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The BBC's Tom Gibb
"Fidel Castro is keeping the volume turned up in this massive propaganda exercise"
 real 28k

The BBC's Richard Lister
"The little boy seems destined to remain in the United States for some time yet"
 real 28k

Thursday, 9 December, 1999, 03:33 GMT
Diplomacy effort over shipwreck boy
Elian Gonzalez Elian Gonzalez celebrated his sixth birthday in Miami


The United States is to send a diplomatic note to Cuba outlining the steps being taken in Washington to resolve the dispute over a six-year-old Cuban boy who was rescued off the Florida coast last month.

The note, expected to be delivered within the next 24 hours, comes in response to Cuba's demand last week that the boy be returned to his father.


"The question is - and I think the most important thing is - what would be best for the child.
President Bill Clinton
Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez was shipwrecked while he and other Cuban migrants were trying to reach the US last month. His mother and stepfather drowned, but Elian survived by clinging to an inner tube for two days.

Elian's relatives in Miami took him in and want him to stay with them in the US. But his father in Cuba, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has formally demanded his son's return.

Thousands of protesters in the Cuban capital, Havana, have been demanding Elian's return. For the fourth day running on Wednesday, crowds thronged outside the United States mission calling for the boy to be repatriated immediately.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro has accused the US of kidnapping the boy.

'No threats'

However US President Bill Clinton said on Wednesday that politics should be kept out of the international custody battle.

"The question is - and I think the most important thing is - what would be best for the child. And there is a legal process for determining that," Mr Clinton said.

"I don't think politics or threats should have anything to do with it - and if I have my way, it won't."

Havana demo Tens of thousands have marched in Havana
The US president said he thought "all fathers would be sympathetic" to the case of Juan Miguel Gonzalez, but said "what is best for the child" is the highest concern.

He suggested that officials in both nations "try to take as much political steam out of it as possible" for the child's sake.

On Tuesday, the Clinton administration said it recognised the father's right to assert his claim to take his son home even though Elian says he wants to stay in Miami.

Condemnation

The BBC's Richard Lister in Washington says the case has put Washington in a highly awkward position.

The US authorities must decide whether to return him to a regime they consider to be repressive, or keep him in the US and deny his father custody. Either decision will face condemnation, our correspondent says.

The Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) will review the case and could make a decision by 23 December.

Fidel Castro Fidel Castro: "Kidnap"
The dispute threatens to overshadow immigration talks between Cuba and the US which are scheduled to start on 13 December.

However a separate dispute over six Cubans who allegedly hijacked a tourist boat to Florida earlier this week appeared to be heading towards its resolution, after the US announced that it would send them back to Cuba on Thursday.

The president of the Cuban parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, has welcomed the US promise to return the six Cubans.

However US officials now say this will be contingent on the Florida district attorney not filing charges against the men in the US.

The BBC's Tom Gibb in Havana says if either this case, or that of Elian, does end up in the Florida courts, the war of words is likely to continue.

Fidel Castro has called Florida judges corrupt and banal, and he argues that the US is breaking migration accords between the two countries by not sending people intercepted at sea straight back to the island.

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See also:
08 Dec 99 |  Americas
Cuba-US row deepens
06 Dec 99 |  Americas
Cuban custody row escalates
07 Dec 99 |  Americas
In pictures: Shipwreck boy sparks protests
05 Dec 99 |  Americas
Castro warns US over shipwreck boy
29 Nov 99 |  Americas
Cuban shipwreck boy in tug-of-love
21 Sep 99 |  Americas
Life for Cuba 'people smuggler'

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