Elian Gonzalez Case Enters a Decisive Week

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The Elian Gonzalez case is entering its endgame, and the imminent arrival of the boy’s father in the U.S. has prompted a last-ditch offensive from his Miami relatives. As INS officials began negotiations with the Miami relatives over how to reunite Elian with his father, who on Monday applied for a U.S. visa, lawyers representing the Florida family have been engaging in some tricky footwork. Last Friday, Miami family attorneys Manny Diaz and Kendall Coffey insisted, separately, that the father would not be given custody of Elian, and would be allowed only supervised visits with his son. Although attorneys Linda Osberg-Braun and Spencer Eig later modified this position — saying, respectively, that the family hadn’t yet decided on the custody issue, and that they wouldn’t stand in the way of the INS if the agency came to collect the boy — lawyers and political supporters for the Miami family attempted to change the game with a new line of attack, accusing Elian's father of abusing his son. Juan Miguel Gonzalez had been "verbally and physically abusive" and should only be allowed to see his son "under appropriately, psychologically sound safeguards," Coffey told CNN. Again, it was left to Osberg-Braun to modify the charges, saying Juan Miguel had been verbally abusive with his son on the phone (she accused the father of telling Elian his mother was still alive in Cuba, but later conceded that she’d heard no such remark) but that he had been under instruction from "forces in Cuba." Previously, the Miami relatives hadn’t claimed abuse as their reason for demanding custody of the boy.

Monday’s talks between the INS and the Miami family suggest the U.S. government (Vice President Gore excepted) remained firm in its decision to reunite the boy with his father. "The issue is not whether we will transfer Elian to his father, but when and how," said INS representative Maria Cardona. With Fidel Castro now pushing to send Juan Miguel Gonzalez — either alone or with a large entourage of family, schoolmates, mental health professionals and political minders — to the U.S. as soon as visas come through, the game of political football over the six-year-old appears to have entered its fourth quarter. It's not over yet, but decisions taken this week may have a decisive effect on the final outcome.