High court unlikely to delay departure of Elian Gonzalez

Boy and his father could be on plane for Cuba today

June 28, 2000|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The drama surrounding 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez appears likely to shift today from the United States to Cuba as his family prepares to take him home.

Seven months after he was rescued off the coast of Florida, floating in an inner tube after a boat bound for the United States had capsized, drowning his mother, Elian's immediate fate lies in the hands of the Supreme Court.

The justices, meeting today in their last session of the current term, have the option of delaying his departure, but that seems increasingly unlikely.

The court might act today not only to permit the boy to leave, but also to wipe out his Miami relatives' appeal seeking to force an asylum hearing for him.

With that outlook, Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and his attorney were completing plans to put the family on a chartered flight to Havana, set to leave the Washington area this afternoon, when a court order barring their departure is due to expire.

They will be free to go unless the Supreme Court intervenes.

What will happen to the boy if he returns to Cuba is unclear.

His Miami relatives, who have fought in court for six months to keep him here, contend that he will be exploited and persecuted by the Castro dictatorship.

The Justice Department says it has found no evidence that is likely to happen.

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, former general secretary of the National Council of Churches, one of the sources of money used to pay the father's legal bills here, said Elian has not specifically been told that he might be flying back to Cuba today.

"My overwhelming impression is that no one is talking to him about going home," Campbell said. "I don't think his father is going to talk about this until they're sure they're going."

As the boy and his father attended a prayer service at a chapel across the street from the Supreme Court, the father's attorney, Gregory B. Craig, and the Justice Department prepared what they hoped were their final legal filings.

Those papers, filed later in the day, brought fervent pleas to the court to end the legal struggle over the boy's future.

His father and the department argued that there was no chance that the court would agree to hear the Florida relatives' appeal.

The father's attorney used the occasion to lambaste Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez of Miami, accusing him of "ignoring the existence of Elian's father" and of running "roughshod over this father's right to speak for his 6-year-old child."

The great-uncle, Craig argued, has defied the law, resisted "every effort to return Elian peacefully to the arms of his father," has lost in every court to consider the case, and "now seeks to persuade the [Supreme Court] to keep the ordeal going."

The Justice Department contended that "Lazaro has surely had his day in court in advancing his view of what is in Elian's best interests" and that that view has been rejected in lower courts.

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