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Church, Cubans Brace for U.S. Court Hearing Over Boy

by Patricia Grogg

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Elián González and Cuba

(IPS) HAVANA -- The Catholic Church of Cuba asserted its position -- which coincides with that of the Fidel Castro government -- in the case of the shipwrecked boy, Elián González, which is scheduled to be heard Feb. 22 in United States federal court.

The situation must be resolved "according to a basic universally accepted right, in other words, that a minor who has lost one parent must be left in the care of the surviving parent," stated cardinal Jaime Ortega.

Ortega, whose opinion appeared in an official publication of the Archdiocese of Havana, affirmed that "there is no reason to deprive the father of the child of parental custody, as there is no physical, mental or moral impediment preventing the father from exercising his right."

The Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference had already declared its opinion in a communique released last Dec. 8, in which it denounced "the emotional or political implications" that would prevent the rapid resolution of the case.

Elián, age 6, survived a Nov. 25 shipwreck that claimed his mother's life. She had secretly taken Elián from the island, without permission from his father, Juan Miguel González, in an unsuccessful attempt to illegally emigrate to the United States.

Since then, González has demanded his son's return to Cuba in a legal battle supported by the Castro government, a protest campaign outside the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and public forums -- all of which receive wide coverage by the state-run press.

Nun's statements rejecting Elián's return to his family in Cuba were "highly subjective" and made "based on insufficient observations"
Meanwhile, Lázaro González, Elián's great-uncle living in Miami, has the backing of the powerful community of Cuban exiles in the United States and some national legislators who oppose the boy's repatriation.

"Passions of different types, with a great deal of political content, have enveloped the boy in a tangled web of opinions and legal processes that obstruct compliance with the law," commented Ortega in his message.

He pointed to the ruling by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) that the boy should have been returned to Cuba and reunited with his father before Jan. 14, a requirement the U.S. agency did not meet.

U.S. federal judge William Hoeveler is to rule Feb. 22 on whether his court has jurisdiction to review the INS's resolution to deny the request for Elián's asylum presented by his extended family members living in Miami.

Ortega also revealed that in early December when "the problem was just beginning and was still manageable," steps were taken by Cardinal Bernard Law, from Boston, before the U.S. government to offer his archdiocese's assistance "in facilitating the minor's return to Cuba."

"I communicated to the Cuban government the willingness of Catholic Charities of Boston and of Cardinal Law to assist in resolving the conflict," said Ortega, in the first public reference to the effect.

The Havana archbishop praised the National Council of Churches for facilitating the January trip made by Elián's grandmothers, Mariela Quintana and Raquel Rodr’guez, to the United States to visit their grandchild and meet with government officials.

"Unfortunately, the conditions of the meeting between the grandmothers and the boy were not appropriate," affirmed Ortega.

The reunion was held at a house belonging Jeanne O'Laughlin, a Catholic nun and president of Barry University, and was the choice of the INS, "without any responsibility of the Archdiocese of Miami," he said.

O'Laughlin's subsequent statements rejecting Elián's return to his family in Cuba were "highly subjective" and made "based on insufficient observations."

"I repeat, I do not approve of Sister O'Laughlin's conduct," declared Ortega.

In last week's newspaper Granma, official voice of the Communist Party of Cuba, published a fragment of a sworn statement made by Mary A. Ryan, Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs at the U.S. State Department, as part of the Justice Department's arguments before judge Hoeveler.

"The non-return of Elián González Brotons to his father would be fundamentally inconsistent" with the principles that "we would defend if it were the case of a North American child," said Ryan.

Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba's parliament, underscored that Elián's father is still awaiting reply to a letter he sent U.S. authorities earlier this month in which he requests that, while the boy remains in Miami, he should be in the custody of a great-uncle who disapproves of "the manipulations of which Elián has been a victim."

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Albion Monitor February 13, 2000 (

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