by Dalia Acosta
(IPS) HAVANA --
euphoria felt in Cuba when Elian Gonzalez was reunited with his father in the United States is turning to pessimism as the likelihood of the shipwrecked boy's prompt return to his home country fades.
"The boy was only moved from one kidnapper to another. The only difference is that now his father, step-mother and little brother are also victims of the kidnapping," Mariela Gutierrez, a 38-year-old computer engineer, told IPS.
According to polls conducted by academic research centers here, more than a few people in this country see the Carmichael farm in Maryland state as a "cage of gold" for the Gonzalez family.
Elian and his family were sent to the farm, near the U.S. capitol, after he was forcibly removed April 22 from his great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez's home in Miami, where the boy had lived for five months.
Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and the rest of his immediate family arrived in the United States from Cuba April 6.
Elian was one of three survivors of a boat that was shipwrecked as it crossed the Florida straits with 14 illegal Cuban emigrants aboard. His mother drowned in the accident, and he was adrift two days, tied to an inner tube, until two fishermen rescued him.
U.S. authorities turned the boy over to Lazaro Gonzalez, giving him temporary custody, despite migration agreements between Havana and Washington, which stipulate that all undocumented Cubans intercepted before reaching U.S. soil must be repatriated.
Lazaro Gonzalez immediately launched a legal battle for custody of the boy. But Juan Miguel Gonzalez wants to take his son back to Cuba, even as his relatives living in Miami argue that Elian has the right to grow up in a "free country" -- the United States.
The case is now in the hands of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which will rule on Lazaro Gonzalez's request to determine whether the six-year-old boy has the right to apply for political asylum in the United States.
The hearings are to begin May 11. In the meantime, Juan Miguel Gonzalez cannot return with his son to Cuba.
Last week, Hillary Rodham Clinton said she hoped that tasting freedom and having the opportunity to spend time with his son in the United States would convince Juan Miguel to consider staying in the country permanently.
Cuban President Fidel Castro charged that the three judges at the Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where Elian's case will be heard, "are not trustworthy" and warned that the possibility they will rule that "the boy has the right to asylum is a real risk."
Castro said the judges are forcing Elian to remain in the United States and have not taken into account Lazaro Gonzalez's refusal to comply with the Justice Department's order to hand over the boy to his father.
April 27, the Atlanta court rejected Juan Miguel Gonzalez's request to speak for Elian in the proceedings. The judges were divided but agreed to the father's participation in the hearings, limiting him to five minutes.
In Castro's opinion, there are more than enough variables to "prolong the process indefinitely."
U.S. lawyer Gregory Craig, counsel to Juan Miguel Gonzalez, said Tuesday that given the appeals process, the case could drag out for two or even six years if the court rules in favor of the great-uncle's request.
Such a ruling would force Juan Miguel to choose between his homeland and his son, said Craig.
In addition to the legal proceedings, Cuban authorities fear the U.S. Congress will approve a bill currently under consideration that would give Elian automatic U.S. citizenship.
Lazaro Barredo, a member of the Cuban parliament, said last week that the approval of any law giving Elian residency or citizenship in the United States would prevent Juan Miguel from getting his son back.
"That boy is never coming back," is a refrain frequently heard on the streets of Havana.
Others who are less pessimistic believe that, in the end, the U.S. government will listen to public opinion and make sure the boy is returned home to Cuba with his father.
According to a Gallup poll, 64 percent of those surveyed in the United States support the return of the boy to his father, even if it means Elian's will grow up in Cuba.
When asked whether a child has the right to request political asylum without the consent of a parent, 61 percent of the poll's respondents said no, and just 25 percent responded yes.
May 8, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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