A senior Cuban official said yesterday that there is no point in Juan Miguel Gonzalez's traveling to Miami to pick up his 6-year-old son, Elian, without public U.S. assurance that Gonzalez will be able to take the boy home.
Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban legislature, insisted that Gonzalez is free to do as he chooses. But he said that neither Gonzalez nor the Cuban government is interested in a U.S. proposal for Gonzalez to come to Miami to ease the boy's removal from the custody of relatives there until the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service issues a formal ruling on the boy's status.
"It's one thing to cooperate in the actual implementation of a solution," Alarcon said in a telephone interview from Havana. But with a final INS decision pending, he said, U.S. officials who proposed the trip "are inviting us to cross a bridge that doesn't exist."
His comments were the latest volley in a tense standoff between the two governments. Leaders of both countries maintain they want to resolve the six-week-old controversy, but neither will commit to a course of action until the outcome is assured.
U.S. officials inquired late last week whether Havana would allow Gonzalez to travel to Miami to pick up the boy--who was rescued from the Atlantic on Nov. 25 after his mother and nine others died when the small boat in which they had fled Cuba capsized. The INS released him into the custody of his exile relatives in Miami, who have rejected entreaties from the divorced father and the Cuban government to send him home.
Although the INS is expected to rule that the father should decide what happens to his son, Elian has become a poster child for the large anti-Castro Cuban community in Miami, which has vowed to fight to keep him in this country.
U.S. authorities decided last weekend that the best chance of avoiding a court challenge to the anticipated INS decision, as well as a more spontaneous confrontation with exiles on the streets of Miami, was for the father to appear in Miami to claim the boy.
The INS insists it is still studying the matter, but a State Department spokesman said yesterday, "We expect a decision in the near future." In the meantime, the spokesman said, "We would welcome [Gonzalez's] application for a non-immigrant visa and are prepared to expedite it" once the Cuban government issues him an exit permit.
Gonzalez has said repeatedly that he has no interest in traveling to Miami and that he believes the United States has the legal responsibility to return the boy with no action on his part. Spokesmen for the Miami relatives have said that Gonzalez, who has a second wife and infant in Cuba, is being forced into taking a hard line by the Cuban government.
Alarcon said yesterday that the decision is up to Gonzalez and left open the possibility that he would travel to Miami once the issue of Elian's status is resolved. But, he said, Gonzalez has no interest in becoming involved in a protracted legal process with the exiles, or in helping the U.S. government find an easy way out of the situation.
While Washington says Havana does not understand democratic legal procedures, Havana believes Washington is dragging its feet out of fear of the politically powerful Cuban exile community.
"If I were the father and they had taken away my daughter and refused even to promise me they would give her back, when they came to ask me to help them do what they should have done in the beginning, I would demand first of all to have a clear commitment, a clear decision," Alarcon said. "Then I could cooperate."
The two governments, he said, "are in practically permanent contact" over the issue. "I'm sure cooperation can be found to resolve the difficulty after this famous decision is taken."
CAPTION: Elian Gonzalez now attends school in Miami, where he lives with relatives.