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The BBC's Tom Gibb
"Cuban state television has been playing the clip over and over again"
 real 28k

Tom Gibb
assesses the impact on Cuba-US relations
 real 28k

Friday, 14 January, 2000, 07:53 GMT
Bizarre twist in custody battle

Elian has been the subject of an intense battle

The custody battle over a six-year-old Cuban boy has taken a new twist with both sides now arguing about a faint recording giving some hint about what the child himself wants.

The clip captures Elian Gonzalez pointing to an aeroplane and appearing to say in Spanish: "I want you to send me back to Cuba."

But the recording is so indistinct that he could easily have said the opposite.

Elian was found clinging to an inner tube off the coast of Florida on 25 November, after his mother, stepfather and nine other would-be illegal immigrants drowned fleeing Cuba.

Elian has apparently expressed some opinion

He is currently with a great uncle in Florida but his father and grandparents want him back in Cuba.

Elian's case has become highly politicised and he is constantly faced with crowds of television cameras.

The US Government is sticking to its decision to send Elian back to Cuba, but is allowing time for an appeal to a federal court by relatives in Miami.

Language experts

Outside the courts everyone is now arguing about the indistinct recording.

US television networks have been consulting language experts to try to determine what Elian actually said.

Cuban state television has been playing the clip over and over again arguing that this proves the boy should be returned to the island.

State television has also been showing an interview with Elian's maternal grandmother who is still grieving for her drowned daughter.

She says that, despite what the politicians in Florida say, she is sure her daughter's dying wish would not have been for Elian to stay there but rather to return to his family in Cuba.

But our correspondent Tom Gibb says neither the indistinct words of a small confused boy, nor the unknown last wish of his dead mother will affect the outcome of the case in court.

Major political issue

The US Attorney-General, Janet Reno, has appealed for all those involved in the custody battle to put politics aside and think of the child's welfare.

Miss Reno said it was important to work through the legal processes as soon as possible and get the boy back to his father.

Whatever happens with respect to the little boy, it should be done soon so that he can get on with his life
Janet Reno, US Attorney-General

Asked if Elian was becoming a major political issue caught between the Cuban Government, the Cuban-American community and US presidential candidates, Miss Reno said: "I hope with all my heart and soul that that won't happen."

In Miami, Democracy Movement leader Ramon Saul Sanchez, who has spearheaded the Cuban exile campaign to keep Elian in the US, said exile groups had met to plan their next move.

He said it was too late to keep politics out of the case. "It got political from the first moment. The one who made it political is Fidel Castro," he added.

Temporary custody

Miss Reno also strongly defended a decision last week by the US immigration authorities to return Elian to Cuba.

However, earlier this week, she lifted a 14 January deadline set by the immigration authorities for him to return home, and pointed the way for further litigation by saying legal challenges should come before a federal court.

On Monday, a Florida judge granted temporary custody to Elian's Miami-based great uncle, ruling that he should stay in the US until a hearing about his future on 6 March.

Meanwhile, protests are expected to continue in Cuba where the press has announced there will be an unprecedented march of 100,000 mothers on Friday.

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See also:
12 Jan 00 |  Americas
Reno backs Cuban boy's return
11 Jan 00 |  Americas
Cuba boy ruling under fire
06 Jan 00 |  Americas
Analysis: US-Cuba relations in the spotlight
13 Dec 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Shipwrecked Cuban boy stirs mixed emotions
06 Jan 00 |  Talking Point
Should the Cuban boy go back?
10 Jan 00 |  Americas
Judge backs Cuban exiles
08 Jan 00 |  Americas
Cuban anger at custody move

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