Cover Story

Cuban conundrum

A bitter custody fight in two nations' capitals continues to rivet the attention of the world on a 6-year-old boy

Issue: "Cuban conundrum," Feb. 5, 2000

What a topsy-turvy capital Elián's grandmothers visited last week. Michael Jordan was back on the basketball floor, but this time the new part-owner of the Washington Wizards was working out with his employees. Network journalists were still prattling about the weather, but this time they expressed concern over Washington blizzards rather than global warming. And, as they experienced a snowstorm for the first time, the traveling grandmas also found the discomforts of home: politicians and religious leaders fawning over Fidel Castro.

Congressman Joe Moakley (D-Mass.) was one of last week's snowblowers. The Boston Globe quoted Mr. Moakley, dubbed "Havana Joe" by the Cuban American National Foundation four years ago when he led a group to Cuba for a Castro kiss-up meeting, as saying: "If an American mother died in Cuba and her relatives there wanted to keep her son, the very same people who are screaming in Congress about making Elián a citizen would be calling out the Marines to grab the American boy and bring him home." The influential Democrat told the grandmas he would do all he could to kill Elián's chance for American citizenship.

Also taking the pro-Castro line was the National Council of Churches, which jetted grandmothers Raquel Rodriguez and Mariela Gonzalez from Cuba to New York to Miami to Washington and back to Miami for a government-ordered meeting with Elián at the home of Jeanne O'Laughlin, a college president and pal of Attorney General Janet Reno. The 70-year-old Dominican nun complained of the politicization of Elián's case by all sides, but was particularly angered by the propaganda campaign of the Castro government. She said, "I would go with the law that the child should be with the father, but what I saw and felt really frightened me for the child." Miss O'Laughlin now thinks Elián should stay in the United States.

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Cuban-American leaders in Miami worry about polls showing the opposite sentiment. "People here in the United States don't know that the laws in Cuba are incompatible with the laws of the United States," Cuban-American activist Jose Basulto told WORLD. "If this child is returned to the island, custody will not go to the father. It will go to the state. He will be indoctrinated so that he can serve the state and the will of Castro."

Mr. Basulto is president of Brothers to the Rescue, a search-and-rescue mission that was called out on Thanksgiving Day to search via plane for Elián and others aboard a makeshift boat bound for Florida, after Miami relatives learned that Elián and his mother were missing. Mr. Basulto has been involved in the case ever since, meeting with Elián and his relatives nearly every day.

Mr. Basulto reiterates statements by relatives concerning Elián's own wishes. He says the boy has told him he wishes to remain in the United States. One of Elián's cousins, Georgina Cid, traveled to Washington to lobby for support for a bill to grant Elián U.S. citizenship. She was joined by the fisherman who rescued Elián at sea on Thanksgiving Day, Donato Dalrymple, and the only other survivors of the boatwreck off the Florida coast.

Florida Sen. Connie Mack urged that a silent voice should be heard in the debate, one whose actions speak louder than words: "Elián's mother, who gave her life in a quest for freedom, ought to be listened to as to what should happen with the little boy."

What will Miami's Cuban-American community do if Elián is sent home?

Mr. Basulto said, "It was a miracle of God for Elián to be sent here. If he is sent back to Cuba, maybe that is part of the purpose of God. Maybe we cannot understand what the purpose of this child will be."

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