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Thursday, 6 January, 2000, 13:12 GMT
Cuba: Fight for boy continues

US relatives plan to appeal the decision to return Elian to Cuba

The Cuban Government says it will continue its legal struggle and hold daily public rallies for the return of a boy at the the centre of an international custody battle.

The government reacted cautiously to an official US announcement that six-year-old Elian Gonzalez, who has been staying with relatives in Miami, would be reunited with his father.

I always thought this was a place of liberty, and they are not letting him keep that liberty
Marisleysis Gonzalez, Elian's cousin

A government statement read out at a Havana rally on Wednesday warned that Cuban exiles in Miami would seek to delay the decision by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

"Nothing is certain concerning his return to Cuba," said student leader Hassan Perez.

There is no legal basis to block Elian's return. If this child came from anywhere else, he would have been home within 48 hours
David Abraham, immigration law professor

Elian's US relatives insist that his mother, who drowned trying to reach Florida as an illegal immigrant, had intended him to live in the US, rather than communist Cuba.

But his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, wants him to come home.

Legal battle

Elian Gonzalez was shipwrecked off the US coast in November after his mother, stepfather and nine other refugees died trying to reach Florida.

Doris Meissner of the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) said on Wednesday that it had decided that Elian should be reunited with his father, and called for his return by 14 January.

Ms Meissner said reuniting families "has long been a cornerstone of both American immigration law and U.S. practice." The boy, "who has been through so much, belongs with his father," she said.

Symbol of freedom

Relatives in Miami, who have turned the boy into a symbol of Cubans fleeing the island, say they will challenge the US immigration service decision at a federal court.

Hundreds of Cuban-Americans protested outside of Elian's home

They said their lawyers have asked Attorney General Janet Reno to reverse the decision and planned to ask a federal judge for a restraining order.

They contend the INS is violating its own rules by not allowing the boy to apply for asylum.

Mother's wishes

"I always thought this was a place of liberty, and they are not letting him keep that liberty," said Marisleysis Gonzalez, a cousin.

"It's always about the father. What about the mother? That was his mother's will."

US officials believe the courts are likely to favour Elian's natural father, especially as he appears to have proved that he can provide the loving, family environment the boy needs after such a traumatic ordeal.

David Abraham, an immigration law professor at the University of Miami, said the family will not have much of a case.

"There is no legal basis to block Elian's return," Mr Abraham said. "If this child came from anywhere else, he would have been home within 48 hours."

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See also:
06 Jan 00 |  Americas
Analysis: US-Cuba relations in the spotlight
06 Jan 00 |  Americas
Battle rages over Cuban boy
05 Jan 00 |  Americas
Cuba boy decision: Despair and delight
05 Jan 00 |  Americas
Moves to solve shipwreck custody battle
13 Dec 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Shipwrecked Cuban boy stirs mixed emotions
07 Dec 99 |  Americas
In pictures: Shipwreck boy sparks protests
06 Jan 00 |  Talking Point
Should the Cuban boy go back?

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