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U.S. Split on Elian Reunion Tactics

April 22, 2000

It was barbaric, some Americans said Saturday of the forcible removal of Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives. It was the right thing to do, others said, and the government had no choice.

Reactions were polarized even inside Cuban-American communities.

``I thought that this was the land of the free, but apparently it’s not,″ Rosa Grabe de Peralta said in Union City, N.J., which after Miami has the nation’s second-largest Cuban-American community.

But Roland Rolo, sipping coffee in a Cuban cafe in Union City, said he understood the government’s action ordered by Attorney General Janet Reno.

``You’ve got a family laughing at the attorney general, and sooner or later you’ve got to show them some authority,″ said Rolo, 44, of Piscataway, N.J. ``The family overestimated their position of power.″

Dozens of Cuban-Americans marched in protest outside Cuba’s mission to the United Nations in New York City.

``These kind of storm trooper tactics are the kind of thing that’s done in Cuba,″ said demonstrator Rafael Ocasio, 42, of New York. ``Clinton is a hypocrite. He says he’s upholding the law, but there is no law in his administration.″

For others, it was simply time the standoff came to a conclusion.

``It lasted way too long,″ said Maria Bouchereau, 36, of Los Angeles. ``I wish the family had cooperated so they wouldn’t have had to go in like that. But I’m glad it’s over.″

After the months-long tug of war between the family and the federal government, it took officers only minutes to retrieve the boy from the relatives who cared for him since his rescue at sea and had defied efforts to have him released to his father, who wants to take him back to Cuba.

``The law is the law. You can’t bend it. I’m sorry it had to come down to something like that but I think he’s back where he belongs, with his father,″ said Ben Merritt, a Milwaukee bartender.

It was just a case of politics, said Charles Dooley, one of several veterans at VFW Post 1019, in Albany, N.Y., who said Elian belongs with his father.

``It’s all just because we’re against Cuba,″ said Dooley, 58. ``If it was a kid from a country we were friendly with, this would never be happening.″

``It’s not fair to bring up politics at the expense of a child,″ said Ian Coleman, a student in Milwaukee.

Some people saw it in terms of parenthood.

``The kid should be with his father,″ said Tom McClean, 41, an electrician in the Chicago suburb of Woodridge. ``The people in Miami weren’t going to give the kid up. I don’t think they had a choice.″

``Everyone talks about Cuba being the evil empire, but how evil would we be if we kept the boy from his father?″ asked Tim Quistoroff, 34, a Chicago musician.

``Why shouldn’t the man have his child? There’s nothing abhorrent about a child being with his father,″ said Bob Burman, an attorney in Columbus, Ohio, who has two children.

But some parents were troubled by photographs showing armed federal agents taking Elian from the home of his great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez.

``I can’t believe what I saw. And they want to take our guns away from us?″ said Priscilla Talich of Denver, mother of a 9-year-old boy.

The show of arms also disturbed others.

``I don’t think the government tried hard enough. It could have been done without guns. To take a child forcibly with guns is tantamount to kidnapping,″ said Misty Sheehan, 55, of the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, a college humanities professor.

``I guess he should be with his dad, but it was a hell of a way to do it. That doesn’t look good for us at all,″ said Gerard Lombardo, a security guard in Milwaukee.

``I think it was barbaric,″ said John Smith, 60, a personal injury lawyer in San Francisco.

Lillian Byrd was outraged.

``I’m ashamed to be an American,″ said Byrd, 56, of Huntington, W.Va. ``I feel like taking the American flag and digging a hole and putting it upside down in the ground.″

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