Elian's father appeals for his son's return

Issue 

The following is abridged from an open letter written by Juan Miguel Gonzalez, father of Elian Gonzalez, to US attorney-general Janet Reno and US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) commissioner Doris Meissner on February 14. It was published in the Cuban daily Granma on January 15.

For more than two and a half months, my son Elian has remained on US territory against my wishes and despite my having requested on November 27 his immediate return.

It took more than 10 days after my request before I received an initial response from the US authorities, and it was truly disheartening. They did not return my son, nor did they say when they would do so. They only asked me to meet with representatives of the INS and the State Department to prove my paternity and my relationship with Elian.

I met with them on December 13, accompanied only by my mother and father, without lawyers or advisers. I gave copies of all necessary documents, and many others, and I answered all their questions. I showed them that Elian is my son with whom I've always maintained a constant relationship, giving him all the love and care a father can. I also showed them that Elian has a family which has raised him surrounded by caring and love, and that demands his return.

More than two weeks went by without any response until on December 31, at your request, I again met with the same US officials.

On January 5, the INS finally announced its ruling recognising my rights as Elian's father, including being the only person who can represent Elian and speak for him. Unfortunately, that decision has not been followed by any action.

On that day, and in response to a communication I received from the INS, I proposed that the INS follow the same procedure it applies every day in countless cases, and that the immigration service itself return the child. I proposed as an alternative that Elian be handed over to the National Council of Churches of Christ in New York so that it could transport him to Cuba or hand him over to his family there. On January 22, my mother, Mariela Quintana, authorised by me, asked you directly to hand over the child.

These proposals have been an expression of our willingness to do whatever is necessary to put an end to the kidnapping of my son and return him as soon as possible to his home. We have given the US authorities all the cooperation they have asked for in solving a problem whose solution remains completely within their reach.

I want to remind you of the sworn testimony offered by the assistant secretary of state, ambassador Mary A. Ryan, who stated:

"When a child is found in a foreign country, accepted international practice is to attempt to identify the parent or parents, and to return the child to that person or persons as soon as possible ... In the case of a young child, a US citizen, being found in a foreign country in similar circumstances to those of Elian Gonzalez Brotons, we would expect the government of that country to immediately seek out the surviving parent, if there is one, and to contact US consular officials to offer assistance if it were required. We would then expect the government to swiftly return the child to his parents, unless the parent expressly requested that other arrangements be made.

"We would ensure that the foreign government was informed of the parent's wishes and we would not expect our statements in such a case to be questioned. Likewise, we would expect that the parent's direct participation in the foreign country's procedures would not be required ...

"Neither would we expect the surviving parent to participate in a custody trial in a foreign court ... custody would clearly belong to the surviving parent.

"We would strongly object if a foreign government declined to return a US child to his sole surviving parent, either because of other relatives seeking custody of the child, or because of a belief that the child would be better off in the country in which he was found. We would also vigorously object to a foreign government or court attempting to impose its point of view concerning 'the child's best interests' over those expressed by a parent ...

"Furthermore, we would expect that any decision on capacity or custody would not be made by a court in the country where the child was found, but by a court in the child's usual country of residence. Not returning Elian Gonzalez Brotons to his father would be fundamentally inconsistent with these principles and with what we would defend in the case of a US child."

The United States has failed to take the steps that it is obligated to take under international law, universally accepted practices, and US laws.

Meanwhile, those who have kidnapped my son carry out various manoeuvres before US courts, which lack the competence to rule on the suitability of a father or the custody of a child, both of whom are Cuban citizens and residents, with the obvious objective of placing obstacles in the way of the INS decision being carried out.

Janet Reno has determined that Elian's case is under exclusive federal jurisdiction, and that I am the only one entitled to speak for my son.

I want to make equally clear that I categorically reject any attempt to designate a supposedly "independent guardian" for Elian, or any other manoeuvre that may be attempted whose effect would be to prolong the kidnapping of my son, the injury that is being done to him, and the suffering of Elian and his family.

Unfortunately, Elian's mother died. She was also a victim of the illegal smuggling operation that led to the arbitrary retention of my son in the US. I am the only one entitled to exercise all parental rights.

The solution is entirely in the hands of the US administration which should proceed immediately to return my son to me without further delay.

[Translated by Jose Perez.]

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