Cuba Attacks US on Elian Gonzalez

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, on a tour of Europe, Tuesday accused the United States of "kidnapping" Elian Gonzalez and using the 6-year-old Cuban boy as a "political pawn."

Elian, rescued at sea on November 25, is now staying with relatives in Miami as an international custody battle rages around him.

Perez Roque is visiting Europe to drum up support for Cuba's demand that Elian be returned to his father in Cuba. Perez Roque told reporters in Rome he had given Pope John Paul II a detailed account of Elian's case, but he said he did not ask the Pope to intervene.

"A child is the most important thing there is in Cuba," Perez Roque said in Rome. "The Cuban people do not make a political issue out of children. They demand that the boy return to his father. We hope that the international community will back the boy being sent back to his father as the law demands and as the US government itself has decided," Perez Roque said.

Reiterating the kidnapping charge, Perez Roque said, "I hope my contacts in Europe, where the subject of the family and human rights is taken so seriously, will rally public opinion in favor of his immediate return to his family in Cuba."

The Vatican says the Pope used the meeting with Perez Roque to urge Cuba to grant religious freedom.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has ruled that Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba. Both President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno are backing the INS decision, despite vehement protests from Florida's large Cuban-American population.

Meanwhile, in Havana, construction work has begun outside the US special interest section office, which has been the scene of recent demonstrations demanding Elian's return.

Cuban officials aren't saying what is being planned for the site. Cuban President Fidel Castro ordered the building of the stage so Cuban youth can "participate in public activities, especially political gatherings."