Elian Gonzalez's two grandmothers were granted visas yesterday to travel from Cuba to the United States, but it was unclear early this morning if they would make the trip.
The two women, paternal grandmother Mariela Gonzalez and maternal grandmother Raquel Rodriguez, applied for and received visas from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana yesterday afternoon, according to State Department spokesman James P. Rubin. U.S. officials said the women were expected to fly to New York with representatives of the National Council of Churches, which has been active in supporting demands by the child's father and grandparents that he be returned to Cuba.
But officials said they made clear in issuing the visas that Washington could not guarantee that the two women would not be served with subpoenas, either by Congress or in two separate court actions involving Elian. Both women have refused to participate in any legal proceedings and said they would come to this country only to pick up the boy. Gonzalez reiterated that last night in Havana, telling Reuters she would make the trip only "when they tell me I can bring my grandson."
After meeting with a visiting U.S. church mediator, Raquel Rodriguez answered "no" when asked if she intended to make the trip and then emphatically wagged her finger to reinforce her negative answer, Reuters reported.
Elian has been residing with his Miami great-uncle since the Thanksgiving holiday, after he was rescued from a shipwreck in which his mother and nine others drowned. Great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, backed by many in South Florida's Cuban American community, has refused to relinquish the child despite an Immigration and Naturalization Service order that he be returned to his father.
Early this month, a Florida family court awarded Lazaro Gonzalez temporary custody of the boy on grounds he would be abused under Cuba's communist government, a ruling that Attorney General Janet Reno said had no bearing on the INS decision. On Wednesday, Miami attorneys sued Reno and the INS, charging that the INS violated Elian's constitutional rights by refusing to consider the political asylum petitions they had filed.
In Miami yesterday, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, who has been assigned the case, called a hearing to disclose facts he said either side may feel warrant his disqualification. He said his son, a state court judge in Miami, had hired Gonzalez family spokesman Armando Gutierrez as a consultant for his reelection campaign, and that his daughter is an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami. King also said he is presiding over a trial that may last another two to three weeks, so he cannot immediately begin the Elian case. He asked that the two legal teams return to court at noon today with an answer.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor published yesterday, President Clinton implicitly criticized members of Congress who have said they will propose citizenship for Elian when Congress returns next week as a way of keeping him here.
"This is not Winston Churchill," Clinton said. Apart from Churchill, only a handful of foreigners have been made honorary citizens. According to the INS, no one has ever been made a genuine citizen by an act of Congress.
"We need to think long and hard" about refusing to reunite a child with his parent, Clinton said, "if we don't like the government" where that parent lives.
DeYoung reported from Washington, Pressley from Miami. Special correspondent Catharine Skipp in Miami contributed to this report.