Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

CUBA-US: The 150 Days That Turned Little Elian’s Life Upside Down

HAVANA, Apr 22 2000 (IPS) - The case of Cuban shipwreck boy Elián González came to a head Saturday, 150 days after his unauthorised departure from Cuba, when the six-year-old was finally handed back to his father, Juan Miguel González, at the Andrews military base near Washington.

Since he was picked up at sea, Elián, who turned six in Miami, has become the booty of a war between the Cuban government and Juan Miguel González, who have been fighting for the boy’s return to Cuba, on one hand, and the family of great-uncle Lázaro González and anti-Castro groups in Miami, who want Elián to grow up in the United States, on the other.

The custody battle over the little boy has been in the international spotlight for more than four months. Following is a point-by-point breakdown of the Elián affair.

22 November 1999: Elizabeth Brottons, her second husband and her son from her first marriage, Elián González, sets out with 11 others from the coasts of Cuba, on a clandestine journey to the United States. Their boat capsizes a few hours later in the Florida Strait.

25 November: Two fishermen rescue the boy, who was found clinging to an innertube off the coast of southern Florida, and hand him over to the US Coast Guard. The other two survivors of the shipwreck, Arianne Horta and Nivaldo Fernández, make it to shore in Cayo Hueso, Florida. Both Brottons and her husband drowned.

26 November: Elián González is discharged from hospital and turned over to his great-uncle Lázaro González in Miami, the home of the bulk of the Cuban exiles opposed to the Communist government of Fidel Castro.

27 November: Elián’s father asks the Cuban Foreign Ministry to take the necessary steps to secure the boy’s return to Cuba, explaining that his son was taken away without his consent by Brottons. Havana immediately transmits the request to Washington.

2 December: Elián’s relations in Miami announce that they will go to court to fight for custody of the boy.

4 December: Cuban President Fidel Castro urges Washington to announce that Elián will be returned to the Caribbean island nation within 72 hours.

5 December: In the first demonstration demanding that Elián be sent home is held outside the US Interests Section in Havana, Castro calls for “a global battle for public opinion” to press for Elián’s return to his father in Cuba.

6 December: Elián celebrates his sixth birthday in Miami.

US State Department spokesman James Foley says Washington will not accept Castro’s “ultimatum.”

7 December: US President Bill Clinton says the father’s rights must be taken into consideration, and announces that the case will be resolved by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS), an arm of the Justice Department, rather than by the courts.

8 December: Castro says he had not issued an ultimatum, but simply “sensible advice” to the Clinton administration.

10 December: The attorneys representing the Miami Gonzálezes file a request for political asylum in the name of Elián.

13 December: INS officials meet in Cuba with Juan Miguel González,, who presents documents proving he is the father. The INS declares him a fit parent.

16 December: US Attorney-General Janet Reno says she hopes the case is resolved by year-end.

20 December: Castro warns that the “battle” for Elián’s return has only just begun.

Elián’s Miami relations meet with INS officials for the first time. His cousin, Marisleysis González, urges them to take into account the fact that the boy’s mother gave her life for him to grow up in a free country.

3 January 2000: Minister Joan Brown Campbell with the US National Council of Churches visits Juan Miguel González and pledges to fight for Elián’s return to Cuba.

5 January: The INS says the boy belongs with his father, and sets Jan 14 as the date for Elian’s return to Cuba.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin announces that the US government is prepared to issue a visa for Elián’s father if he wants to travel to the United States to see his son.

10 January: Florida family court Judge Rosa Rodríguez issues temporary custody of Elián to his great-uncle, Lázaro González.

14 January: The INS deadline for Elián’s return to Cuba comes and goes. The boy remains in Miami.

18 January: Lázaro González’s lawyers file a lawsuit against the INS in a federal court, demanding that the boy be granted a hearing in court.

21 January: A charter flight hired by the US National Council of Churches brings the boy’s paternal and maternal grandmothers, Mariela Quintana and Raquel Rodríguez, to New York.

25 January: Clinton urges Congress to postpone a debate on a bill that would grant US citizenship to Elián until the federal court hands down its ruling.

26 January: Elián’s grandmothers meet in private with their grandson, at the home of Dominican nun Jeanne O’Lauglin. The meeting ends before the previously set time limit of two hours.

30 January: Elián’s grandmothers are welcomed home by a huge crowd in Havana.

4 February: Juan Miguel González sends a letter to Reno complaining that his son is suffering serious psychological damages.

16 February: US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urges that Elián be sent back to Cuba, arguing that if a similar case were to occur involving an American child abroad, Washington would hope that the government in question would immediately return the child to the parents.

17 February: High-level INS official Mariano Faget is arrested on charges of spying for Cuba. Two former assistant consuls at the Cuban Interests Office in Washington, José Imperatori and Luis Molina Abrahantes, are implicated in the case.

18 February: Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, accuses the US government of holding up the case.

19 February: The Clinton administration instructs Imperatori to leave the United States. The head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, Fernando Remírez de Estenoz, denies allegations of espionage.

26 February: Imperatori resigns from his post at the INS, thus renouncing his diplomatic immunity, and announces a hunger strike until his name is cleared. The diplomat is taken into custody and deported to Canada.

2 March: Before heading to Cuba from Canada, Imperatori accuses Lázaro González of sexually abusing students while working as a high school physical education teacher in Cuba.

3 March: Castro underlines that Cuba has always respected parental custody rights.

4 March: Castro directly accuses the US government of delaying tactics in the Elián case.

The INS files a motion for the dismissal of the lawsuit lodged by Elián’s Miami relations, aimed at blocking the boy’s repatriation to Cuba.

5 March: Lázaro González denies the allegations against him involving sexual abuse.

21 March: Moore dismisses the request that Elián be granted a political asylum hearing, and upholds the INS decision that the boy should be returned to Cuba with his father.

22 March: Gregory Craig, lawyer for Juan Miguel González, tells the US press that his client will be ready to fly to the United States “in a question of hours” if federal authorities guarantee that he will be given immediate custody of Elián.

Elián’s Miami relations appeal Judge Moore’s decision in a court in Atlanta, Georgia.

24 March: The Department of Justice threatens to withdraw Lázaro González’s temporary custody of Elián.

25 March: Castro alleges that Elián’s relations in Miami plan to take the boy to another country to keep him from being sent home to Cuba.

28 March: The Justice Department announces that it is ready to begin the process of repatriating Elián the following morning unless his Miami relations sign a written agreement to turn him over if they lose the appeal filed in Atlanta. Lázaro González refuses to sign the document.

29 March: Castro announces that Juan Miguel González is ready to fly to the United States along with his wife, their infant son, Elián’s favourite cousin, several of his classmates, his pediatrician and kindergarten teacher, and others considered indispensable to the boy’s readjustment process.

Among the advisers figures Ricardo Alarcón, the president of the Cuban parliament, an expert in Cuban-US relations.

The mayor of Miami-Dade county, Alex Penelas, speaking for himself and 22 other Florida mayors, warns that the local police will not cooperate with the INS if Washington decides on a law enforcement action to remove Elián from Lázaro González’s family, and that if that occurs, “blood will flow.”

30 March: US Vice-President and presidential candidate Al Gore contradicts Clinton and endorses a draft law that would grant Elián and several of his family members in Cuba permanent residency in the United States.

Juan Miguel González and other members of Elián’s family send a letter to the US Senate rejecting Gore’s proposal that they be granted permanent residency.

31 March: The Miami Gonzálezes announce, through their lawyer Manny Díaz, their refusal to hand Elián over to his father, even if Juan Miguel González flies to the United States.

2 April: Juan Miguel González announces in a letter made public by Castro that he is prepared to travel on his own to any part of the United States if he is guaranteed that he will be able to pick up his son and take him back to Cuba immediately.

3 April: The State Department confirms that the US Interests Section in Havana has received visa applications for Juan Miguel González and 27 others.

4 April: Anti-Castro demonstrators form the first human chain around the home of Lázaro González in Miami. Marisleysis González is hospitalised for a nervous collapse.

Gore does an about-face and publicly calls for Elián’s return to Cuba, a position shared with two-thirds of the US public, according to opinion polls.

5 April: Castro announces that Elián’s father will fly to the United States early the following day. He says Elián will return to Cuba “in a question of days.”

6 April: Elián’s father arrives in Washington and demands that his son be returned to him “as soon as possible” in order to put an end to the “abuse” by the boy’s Miami relations. Clinton says he is happy the boy’s father is in the United States.

The US government tells Elián’s relatives in Miami that it will revoke the boy’s temporary residency permit.

Miami Mayor Joe Carollo says the pressure on Elián’s Miami relations are the fruit of “a political deal between Clinton and Castro.”

7 April: Juan Miguel González meets with Reno and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, who reassure him that he will soon be reunited with his son.

Reno announces that “early next week” the Miami Gonzálezes would receive instructions on how and when to hand Elián over to his father.

“We must not punish the father for his political ideas and for where he wants to raise his son,” says Reno.

Reno announces that “early next week” Elián’s Miami relations will be provided instructions on how and when to turn the boy over to his father.

Anti-Castro demonstrators in Miami accept Reno’s suggestions to suspend their protests, but take to the streets again a few hours later.

Two other Miami relatives of Elián, Delfín González and Alfred Martell, fly to Washington to meet with Juan Miguel González, but are not allowed to enter the Remírez residency, where he is staying.

8 April: The Washington Post reports that the Clinton administration has a plan to forcibly remove Elián from Lázaro González’s house in Miami.

9 April: The two fishermen who rescued Elián in the Florida Strait meet with Juan Miguel González to ask him to allow the child to remain in the United States. But one of them, Sam Ciancio, changes his mind after the meeting. “Father and son should live together in their homeland,” he says.

10 April: Lázaro González and his family meet with psychiatrists and psychologists sent by the Justice Department, but refuse to take the boy to Washington, as previously agreed by representatives of Havana and anti-Castro leaders.

12 April: Elián, accompanied by Lázaro González, is taken from his great-uncle’s house to the home of Catholic nun Jeanne O’Louglin, also in Miami.

Reno travels to Miami, and sets a deadline, 18:00 GMT the following day, for Elián to be turned over to his father. Lázaro González refuses to drive the boy to the Opa-locka airport, from where he is to be flown to Washington.

“I want everyone to see that they are preparing to launch an assault on a family home…we will not turn over the boy in Opa- locka or in any other ‘locka’,” warns Lázaro González.

The INS expresses says it is ready to back a meeting between Juan Miguel González and his uncle Lázaro as part of an orderly transfer of custody to Elián’s father.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan backs Juan Miguel González’s custody rights over his child in an address to the South Summit of the Group of 77 in Havana.

13 April: US TV stations air a home video which shows Elián saying he does not want to return to Cuba, and asking his father to stay with him in the United States.

The Atlanta appeals court rules that Elián cannot leave the United States, and asks Reno not to hand over custody to Juan Miguel González until the political asylum request filed by Lázaro González in the boy’s name has been decided.

Lázaro González reiterates that he will not hand Elián over. The boy’s relatives in Miami are holding the child by force, “which isn’t right,” Reno tells the press in Miami.

The US Justice Department will enforce the transfer of custody “in a fair, firm and timely manner,” says Reno, without clarifying whether force will be used.

Lawyer Craig says that what Juan Miguel González is going through is a “nightmare.”

14 April: The INS advises Juan Miguel González not to take his son from the United States until the Atlanta appeals court hands down its decision.

An INS spokesperson tells the press that if the government is forced to remove Elián without the cooperation of his family in Miami, Juan Miguel González could leave the country with his son at any time.

Lázaro González’s attorneys request that a court in Washington block the deportation of Elián until it is certified that Cuba respects the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

16 April: In his first televised interview since arriving in the United States, Juan Miguel González accuses his relatives in Miami of child abuse and of turning the child against his father and leading him to believe that his mother is not dead and that she will appear at any moment, in the United States.

17 April: The Cuban government reports that it has set up a house in Havana which will become Elián’s temporary home and school on his return. His close relatives and 12 of his schoolmates will live there with him.

Pediatrician Irwin Redlener, hired by the US government to study the case of Elián, sends Reno and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner a letter stating that the boy is being “appallingly exploited” in Miami and must be immediately rescued.

19 April: A federal appeals court in Atlanta decides that Elián must stay in the United States until it rules on an appeal that the boy be granted a hearing for political asylum. A hearing is set for May 11.

Cuba blames the US government for the damages that the boy could suffer if he is not immediately turned over to his father. “The solution to the terrible kidnapping of Elián must not be a legal one. It must be, and could have been, administrative,” it states in an official communique.

The head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, Fernando Remírez, tells the US State Department that individuals with terrorist records are keeping weapons in a house near Lázaro González’s home to block any law enforcement action aimed at removing Elián.

Miami Mayor Carollo denounces attacks on anti-Castro demonstators in Washington by diplomatic personnel of the Cuban Interests Section.

20 April: Clinton says the Atlanta court ruling which prohibits Elián from leaving the United States for the time being paved the way for the child to be turned over to his father in the “swiftest, most orderly manner possible.”

Juan Miguel González makes a televised appeal to the US public. “Anyone who has feelings, anyone who knows a father’s love for his son, help me.”

21 April: US newspapers report that Reno has ordered federal marshalls to prepare a plan to remove the boy from the González’s home in Miami by force if necessary.

José García Pedrosa, a lawyer representating Lázaro González, says his client will not cooperate unless a “psychological evaluation says that that would be in the boy’s best interest.”

The lawyers for the Miami Gonzalezes urged the Atlanta appeals court to provide a mediator to help resolve the case.

22 April: A contingent of 158 federal agents remove Elián by force from the González home in Miami. Eight agents break down a door and burst into the house, while the rest take up positions outside.

A female agent carries the boy out. Marisleysis González, Elián’s second cousin and surrogate mother, says later that the agents pointed guns at her and caused damages in the home.

Reno states in a press conference that the government exhausted all possible means to reach an agreement with Elián’s Miami relatives before deciding to act.

Elián is flown to the Andrews air force base near Washington, D.C., and is reunited with his father at 13:45 GMT.

Anti-Castro demonstrators take to the streets in Miami to protest the law enforcement operation. Some groups set up roadblocks and threaten to call a general strike.

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