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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Elian's trauma 'to increase'
Elian Gonzalez
Elian still has to deal with his mother's death
By BBC News Online's Kate Goldberg

At the centre of the custody battle raging around Elian Gonzalez is a six-year-old boy, traumatised by his mother's death and confused by the furore surrounding his future.

But both sides of the dispute have jumped on the psychological bandwagon, claiming that Elian's emotional scars will be that much deeper if they are not given custody.


Children need familiar places and routines so they can re-enter daily life while still feeling free to be sad or angry

Preston Wiles
The Miami relatives have wheeled out psychologists who say that Elian would suffer irreversible depression if he were to return to Cuba.

The relatives in Cuba argue that the boy desperately needs the love and protection of his father, and the security of his own home.

This view has been echoed by psychologists and psychiatrists in the US.

"If children who suffer this kind of loss are fortunate enough to have surviving parents and grandparents, they need to be with them.

"They need familiar places and routines so they can re-enter daily life while still feeling free to be sad or angry," writes child psychiatrist Preston Wiles in the New York Times.

Allegations of abuse

At present, the Miami relatives are at a distinct advantage, as they have been able to determine which psychologists have access to Elian.

Psychologist Alina Lopez-Gottardi said Elian is afraid of being sent back to his father.


The most important thing is not to yank him away from the stability and security that is keeping his fragile world intact

Mitch Spiro
"This fear is based on Elian's direct experience of his father, who he says, often expresses his anger in an out-of-control and abusive manner," she said in a news conference.

And psychologist Mitch Spiro said that Elian has formed a strong bond with his 21-year-old cousin, Marisleysis.

"The most important thing is not to yank him away from the stability and security that is keeping his fragile world intact," he said.

However, Jon Shaw, a child psychiatrist at the University of Miami, said bereaved children will reach out to anyone who seems loving and caring to fill the parental void.

"A child who is traumatised is going to want to attach and bond to almost anyone who is loving and caring.

"Clearly he's going to want to please the people who are taking care of him here. That doesn't mean he won't be able to readjust once he's back in Cuba."

Child at sea

Since arriving in the US four months ago, Elian has been taken to Disney World, given a puppy and showered with presents.


My Mum is not dead. She must have lost her memory and doesn't know I'm here

Elian Gonzalez
As protesters and photographers swarm around his house, the boy has been made into a child celebrity, and held up as political trophy.

All this will have done little to help him come to terms with the horrific events of his recent past.

After watching his mother and 10 others drown in the Florida Straits last November, the little boy floated alone for two days on an inner tube.

Children of his age have difficulties comprehending death at the best of times, but in Elian's case the family wrangling that has followed complicates matters enormously.

His Miami relatives have accused his father of pretending that his mother is still alive in Cuba, as a way of luring him home.

Whatever the truth of this, Elian is certainly confused.

"My Mum is not dead. She must have lost her memory and doesn't know I'm here," he said in a TV interview.

Indoctrination

Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits have alleged that Elian is at risk of political indoctrination, an accusation that has particular resonance in a dispute that is largely about ideology.


He would be pressured to erase any positive memories of his stay in the United States

Dr Marta Molina
Elian's Miami relatives say they are worried about the political and psychological pressures the boy would be subjected to in Cuba.

Dr Marta Molina, a Cuban-born psychologist, said the boy would be taken into seclusion in order to be reindoctrinated in Communist ideology.

He would be pressured to erase any positive memories of his stay in the US - a process that could lead to depression and psychological trauma, she said.

However, Cubans on the island say that Elian has already been indoctrinated in the US, and is being turned into a "toy-obsessed capitalist".

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27 Jan 00 | Americas
Elian reunited with grandmothers
07 Apr 00 | Americas
Cubans threaten Miami disruption
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