Father's Arrival Forces Elian Case to a Finale

  • Share
  • Read Later
Juan Miguel Gonzalez arrived in Washington at dawn on Thursday, and with him, the moment of truth in the tortured saga of his son. Unless Gonzalez surprises everybody by simply walking away from his Cuban minders and into the arms of his anti-Castro uncles down in Miami, his presence forces the U.S. government to resolve the standoff. The INS had announced on Monday that it would begin the process of transferring custody of Elian upon his father's arrival, and Gonzalez is unlikely to have traveled without the assurance of custody he — and Castro — demanded as a precondition.

That shifts the focus onto the stalled negotiations between the INS and the Miami Gonzalez family, which are scheduled to resume Thursday. The family issued a statement Thursday inviting Juan Miguel, who is staying at the Maryland residence of Cuba's top diplomat in the U.S. along with his wife and infant son, to their Miami home to resolve Elian's future in a family discussion without lawyers or government officials. But this dispute has, from the beginning, been about members of a family finding themselves on opposite sides of a four-decade-old war, and so much bad blood has passed between Juan Miguel and his uncles Lazaro and Delfin over the past four months that a simple family reunion looks to be an unlikely scenario. (An emotional Juan Miguel, two months ago, told an interviewer that he'd like to go to Miami to resolve the matter — with a rifle.)

Absent a happy ending in the Gonzalez family feud, the U.S. government has indicated it will apply the law, which recognizes Juan Miguel as Elian's guardian. The questions in the coming days, then, are whether and how the Miami family plans to hand Elian over to his father, and how the INS plans to ensure that they do so. And, of course, how the hundreds of demonstrators who've vowed to stop the boy from leaving Lazaro's house might react. Then there's the drama of Elian's own reunion with a father he's known only via the telephone since last November's trauma. And even the question of whether a sojourn in a tony Maryland suburb leads Juan Miguel to contemplate a change of address. The drama that began last fall appears to have reached its season-finale cliffhanger, and the outcome is anything but predictable.