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Experts Say Elian Could Be Harmed

February 4, 2000

HAVANA (AP) _ Hammering away at an insistent theme, mental health experts said on state television Thursday night that Elian Gonzalez’s stay in the United States could harm his development.

The program was the third such discussion by Cuban mental health specialists since the boy was discovered off the coast of Florida on Nov. 25, setting off an international custody dispute.

One expert, Dr. Elsa Nunez, said Elian needs stability in his home and school life for his thought processes and personality to develop. Nunez said Elian doesn’t appear to be getting either in Miami.

Nunez was among a group of child psychologists and psychiatrists who participated in the broadcast. The panel had to base their opinions on photographs and televised footage of Elian, since none has had the chance to observe and talk with the child in person.

Nunez and the others noted that Elian had begun first grade shortly before the accident that killed his mother and 10 others during a journey from Cuba to the United States.

It was not until weeks after Elian’s Miami relatives regained temporary custody of the child that he was enrolled in school in the United States. Since then, his attendance has been irregular and the child appears to have been distracted by constant media attention and other disruptions, Nunez said.

Elian’s father and four grandparents, along with the Cuban government, are demanding that the boy be returned to his homeland. Elian’s relatives in Miami are fighting to keep him in the United States, saying that they can give him a better life off the communist island.

In a decision backed by President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ruled that the child should be reunited with his father.

However, the Miami relatives have fought to block the ruling and the INS has agreed to let the final decision be made later this month by a federal judge in Miami.

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