future. A hearing on an asylum request is scheduled for Thursday in Atlanta, although it’s unlikely that Elian and his father would attend.

Elian’s pediatrician, Dr. Caridad Ponce de Leon, was with a group of Cubans who flew to the United States on April 27 to spend time with the boy.

Cuban state television reported that U.S. Customs agents took medicines including tranquilizers from her upon her arrival at Dulles International Airport. Authorities said Ponce de Leon is not licensed to practice in Maryland and that the medications would be returned to her when she leaves the country.

Federal authorities said the medicines were part of the doctor’s regular medical kit, and they had no information about what she intended to do with them.

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