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Published on Wednesday, April 20, 2000 in the Miami Herald
Elian's Miami Family:
Let's Discuss Character Issues
by Carl Hiaasen
After months of saying the opposite, the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez now are accusing his father of being an unfit parent.

The tactic is as predictable as it is desperate. Faced with the imminent removal of the child from their client's custody, attorneys for Elian's great-uncle Lazaro are playing their last sleazy trump card: the character smear.

Well, since they brought it up, let's talk about character. But unlike Lazaro's ace legal team, let's not toss around vague, half-whispered rumors. Let's stick to facts.

Let's talk about the DUI convictions of Lazaro and the drunk-driving accidents of Delfin Gonzalez, Elian's other attending great-uncle. Let's talk about how such incidents reflect upon their fitness to care for a 6-year-old child.

Is there an ongoing problem with alcohol abuse in the household?

A judge certainly would be curious.

And as long as we're on the character issue, let's talk about Lazaro and Delfin's twin nephews, who visited the house and played with little Elian in the days after his rescue at sea.

One of those fine upstanding citizens, Jose Cid, has a record for grand theft, forgery and violating probation. The other, Luis Cid, most recently was arrested for allegedly robbing a tourist in Little Havana.

Why were they allowed to go anywhere near Elian?

A judge surely would have the same question.

As long as we're debating character, let's look at the most damning piece of evidence pointing to the unfitness of Elian's Miami kin: That repugnant, 40-second snip of homemade propaganda released to the media last week.

Let's talk about what kind of irresponsible people sit a little boy in front of a video camera at 1 a.m. and coach him to speak out against his own father -- a father they won't even let him go see.

Let's talk about exploiting an exhausted child. Let's talk about brainwashing. Let's talk about mental abuse. It's all right there in living color, Exhibit A.

Some have remarked upon the videotape's dismaying resemblance to old POW footage from Vietnam. Instead of a weary soldier you see a weary kid, being prodded to denounce a political system he cannot possibly comprehend.

How could anyone with a conscience put a child in such an impossible position? A judge would be most interested to know.

Finally, let's talk about Juan Miguel Gonzalez, or what we know of him. He has a real job, a wife, a baby and some political beliefs with which his uncles -- and many in Miami -- disagree.

Yet, until lately, the uncles had nothing bad to say about Elian's father. Only when the Justice Department began closing in did Lazaro accuse Juan Miguel of being an abusive parent.

A judge would demand proof -- and an explanation for why the Miami family waited until the last minute to make such serious charges.

A judge might also ask why, if Juan Miguel is such a terrible father, does he have the unflagging support of Elian's maternal grandmother, whose daughter gave birth to the boy and later died on the ill-fated voyage to Florida.

This much is certain: The longer the case drags, the harder it is on the child, and the more difficult the reunion with his father will be.

The video plainly reveals what's been happening inside the house in Miami. No wonder Juan Miguel is frantic.

Each day among the great-uncles and the restless demonstrators means more emotional damage to the child -- not because they don't care about him, but because they're too selfish and self-important to let go.

Yes, let's talk about character, which means sacrifice and compassion. It means putting concern for others above self, ego and politics.

So let's talk about what kind of people would prolong a child's separation from his only living parent, when the law is clear and the outcome is inevitable.

Forget about negotiating with Lazaro Gonzalez. He had his chance to ease Elian's transition, but instead chose a standoff. That the boy might now be caught in a volatile street confrontation doesn't seem to worry his loving great-uncles.

Once all the judges are done with this mess, Janet Reno needs to end it swiftly.

Close the show, fold the tent and return the son to his father, while there is still a son left.

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald


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