Reno sets timing for hand-over

Great-uncle says he won't yield child to custody of father

Protests expected

Attorney general meets Elian, kin in Miami to no avail

April 13, 2000|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MIAMI BEACH — MIAMI BEACH-- Attorney General Janet Reno instructed the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez early this morning to bring the child to a local airport by 2 p.m. today to be flown to a long-delayed reunion with his father in the Washington area.

But the 6-year-old boy's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, with whom Elian has lived for the past 4 1/2 months, refused to give up the boy and said he would not cooperate with agents who might try to take him away.

"We will not turn this child over, not in Opa-locka, not in any `locka,'" he said. "They will have to take this child from me by force."

Reno would not comment on what action she would take should the relatives not show up at the appointed hour at Opa-locka airport, except to say that the law would be enforced.

After midnight, Lazaro Gonzalez, his wife, Angela, his daughter, Marisleysis, and Elian left Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin's house for their house in Little Havana, another apparent sign of how badly negotations had broken down.

As Elian's great-uncle lashed out at Reno and federal officials, workers at the federal court house in downtown Miami set up barricades in expectation of demonstrations there. The courthouse has also suspended jury selection and other court proceedings for today.

The long-awaited showdown came after Reno flew here yesterday to meet with Elian and his local relatives at the Miami Beach home of O'Laughlin, the president of Barry University and a longtime friend of the attorney general.

O'Laughlin had characterized the meeting as cordial, describing a warm scene in which Elian sat on Reno's lap and his relatives were allowed to speak at length about their concerns about removing the boy from what has been his home since his mother drowned while trying to escape from Cuba. Elian, who clung to an inner tube for more than two days, was rescued off the coast of Florida on Thanksgiving Day and became the focus of a tug of war between his father in Cuba and his relatives in Miami.

Earlier in Washington, Gregory B. Craig, the attorney representing the father, had demanded anew that the Justice Department order the relatives to bring or send Elian to his father, who arrived in the United States last week.

"Every day of delay does enormous damage to Elian," Craig said. "It is time for the Justice Department to instruct Lazaro Gonzalez to follow the law and do the right thing."

O'Laughlin described the meeting of Reno and Elian and his family as warm and cordial. "He was precious with her," O'Laughlin said.

"The attorney general listened very carefully to what the Gonzalez family had to say. She was very attentive. She took numerous notes. She listened to everything they had to say," O'Laughlin said.

But the meeting did not resolve the drawn-out custody battle between the boy's father and his Miami relatives.

As they have done repeatedly, Elian's Miami relatives again asked Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian's father, to come to Miami and meet with them, O'Laughlin said.

But Elian's father apparently has a different idea.

"He has made the suggestion that the family might travel to Washington tomorrow," O'Laughlin said. But, she added, that might not be possible because Elian's cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, was just released from the hospital yesterday morning and is not feeling well.

O'Laughlin seemed to be working to ease the strained relations within the Gonzalez family over the situation., noting that the Miami relatives are well aware of how Elian's father has been affected by the situation.

"The pain of this family and their understanding of the pain of Juan Miguel is very evident, " she said.

O'Laughlin also served as host to the visit of Elian's grandmothers from Cuba in January.

Although the grandmothers' visit swayed her from neutrality to advocating that Elian stay, she seemed ready to accept the boy's return to Cuba as inevitable.

The nun had offered her home as a refuge, taking an apparently anxious Elian and his increasingly stressed family away from the Little Havana home of his great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, where protesters have held vigils to press for the boy to stay in the United States.

Called by Lazaro Gonzalez, O'Laughlin arrived at the Gonzalez home in Little Havana yesterday in a steady rain.She previously had visited Marisleysis Gonzalez, the 21-year-old cousin with whom Elian has developed a close relationship and who had been hospitalized since Saturday for anxiety and depression.

"I was asked by Lazaro if my house might be a place where she could feel safe and get strong," O'Laughlin said. "I think [with] the stress that they are all under, they sense the need to have some space."

The tension apparently filtered down to Elian. When he emerged from the Gonzalez house yesterday morning in a green hooded rain jacket, the usual shy smiles that he manages for the cameras were noticeably absent.

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