The Miami Herald
June 29, 2000
Elian's Odyssey Ends

Reno says she wishes Elián and dad were in democratic country


 Attorney General Janet Reno said today she is glad about Elián González's reunion with his
 father, but wishes it was under different circumstances.

 ''In the end, he is with his father and I am glad of that,'' Reno said today. ''I just wish he was
 with his father in a democratic free country.''

 But the father's Washington lawyer, Gregory Craig, said today that Juan Miguel Gonzalez
 never showed any interest in staying in the United States. ''We talked obliquely about it,''
 Craig said on NBC's ''Today.'' ''There was no evidence ever ... that he wanted to explore that

 ''I really believe he made the decision about living in Cuba many, many months before
 during family discussions,'' Craig said.

 The improbable U.S. sojourn of Elián, the winning little boy who became symbol and
 prize in the 40-year war between Cuba's Communist government and Miami's exiles,
 came to a subdued conclusion Wednesday, when a private jet delivered the 6-year-old child
 and his father to an affecting reunion with their family in Havana.

 Less than eight hours after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block his departure from the
 country, Elián's father carried his son out of the chartered flight from Washington, D.C., and
 into the arms of his joyful grandparents.

 ``Elián! Elián!'' chanted scores of uniformed, flag-waving classmates from his elementary
 school, as a crowd of relatives and friends surrounded the boy.

 Looking tired and a bit bewildered by the reception, the boy clung to Juan Miguel's father,
 Juan González. The boy's other grandfather, Rolando Betancourt, used both his
 hands to wipe tears from his eyes.

 Notable for his absence at the welcoming ceremony was Cuban President Fidel Castro,
 who has asked Cubans to abstain from showy celebrations to mark the boy's return.

 In Miami, Elián's departure, like everything else connected to the case, elicited sharply split
 emotions. There was pain, sadness and anger for Cuban Americans, who expended significant
 political and emotional capital in a losing cause that many nonetheless viewed as morally right.

 As local TV stations broke into afternoon programming to broadcast Elián's departure, a
 small crowd of demonstrators, some wiping tears from their eyes, gathered outside the
 now-vacant Little Havana house of his Miami relatives, which has become a makeshift shrine
 to the boy.

 Elián's great-uncle, Lázaro González, and his daughter, Marisleysis González, who led the
 fight to keep the boy in the United States, felt too distressed to make a public statement, a
 spokesman said.

 ``We are devastated that Elián is going back to a country where he will never be free,'' a tearful
 Armando Gutierrez said. ``But we must obey the law.''

 About an hour after Elián's departure, his great-uncle Delfín González emerged
 from the Little Havana home to address reporters.

 ``That child has been taken back to Cuba against his own will,'' he said,
 reiterating the family's view that Elián wished to remain with them. ``He went back
 practically kidnapped.''

 About 50 vehicles later joined in an evening caravan to Watson Island off
 downtown Miami. It was organized by exile leaders to retrace the path federal
 agents took after seizing Elián from the relatives' home in an armed April 22 raid.

 Today, Reno acknowledged the strong feelings in Miami, her hometown, and said
 she would like to work to heal the wounds created by the Elian custody dispute.

 ''This hurt might go too deep, which I will regret, but I still have to do what I think
 is right under the law and I think this little boy's father should speak for him and I
 think he should be with his father,'' she said.

 She said government officials would review the case to see if there are any
 lessons learned or changes needed in regulations governing children who apply
 for asylum.


 Despite some heated rhetoric, many exiles appeared resigned to the inevitable.

 ``The realization that this would happen had sunk in,'' said Carlos Saladrigas, a
 Cuban-American businessman and civic leader who vainly tried to broker a
 peaceful turnover of Elián to his father in April. ``We just need to pull forward.''

 For others, the boy's flight home brought relief that the seven-month saga, which
 at times threatened to rend the city's fragile ethnic fabric, was finally over. From
 both sides of the Elián divide came hopeful prayers that now the city could begin
 to mend.

 While saying he was saddened by Elián's return, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex
 Penelas urged those on opposite sides to exercise restraint. ``I believe that we
 must continue healing the divisions and wounds that have arisen in our
 community from this issue,'' he said.

 U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who backed immigration authorities' decision
 to deny Elián a political asylum hearing, then ordered the raid when his relatives
 refused to turn him over, said the family got what it wanted: its day in court.

 ``All involved have had an opportunity to make their case -- all the way to the
 highest court in the land. I hope that everyone will accept the Supreme Court's
 decision and join me in wishing this family, and this special little boy, well,'' Reno

 But the relatives' legal team vehemently disagreed.

 ``Returning this boy to the worst dictator in this hemisphere without an asylum
 hearing is an injustice,'' said Kendall Coffey, the team's lead attorney.


 After seven months of complex court battles and unpredictable twists -- Elián's
 Thanksgiving Day rescue after his mother's death at sea, his grandmothers' visit
 from Cuba, the demonstrations at his relatives' home, and the astonishing armed
 raid -- the final chapter in the story was brief, written in the terse legal language of
 a Supreme Court order.

 ``The application for stay presented to Justice [Anthony] Kennedy and by him
 referred to the court is denied,'' the court said, dashing the Miami relatives' last


 The drawn-out legal conflict between Elián's relatives and the Immigration and
 Naturalization Service boiled down to one basic question: Did the government act
 correctly in deciding that a 6-year-old Cuban boy could not apply for political
 asylum over the objections of his father?

 The INS said the boy was too young to apply on his own, and concluded that only
 his father, and not the Miami relatives, could speak for him. Juan Miguel
 González consistently said he wanted Elián to rejoin him in Cuba.

 The Miami relatives asserted that Juan Miguel had been coerced by the Cuban
 government, and they argued that the boy had both a constitutional right to
 request asylum and a credible fear of persecution if sent home.

 In three separate decisions, federal judges came down firmly on the government's
 side, ruling that the INS had acted reasonably and within its broad powers to
 enforce immigration law.

 On Monday, the relatives' legal team played its last card, asking the Supreme
 Court to block Elián's return to Cuba and consider a new appeal. In turning them
 down, the court did not elaborate.

 Juan Miguel González and the other Cuban guests of the Rosedale estate in
 Washington, D.C., where Elián has been living with his father, stepmother and
 half-brother since May 25, were eating lunch when the Supreme Court released
 its order at noon.


 They greeted the news with relief, but little exuberance, according to Sally
 Grooms Cowal, the president the Youth for Understanding International
 Exchange, a nonprofit group that owns Rosedale.

 ``They were restrained, happy and dignified,'' Cowal said.

 Members of Youth for Understanding gave Elián and his schoolmates parting gifts
 -- storybooks and picture books, including Fernando the Bull and a couple of Dr.
 Seuss books, pillows in the shape of a globe of the world, pencils and American

 A little after 3 p.m., a motorcade led by two District of Columbia motorcycle
 police officers sped out of the Rosedale grounds. Some neighbors cheered. The
 entourage left Dulles International Airport outside Washington in two chartered
 airplanes shortly after 4:30 p.m.

 In a warm parting message to the American people, Elián's father said, ``I am
 grateful for all the support that was given to me. I am extremely happy to be going
 back to my homeland and I don't have words to express how happy I feel.''

 Elián's Miami relatives got the news of the Supreme Court denial outside the
 Ermita de la Caridad, a bayside church near Coconut Grove. Upset, Lázaro
 González shouted at a TV news cameraman, and had to be led away by his

 In Cuba, a government television broadcast interrupted regular programming with
 the news. The government, which had sponsored massive protests to demand
 Elián's return, said there would be no public rallies or celebrations, so Elián and
 his family can quickly return to a normal life.

 In an official statement, the government said the family will stay at a home in the
 residential neighborhood of Miramar ``for the least necessary time'' before
 returning to their hometown of Cárdenas.

 ``Our devoted teachers and pedagogues must carry out the masterly task of
 turning him into a model boy, worthy of his history and his sympathies and his
 talent, so that he always will be -- in addition to a normal citizen -- a symbol, an
 example and a source of glory for all the children of our country and a source of
 pride for Cuba's educators,'' the official note said.


 At a news conference shortly after the Supreme Court issued its denial, President
 Clinton said the decision to allow Elián to go home with his father was the right

 ``I think that the most important thing is that his father was judged by people who
 made an honest effort to determine that he was a good father, a loving father,
 committed to the son's welfare,'' Clinton said. ``And we upheld here what I think is
 a quite important principle, as well as what is clearly the law of the United

 Clinton added that he wished the story had unfolded ``in a less dramatic, less
 traumatic way for all concerned.''


 As Elián and his father departed, the Miami family members huddled in the
 privacy of a relative's home not far from the Little Havana house where Elián once
 roamed and played on the swingset. They stayed away from the cameras as well
 as demonstrators and supporters.

 Not all could bear to watch the TV, but Delfín and Lázaro did, hoping to catch a
 final glimpse of Elián on U.S. soil.

 On the screen, Elián ducked into the cabin of the chartered jet with his father and,
 with a smile and a small wave, disappeared from view.

 Herald staff writers Ana Acle, Alfonso Chardy, Frank Davies, Mireidy Fernandez,
 Don Finefrock, Sara Olkon, a staff writer in Cuba, Herald translator Renato
 Pérez, Online News reporter Madeline Baro Diaz, special correspondent Ana
 Radelat, States News Service reporter Anand Giridharadas, and Herald wire
 services contributed to this report.