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The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Miami
"Once again the pendulum of fortune has swung the way of the Miami relatives"
 real 28k

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant
"It's a victory for the Miami relatives who've been caring for the boy"
 real 28k

Friday, 28 January, 2000, 01:50 GMT
Elian family feud hots up

Elian Gonzalez Elian leaves Wednesday's meeting with his relatives

The grandmothers of a Cuban boy at the centre of an international custody battle in America have accused their Florida relatives of turning him against them.

Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez has been living at an uncle's house in Miami since surviving a shipwreck while trying to illegally enter the United States last November, and has been caught in a highly politicised row ever since.

His mother and stepfather were among those who drowned in the attempt to reach the US.

His grandmothers met him on Wednesday, the first time he had seen any family members from Cuba since his ordeal.

Marisleysis Gonzalez Marisleysis Gonzalez: Leading the fight for Elian's Miami relatives
"He's a whole different boy. He's changed completely," paternal grandmother Mariela Quintana told reporters on Thursday.

"We have to save this boy as soon as possible and bring him back to his family in Cuba."

She and maternal grandmother Raquel Rodriguez said they came away from the meeting convinced that Elian wanted to go home and vowed to continue fighting until his return.

'Face of fear'

But the boy's relatives in Miami, who have been granted temporary custody, hotly contest this, saying he should stay with them and be brought up in the US.

"He doesn't want to go back," said Marisleysis Gonzalez, one of his cousins.

Sister O'Laughlin Reunion host Sister O'Laughlin has sided with the Miami relatives
"I saw him approach his grandmothers and had the opportunity to see his face, and it was still the face of fear."

In an apparent boost to the Miami relatives, one of the nuns who hosted Wednesday's reunion has broken her silence on the matter and now says the boy should remain in the US.

Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin told the BBC that the two grandmothers were being manipulated by the Castro government and were living in fear.

"It makes me think and feel that if the mother of this child had sensed that kind of fear, then she chose to get herself and her son to the United States."

Legal moves

A day after the meeting, recriminations over Elian's fate are continuing.

Both factions of the family are in Washington lobbying members of Congress for and against his return to Cuba.

Republican politicians are trying to push through a law to grant the boy US residency or citizenship - a move that would take the case out of the jurisdiction of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which has ruled he should be returned to his father in Cuba.

The battle is also being fought in Miami's federal court where the INS has filed papers responding to a court challenge against the organisation's decision that Elian be sent home.

The court said on Thursday that it would begin hearing the case in the week beginning 6 March, meaning that Elian will remain in the US until at least then.

Anger in Cuba

Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, expressed rage on Thursday at the conditions in which his son's reunion with his grandmothers had been held.

He blamed anti-Castro protesters for "ruining everything", and complained that the grandmothers' cellular phones had been confiscated, denying him a chance to speak to Elian for the first time since his rescue without the presence of their Miami relatives.

In another development, Mr Gonzalez said he was offered millions of dollars, a car and a house by his relatives in Miami.

In a sworn statement to the US immigration service, he said they had repeatedly tried to tempt him with offers to come to the US, but he had refused.

The Cuban Government, meanwhile, said the encounter had been characterised by lies and tricks.

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See also:
27 Jan 00 |  Americas
Elian battle on Capitol Hill
27 Jan 00 |  Americas
Cuba denounces Miami 'lies and humiliation'
27 Jan 00 |  Americas
Elian reunited with grandmothers
20 Jan 00 |  Americas
Clinton enters row over Cuba boy
19 Jan 00 |  Americas
Elian relatives seek court ruling
16 Jan 00 |  Americas
Analysis: Politics cloud Elian case

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