Leaders of this city's vocal Cuban exile community decided today to cancel further street protests, after the relatives of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez apparently won a reprieve in their fight against the boy's return to his father in Cuba.
Among other tactics, organizers had planned to focus on stopping traffic in and out of Miami International Airport on Monday, hoping to cripple the nation's 12th-busiest airport. That plan was put on hold after Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) issued a subpoena Friday seeking the boy's testimony before a House committee on Feb. 10. Cuban exile leaders believe the subpoena might extend a deadline for the boy's return from Friday until at least the subpoena date.
"The civil disobedience campaign has been canceled--for the moment," said Felipe Rojas, a spokesman for the anti-Castro group, the Democracy Movement. Ramon Saul Sanchez, the leader of the group who was among the first arrested Thursday in demonstrations downtown, had called for the airport maneuver.
Hundreds took to the streets here in two days of vehement but largely peaceful demonstrations this week, hoping to pressure politicians and other officials into reversing, or at least reviewing, a decision Wednesday by the Immigration and Naturalization Service that Elian belonged with his father in Cuba. The boy has become the focus of an international custody battle since Thanksgiving Day, when he was found floating in an inner tube in the Atlantic Ocean after his mother drowned trying to reach the United States.
Large trucks rumbled down the area's major thoroughfares, slowing to 10 mph and snarling rush-hour traffic. Protesters forced the closing of the Port of Miami for a brief time Thursday afternoon, and throughout the downtown area and the Cuban neighborhood of Little Havana, hundreds thronged the streets, shouting, Libertad! Police arrested more than 135 people.
The leaders of various exile groups who met this morning applauded Burton's action. They also lauded Elian's great-uncle in Miami who on Friday filed a court petition seeking to be named as the child's temporary guardian.
The Clinton administration today repeated its position that the matter "should be decided on the facts and the law and not in the political arena," White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said.
A protest rally that had been planned this afternoon was changed to one of celebration. Drivers of about 50 large trucks had planned to force another traffic slowdown. But the plan was amended, Rojas said, to allow the trucks to proceed at a reasonable speed, and with a police escort.
Meanwhile, Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees INS, met with the boy's relatives in Miami, Associated Press reported. Smith said Elian told him in Spanish: "Help me. I don't want to go back to Cuba."