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Cuba Awaits Elian’s Return

April 13, 2000

HAVANA (AP) _ As news trickled in about dramatic events unfolding on the other side of the Florida Straits, Cubans anxiously awaited the return of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez.

``It is the hour for this drama to end for the good of Elian and his desperate father,″ said Leida Ruseau, a 66-year-old cleaning woman who watched live CNN feeds of the crowds Thursday outside the home of Elian’s Miami relatives.

Ruseau was one of a small group of Cuban workers who crowded around a large color television at a foreign press center set up for journalists covering a summit of leaders from developing countries.

``That great-uncle is a kidnapper who has made an entire family and an entire nation suffer,″ she said.

``If the United States had acted with more authority in this matter, the child would already have been back with us,″ added Jose Ramon Montano.

Very few Cubans have access to foreign television reports. Most have had to rely on the Cuban government to provide them with updates on the case during a ``round-table discussion″ on state television at 5 p.m. daily.

Still, most of those who had not seen the reports on American television knew about Thursday’s deadline for the Miami relatives to turn over the child to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who flew to the United States last week.

Some of the current developments were reported on government-controlled Radio Reloj and the noontime Television Rebelde.

On the government program in the evening, viewers were shown video clips of everything that had transpired in the previous 24 hours: a news conference by Attorney General Janet Reno on her order to the Miami relatives to turn Elian over to his father, Elian’s great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez defying the order, a homemade video of Elian saying he didn’t want to return to Cuba.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez declined to offer an official government reaction to Thursday’s developments in the United States. ``Today we are seeing another maneuver by the mafia of Miami,″ was all Gonzalez would say, using a term common here to describe the Cuban exile leadership.

``We are waiting for Elian,″ 42-year-old housewife Dinalba Labrada said as she bought government-ration rice and cooking oil at a corner food store. ``We are hoping they will turn him over. Hope is always the last thing a person loses. We have not lost ours yet.″

At the ``Esquina Caliente″ _ the ``Hot Corner″ in Old Havana’s Central Park _ the city’s self-anointed baseball experts mixed pontification on the ongoing National Baseball Series with opinions about the Elian case.

``I would be afraid for Elian’s father to go to Miami″ to claim the child, said Jorge Luis Ultria, a 33-year-old construction worker who spends several hours a day at the informal gathering of sports fanatics. ``Those people in Miami are capable of sabotage, even planting a bomb!″

Some of the men were hopeful that the Miami relatives would be obligated to give up the boy, but most were pessimistic.

``I think that this could go on for at least two or three months _ even five months,″ said Alberto Rosales, a 42-year-old self-employed mechanic who wore a baseball cap advertising Molson Canadian beer.

Cubans were far more interested in the Elian case than the summit of leaders who gathered here this week to examine ways to increase the power and wealth of their developing nations.

Cuban state television also showed its obsession with the case even as it covered the summit: Reporters tossed questions about Elian into interviews with the visiting heads of state. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe agreed that the child belonged with his father. So did Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos.

``Children belong to the care of their parents,″ Mexican Foreign Minister Rosario Green said.

Caught up in the Elian battle, Fidel Castro’s communist government barely promoted the summit until just before it opened on Monday. For 4 1/2 months, the fight for Elian has been the No. 1 priority of the government, which has rallied thousands of people in near-daily protests pressing for the boy’s return.

``If Elian does come back, I will very proud, very glad,″ Ultria said amid his clutch of wildly gesticulating baseball experts. ``And when he comes back, we don’t have to have a celebration.

``There will be a celebration and a pride in every Cuban heart,″ said Ultria, ``because we will all know that he is back where he should be.″

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