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Saturday, 22 April, 2000, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Analysis: Elian divides America
Elian was bundled away in a blanket
By the BBC's Jonathan Fryer

Under the cover of darkness, the well-armed federal agents swooped on the little Miami suburban house where young Elian had been living for the past five months with his great uncle Lazaro and other exiled relatives.

It was a swift and bloodless operation. But for people inside the house, including Donato Dalrymple, one of the fishermen who plucked Elian from the sea off the coast of Florida in November, it was an alarming experience that has left them outraged.

"I heard banging, and I thought I was dreaming. I ran to the boy and went into the room, and I heard all kinds of banging and yelling," he said.

"The next thing I know, the doors are being banged down and there were officers with guns, pointing them at our heads. And they were saying 'Get me the boy, or I will shoot you!' And I said, 'My God! What's the matter?' And they took the boy."

'No other option'

But in Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno argued that the authorities had no other choice but to seize the child after the Miami relatives refused to hand him over:

Donato Dalrymple
Donato Dalrymple hid with Elian
"We have gone to great lengths to resolve this case in the least disruptive manner possible. Up until the last, we tried every way we could to encourage Lazaro Gonzalez to voluntarily hand over the child to his father.

"Unfortunately, the Miami relatives rejected our efforts, leaving us no other option but enforcement action."

The Miami relatives maintain that as Elian's mother died trying to bring him, illegally, to the United States in search of a better life, they owe it to him to give him the chance to grow up in the USA.

But the Clinton administration's view is that Elian has a loving father, divorced from the child's mother, and that natural justice means the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, should have custody of him.

Impatient father

Juan Miguel was flown to the United States on 6 April to claim his son. But he has been kept in Washington, becoming increasingly impatient with the authorities' failure to deliver Elian.

Juan Miguel Gonzalez
Father wanted his son back
His feelings were clear when he spoke on Friday: "I have always understood that the United States was a country which abided by its laws. They are not being complied with. I still do not have my child. It is giving me and my family great pain."

In fact, there were strong signs already on Thursday that the authorities were getting ready to make a decisive move.

President Clinton, who has said little about the controversy unlike his Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro, left no one in any doubt then what he thought should happen:

"I think he should be reunited with his son. That is the law. And the main argument of the family in Miami for not doing so has been removed," the president had said.

"Their main argument was that if we let him go back to his father before the court rules, he might go back to Cuba. The court has now said that he shouldn't go back to Cuba. The Justice Department agrees with that, and the father has agreed to that. So there is no conceivable argument for his not being reunited with his son."

As Elian's Miami relatives have made repeatedly clear to journalists, they were determined to hand over the child only if the authorities physically came and got him.

'Not the American way'

At times, hundreds of anti-Castro Cuban exiles have been camped outside the house, as a self-declared security barrier, to try to prevent that happening.

Strong passions among relatives
Some of them were tear-gassed as the federal agents moved in in the early hours of this morning. Community spokespeople, such as Clara Vandeya, of the Cuban-American National Foundation, are appalled by these developments.

"This is totally unjust," she said. "We are very upset right now.

"We hold responsible Janet Reno and President Clinton and the administration for this atrocity. This is not the way to take a child out of the house, in the middle of the night.

"They went with shotguns, automatic weapons, tear gas. This is a very small house, and this is not the American way."

The mayor of Miami has also made his displeasure known. The Cuban-American population makes up a significant percentage of the city's population. And they have already started to make their anger evident:

In Washington, the mood is very different. Opinion polls show that a substantial proportion of non-Cuban Americans back the administration's line on Elian Gonzalez.

Many have been dismayed by what one official psychologist described earlier this week as the Miami family's manipulation of the child.

However, the image of him being bundled away in a blanket is unlikely to please many people, either.

In fact, whatever eventually transpires in this long-running saga, one wonders whether it would ever be possible, after all that has happened, for the boy to have a normal life, in Cuba or in the United States.

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See also:

18 Apr 00 | Americas
Elian's relatives at war
22 Apr 00 | Americas
In pictures: Elian seized
22 Apr 00 | Americas
Elian grabbed by US police
22 Apr 00 | Talking Point
Elian: Was force necessary?
12 Apr 00 | Americas
What awaits Elian in Cuba?
09 Apr 00 | Americas
Miami divided over Elian
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