Miami relatives say Elian's father lacks rights in Cuba

Great-uncle wants to speak for 6-year-old

May 17, 2000|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Lawyers seeking asylum in the United States for 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez told a federal court yesterday that the boy's father will have no rights as a parent if he and his son return together to Cuba.

Seeking to head off a move by the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, to take charge of the boy's legal fate, the attorneys for Elian's Miami relatives argued that the premise "parent knows best" is not true at all in Cuba.

The truth, the new legal filing said, is that Juan Miguel "has no real parental rights as we would recognize them in this country. [Fidel] Castro and only Castro is allowed to determine what is best for Cubans and their families."

Meanwhile, the Justice Department urged the court to rule that Juan Miguelhas a clear right, as the boy's natural parent, to drop a request to grant the boy asylum and take him back home.

Elian's great-uncle in Miami, Lazaro Gonzalez, filed the court case in an attempt to force the Immigration and Naturalization Service to consider granting the child permanent political asylum in this country. The INS has refused to consider asylum because, it said, it is up to the father to decide what is best for Elian.

The two documents filed in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta yesterday pose a difficult choice for that tribunal.

The Miami relatives are seeking to put the three-judge panel's focus on life in communist Cuba, while the Justice Department -- along with the boy's father -- want the judges to stay focused on the rights that U.S. law gives to parents to control their children's upbringing.

The appeals court held a hearing last week on Lazaro Gonzalez's request for an asylum hearing for Elian, but has not yet ruled.

The new filings deal with the potentially complicating question of whether Juan Miguel should take the place of the great uncle in making legal decisions for Elian -- a role that could lead the father to try to bring the court case to an end.

Two weeks ago, Juan Miguel formally stepped into the case, and asked that he, not uncle Lazaro, be allowed to speak for Elian in court.

The new filing on behalf of Lazaro and other Miami relatives painted a dark picture of the loss of control over children's daily lives under the Castro regime.

The father, the filing said, "seeks to take Elian to an island where the rights and nurturing that U.S. law guarantees a child and his parent are non-existent" because Cuba is "a police state."

Insisting that Elian still wants to stay in the United States rather than go back, the relatives' lawyers argued that there is a conflict between the boy and his father, who has said they will return to Cuba ultimately. Because of that conflict, the attorneys went on, uncle Lazaro should be permitted to continue as the boy's legal representative to seek asylum.

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