A defiant Juan Miguel Gonzalez said last night that he "can't understand" why the U.S. government has been unable to return his 6-year-old son, Elian, to Cuba, and that "sometimes what I'd like to do is go [to Miami] with a rifle" and retrieve Elian himself.
Gonzalez said he has been "under absolutely no pressure" from the Cuban government or anyone else in demanding Elian's return and in refusing to appear in a Miami courtroom to fight for him. "I've been the one exerting pressure on the government to get a response, and I have received all possible support."
"I think I have been extremely clear," Gonzalez said in an interview with ABC's "Nightline." "Some people think I am under pressure . . . sometimes what I'd like to do is go there with a rifle." Asked by "Nightline's" Chris Wallace whether such a comment was "inflammatory," Gonzalez shot back, "Isn't it inflammatory what they are doing with my son?"
"I am his father," Gonzalez said. "I am asking for my child to come back here."
The interview, conducted by satellite from Havana, marked the first extensive public comments Gonzalez has made since the early days of the Elian controversy, which began in late November when the child was found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, two days after his mother and nine others fleeing Cuba drowned when their small boat capsized.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service ruled last week that Elian should be sent home to his divorced father. But a great-uncle in Miami, supported by other relatives and many in south Florida's anti-Castro Cuban American community, has insisted that he stay in this country.
The INS yesterday rejected for the second time a petition by the boy's Miami relatives that Elian be granted political asylum here, saying that only his father can make such a request on his behalf.
In her regular Thursday briefing for reporters, Attorney General Janet Reno reaffirmed her agreement with the INS decision. Asked what she was prepared to do to enforce the ruling if the relatives continue to refuse to comply, Reno said, "We don't do 'what if's.' "
The INS has so far been reluctant to enforce its order, fearing that any attempt to forcibly extricate Elian from the home of great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez would cause a major civil upheaval in Miami, have severe political consequences and traumatize the child.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez said last night that he wanted to "express my gratitude to Attorney General Janet Reno, and ask her please to do whatever is possible to bring back my son."
But he said he believes the U.S. government is under "pressure being exerted by that mafia. . . . Even though a decision was made to return him, they have been unable to carry it out. I can't understand this."
Gonzalez said he would be willing for Elian to be forcibly separated from the Miami relatives. Trauma, he said, "is what he's going through right now because he's under a lot of pressure and he's being manipulated."
"Those people are not his parents," Gonzalez said, "and I don't think that they even have any feelings."
He said Elian--who has been presented with gifts and a puppy, paraded before the media and greeted with waving American flags in public--is being subjected to "child abuse. He is being made to do things against his will. Because if he were able to say or to defend Fidel, he would do it." The reference was to Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Asked about U.S. news reports that he has left his job in the Cuban tourist industry, that he is no longer living in the home he shares with a second wife, an infant and his parents in the north-central Cuba coastal town of Cardenas, and that he is under psychiatric care, Gonzalez smiled.
Such reports, he said, are "a lie. I am still working. I continue living in my home, and I am under no type of psychiatric treatment." Smiling again, he said, "Perhaps I might be little bit crazy because I feel like breaking the necks of all those S.O.B.'s" in Miami.
Gonzalez said he speaks with his son by telephone every day. "He told me over the phone that he is dreaming about coming back to me, to be with me," he said.
Gonzalez and the Cuban government have said throughout the controversy that he would consider going to Miami only if the U.S. government assures him that he could pick up Elian. "Would it be to pick up my child, and go immediately back home?" he asked last night. "Who would guarantee that?"
Why does he not want to fight in an American court? "I'm sorry," Gonzalez responded, "but this is something I don't understand. . . . I am his father. . . . I am asking for my child."
"The problem is the suffering that both the child as well as all his relatives here are going through simply because of political reasons and also because of money," Gonzalez said.
Asked if he had anything to say to his Miami uncles and aunts who might be watching "Nightline," Gonzalez paused and said: "I say 'Hi.' Nothing else. And send my son back as soon as possible."