Father of Cuban Boat Boy Meets with US Officials

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The international custody dispute over a 6-year-old Cuban boy moved toward a possible resolution on Monday as the child's father met with US immigration officials to press the case for his son's repatriation. Wire service reports say two US officials from the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service met with Juan-Miguel Gonzalez, the father of Elian Gonzalez, in his provincial hometown of Cardenas, Cuba, to establish he has valid parental rights.

"Having finally discovered that Juan Miguel Gonzalez is the boy's father, the only thing they have to do is return the boy to him,'' a senior Cuban official, Ricardo Alarcon, said.

Alarcon, Cuba's pointman on US affairs, added that Gonzalez, a 31-year-old hotel porter and member of the ruling Communist Party, had become "the most famous father in the Western hemisphere.''

Cuba says Elian, currently with relatives in Miami after surviving an ordeal at sea during an illegal immigration bid, has been "kidnapped'' and should be returned immediately from the US capitalist "hell'' to his closest family in Cardenas.

But the boy's US relatives, backed by Cuban-American groups opposed to Cuban President Fidel Castro, want him to stay in Florida to grow up in a place where they say he can enjoy prosperity and freedom denied in his communist homeland.

Elian was rescued by fishermen off the Florida coast on November 25th after surviving for two days clinging to an inner-tube when a boat carrying illegal immigrants capsized. His mother and 10 other Cubans died.

Relatives of the little boy took him to Walt Disney World at the weekend. About to board a boat on one attraction, a visibly nervous Elian asked: "Is this boat going to sink?''

Monday's meeting with the father, confirmed simultaneously by both US and Cuban officials, was a first step toward a US immigration ruling on whether the boy should be sent home.

Even if US authorities decide in principle to send the boy back to Cuba - as US officials say privately they want to - there could be legal obstacles due to a political asylum claim filed with the INS on Friday by relatives on behalf of the boy.
Monday's development came as Cuban and US officials began a scheduled, crucial round of migration talks at Havana's Conventions' Palace that were inevitably dominated by the custody dispute.

The biannual migration talks, held alternately in Havana and Washington, are intended to monitor two accords signed in the wake of the so-called 1994 Cuban Rafters' Crisis to prevent another mass exodus from the Caribbean island. That year, at least 30,000 Cubans took to the sea in flimsy boats and rafts to make the perilous 90-mile (145 km) journey across shark-infested waters to Florida. Many died on the way.

In the busiest year for illegal immigration since then, nearly 1,300 Cuban migrants have been intercepted at sea so far in 1999, according to U.S. Coast Guard figures.

Havana blames the continuing problem on the United States for its so-called "wet-foot/dry-foot'' policy under which Cubans who touch US soil can have residency while those intercepted at sea are sent home. The United States tends to blame Castro's government for the problem, arguing that its economic failures and dictatorial system drive people to despair and force them to flee.

Under the accords, the United States gives at least 20,000 legal entry visas to Cubans each year.