Grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez meet With New England lawmakers
By Caren Benjamin, Associated Press, 1/25/00
WASHINGTON -- New England lawmakers swapped baby pictures with the grandmothers of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez on Tuesday and offered support for the women's emotional pleas to send the boy back to Cuba.
After closed-door meetings with the grandmothers, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Massachusetts Democratic Reps. James McGovern and J. Joseph Moakley, expressed disgust at what they said are attempts to manipulate a child's future to fit a political aim.
McGovern, who matched the grandmother's pictures of Elian with photos of his 20-month-old son, said the experience has been devastating for the women.
"They were crying uncontrollably. They are frustrated and puzzled that there are members of Congress that want to deny them what they believe is the most basic human right -- the right to be a family," McGovern said after meeting with Elian's maternal grandmother Raquel Rodriquez and paternal grandmother Mariela Quintana.
Elian was found clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast on Nov. 25 and has since been living with relatives in this country. His American family members are trying to keep him here. His mother and 10 other Cubans died trying to reach the United States.
Bills to declare the boy a U.S. citizen were introduced Monday in both the House and the Senate.
In the House, rival but unbinding legislation was introduced urging that Elian be sent back to live with his father in Cuba.
First and foremost, the New England lawmakers agree, this is not a political issue. "The idea that the Senate can determine the fate of a 6-year-old boy is pathetic on its face," said Dodd, a sponsor of legislation to end the 40-year-old trade embargo with Cuba.
The Senate's granting the child citizenship against the will of his father is akin to "legislative kidnapping," said Moakley, who has also been active in trying to revamp U.S-Cuba policy.
"Imagine if it were reversed and some mother here tried to take a kid back to Cuba. We'd send in the Marines, grab the kid and bodily bring him back," Moakley said.
Moakley said he met with Quintana and Rodriquez to reassure them "that everyone in the U.S. is not trying to take this child away."
Dodd said he also wanted to meet the child's family in part to sort out reports about what kind of environment Elian was raised in and what his mother was fleeing when she left Cuba.
He said Rodriquez told him her daughter was leaving Cuba because her boyfriend had pressured her to join him in the United States.
Other senators at that afternoon meeting included Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel. The senators said they learned Elian actually lived with his father most of the time and had a new baby brother back in Cuba he loved to play with.
The bottom line, Dodd said, is "there are good families in bad countries."