WASHINGTON -- In a sharp new turn in the Elian Gonzalez family saga, the Cuban father moved yesterday to take the place of a Miami relative as the one who speaks for the 6-year-old boy in court.
The maneuver by Juan Miguel Gonzalez in a federal appeals court was his first step toward short-circuiting the weeks-long legal battle over Elian's future and efforts to keep the boy from being taken back to Cuba.
In an "emergency" filing, lawyers for the father told the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta: "These proceedings could determine the fate and future of Juan Miguel's son, and Juan Miguel should be heard."
The motion seeks to oust Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, as the boy's legal representative. The uncle has been acting as the boy's legal agent for most of the five months since the boy was turned over to him after being rescued from a boat wreck off the coast of Florida on Thanksgiving Day. His mother died as she, along with Elian, sought to flee Cuba.
Lazaro Gonzalez has applied for asylum in the United States for Elian, despite his father's wish to take his son home with him to Cuba. The appeals court is weighing the great-uncle's plea that the boy be given an asylum hearing.
Opposing any further role for Lazaro, the new motion said: "This case cries out for the father's personal intervention to save his son from further manipulation." The uncle, it said, "seeks to twist the U.S. law of asylum to wrest Elian from the arms of his lawful and loving father."
If Juan Miguel Gonzalez is allowed by the court to act as Elian's legal representative, he could oppose the asylum effort or seek to convince the court that Elian does not want asylum. That would end the case without a ruling for or against an asylum hearing.
In a separate filing, the Justice Department joined the father in opposing new controls over the boy sought by his Miami relatives, including required visits with him and the appointment of a guardian to oversee the father and son.
As the flurry of legal activity proceeded in the Atlanta court, Elian and his father remained in the privacy and isolation of Wye River Plantation on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The boy was awaiting visits by his former kindergarten teacher and a 10-year-old cousin coming from Cuba. The two landed Wednesday night at Reagan International Airport in Washington and were driven by police to an undisclosed location.
In support of its argument against the proposed restrictions on Elian and his father, the Justice Department released the report of a psychiatrist who visited them on Tuesday, finding the boy to have an "apparent sense of well-being and happiness with his father."
The psychiatrist, Paulina F. Kernberg of Cornell University, recommended against any visit to Elian by his Miami relatives until they and the boy's father have reconciled.
"I conclude," Dr. Kernberg said, "that his removal from his Miami relatives' home, although clearly startling and frightening, was in all likelihood not a traumatic experience producing lasting effects."
The Florida relatives, however, have an opinion from a child psychologist saying that the boy did suffer trauma from his seizure by armed agents. And some Florida doctors quoted by the relatives disputed Kernberg's favorable conclusions about the boy's condition now, saying she spent too little time with Elian for a proper evaluation.
Yesterday, on Capitol Hill, Elian's cousin, Marisleysis, and other relatives campaigned to keep him in the United States. Congressional Republicans plan hearings Wednesday on the armed seizure of Elian from the Little Havana home.
The father's new court maneuver came four days after his reunion with his son. The reunion appeared to strengthen the father's legal claims to the boy and embolden him and his lawyers to give him a personal role in the case over the boy's fate. Juan Miguel had not been involved in the case until now.
His entry into the case would allow him and his lawyers to challenge the request by Miami relatives that Elian be granted asylum, even over his father's wishes.
Leveling scathing criticism at Lazaro Gonzalez, the father asked the court to oust the Miami relative from the case because he was only "an intruder and uninvited meddler in Elian's life."
He also accused Lazaro of "shocking treatment" of Elian when the boy lived for four months in the great-uncle's home in Miami's Little Havana section and added, "Plainly, Lazaro has no wish to further the interests of the father whose nuclear family he seeks to destroy."
The father and his attorneys reacted aggressively to the Miami relatives' request for new restrictions on Elian. Those would include a ban on any contact with Cuban government officials, and would require contact with Elian for the lawyers who have been filing a flurry of legal actions to keep him in this country.