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Rep. Burton: Elian Wants To Stay

January 30, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ About 200 chanting, flag-waving protesters marched in front of the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s office Saturday, demanding that 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez be sent home to his father in Cuba.

But Rep. Dan Burton, whose congressional maneuvering to keep Elian in the United States has infuriated the boy’s father, said Saturday that the boy told him he doesn’t want to go back.

``He’s a very intelligent young man and I was able to ask him without any coaching a couple of questions,″ the Indiana Republican said after meeting for 30 minutes with Elian at the home where the boy is staying with relatives.

``The first question I asked him is how did he like living here and he said he liked it very much as he was blowing bubbles. And then I said `Would you like to go back to Cuba?′ And he was very firm in saying ‘No’ and this without any coaching.″

Elian has been the subject of heated debate since he was found clinging to an inner tube Nov. 25 off the Florida coast. His mother and 10 others traveling with him drowned during an effort to leave Cuba.

Elian’s grandmothers, who have been in the United States campaigning for the boy’s return, were expected to return to Cuba during the weekend. The Cuban government announced a rally would be held Sunday to welcome them home.

More than 100,000 Cubans gathered Saturday in the Cuban city of Cienfuegos for another in an almost daily series of government-sponsored, nationally televised rallies for Elian’s return. One child speaker idolized the boy as ``a kidnapped angel.″

In Ottawa, about 30 protesters marched in front of the new U.S. embassy carrying signs that read: ``End the Kidnapping″ and ``Cuban Children are Not for Sale.″ In Los Angeles, some three dozen demonstrators rallied in support of sending Elian back.

``If that was an American boy over in Cuba, we would have the whole Marine Corps over there trying to get him back,″ said Rudy Pisani, 68, of Los Angeles.

Cuban-Americans among the protesters at the INS office in Miami said they wanted to show that not all Cuban-Americans want Elian to remain here. They said the boy had been kidnapped and should be returned to his father.

``Every child needs a father and a mother,″ said Juan Morales, a Cuban who has lived in the United States for eight years. ``If the mother dies, the person directly responsible is the father and not the uncle and not the United States.″

Andres Gomez, national coordinator of the Antonio Maceo Brigade, a group that organized the protest and advocates normalizing relations with Cuba, said the demonstrators have a noble purpose.

``We are coming together in this case in defense of the most fundamental rights of a human being, which are the rights of a child,″ he said.

Later Saturday, the anti-Castro Democracy Movement, a group which wants Elian to stay put, launched a flotilla of about 20 boats to pay tribute to Elian’s mother and the 10 others who drowned. About 300 people, including about 200 aboard boats, took part.

Demonstrators released balloons into the air and threw flowers into the water as the American and Cuban national anthems played. Donato Dalrymple, a fisherman who found Elian floating at sea, tossed a wreath with flowers arranged in the pattern of the Cuban flag into the water.

``Today we’re here to remember ... the mother of Elian Gonzalez, Elisabeth Brotons, and the other people who drowned in the unfortunate tragedy,″ said Ramon Saul Sanchez, the leader of the Democracy Movement.

The INS has ruled Elian should return to his father. But its order has not been carried out because the government agreed to hold off until a federal court considers a challenge filed by the Miami relatives.

U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler originally said he would hear arguments March 6 on whether the relative’s lawsuit should be dismissed. But on Friday, he moved the hearing up to Feb. 22.

In an attempt to block Elian’s return to Cuba, Burton earlier this month subpoenaed the boy to appear before the House Government Reform Committee. He said it is unlikely that Elian will actually appear before the committee, but he didn’t rule it out.

The Justice Department asserts that if Elian is not returned to Cuba, it could hurt attempts to retrieve American children taken out of the country by a foreign-born parent against the wishes of the child’s American parent.