Father Optimistic About Son's Return to Cuba After Meeting with US Officials

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The international custody dispute over a 6-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor off the Florida coast moved toward possible resolution on Monday as his father met with US immigration officials to press the case for his son's return.

"Now there is no justification for keeping Elian. Send my son back as soon as possible!'' pleaded the father, Juan-Miguel Gonzalez, after meeting with two US officials in his hometown of Cardenas to establish his parental rights.

Gonzalez, 31, a hotel porter and member of Cuba's ruling Communist Party, said he proved his fatherhood by showing the officials birth, school, marriage and other documents.

"They were really frank with me, and they agree the boy should form part of his family and return here. I perceived support from them, and I am sure they will help me,'' he added in an interview with wire service reporters.

Despite the father's optimism, it could be some time before there is a decision on the case, US sources said.

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

Cuba says Elian, currently with relatives in Miami, has been "kidnapped'' and should be repatriated immediately to his closest family in Cardenas from the US capitalist "hell.''

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

Monday's meeting with the father was a first step toward a US immigration ruling on whether the boy should be sent home. Gonzalez insists he was a good father and kept daily contact with his son after getting divorced from the boy's mother.

Dozens of Cardenas residents staged a noisy rally outside Gonzalez' house during the US officials' visit, chanting ''Free Elian!'', draping a large Cuban flag in front of the US diplomatic vehicle and blocking their exit from the street.

"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.

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 by relatives on behalf of the boy.

"I am indignant that they are using my son for political purposes,'' his father added in Monday's interview.

The meeting with the father came as Cuban and US officials began a scheduled round of migration talks in Havana that were inevitably dominated by the custody dispute.