THE HEROIC BEHAVIOR OF ELIANíS GRANDMOTHERS

 

Certain events took place yesterday about which our people and the international public should be informed.

At 1:00 in the afternoon on Saturday, January 22, the day on which Elian Rodríguezís grandmothers met in Washington with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris Meissner, they expressed their wish to see the child. They also requested that he be brought to New York so that they could spend at least a few hours with him before the U.S. administration made its final decision to return him to his family, in compliance with the INSí assertion of the father full custody rights backed by the Attorney General and by the president of the United States himself.

When the Attorney General explained that it would be impossible to bring the child to New York, paternal grandmother Mariela Rodríguez, backed by maternal grandmother Raquel Quintana, stated that they were not at all afraid and would be willing to travel to Miami to see the child, in the understanding that they would never accept to meet him in the house where he was being held kidnapped. They wanted to meet with him alone, in a quiet place, and not in the middle of a circus.

They were promised that their request would be considered and given a swift response. Various different options were even analyzed.

On the next day, Sunday January 23, they were notified that there was a possibility of their meeting with their grandson in Miami on Monday, January 24. They were told that a suitable location was being sought among various options but that if the information were leaked to the public, the meeting would not be possible.

They were informed that on Sunday morning, representatives of the INS would be in communication with the lawyers who had filed the appeal against the Attorney Generalís decision overruling the verdict of Judge Rosa Rodríguez, who had granted temporary custody to the boyís great-uncle. Later, they were optimistically told that a positive response was expected no later than that same night.

Attorney General Janet Reno submitted a concrete plan to the grandmothers which was studied by them and by Reverends Robert Edgar, Joan Brown Campbell and Oscar Bolioli, press director for the National Council of Churches of Christ:

  1. They would leave New York for Miami on a charter plane at noon on Monday, January 24. The grandmothers would travel accompanied by Reverends Edgar, Campbell and Bolioli and by Reverend Pablo Odén Marichal, president of the Cuban Council of Churches.
  2. The flight would take three hours. Probable landing sites were Opalocka, Fort Lauderdale or Homestead, not the Miami International Airport.
  3. The INS would guarantee a prompt arrival at the landing place and provide heavy protection all the way to the location chosen for the grandmothersí meeting with their grandson.
  4. The meeting would take place at a center for spiritual retreat whose exact structure and location had not been announced but which apparently was a building complex.
  5. Lázaro González, who is holding Elian, would turn the boy over to the INS in a house within the aforementioned complex; the INS would take the child to another house designated for the meeting. The participants in the meeting would be Elianís grandmothers and a psychologist from the federal INS, who would be present as a neutral observer of the proceedings. Whether or not Reverend Campbell would be present was still a matter pending discussion.
  6. In any event, Reverends Marichal, Edgar, Campbell and Bolioli would be in an adjacent room of the same house. The grandmothersí visit with the child would last two hours. It was possible that at some point they could be left entirely alone.
  7. Commissioner Meissner gave her assurances that none of the Miami relatives would be present at the meeting or even in the same house.
  8. A press conference was tentatively scheduled to take place at the end of the meeting, at around 6:00 p.m.
  9. Also tentatively scheduled for after the meeting was a dinner that would presumably be attended by the INS but most likely not by Elian. Participants in the dinner that would take place in a non-specified different location would include the grandmothers, Reverends Marichal, Edgar, Campbell and Bolioli and the INS. The latter would guarantee that none of the Miami relatives were present.
  10. Once the dinner was over, the grandmothers would fly directly from Miami to Havana.
  11. The INS gave its assurances that there would be no press or demonstrators at the place of the meeting with Elian.

In the evening of Sunday, January 23, Commissioner Meissner telephoned the Council of Churches of Christ and expressed the view that they did not expect the childís distant relatives in Miami to oppose the planned visit. She added that their final response might not be known that same night, as had originally been said, but rather on Monday morning. She also reiterated what the Attorney General Reno had said earlier: that in the event of a request for a grandmothersí meeting with the child, if Lázaro González refused to proceed in accordance with the arranged plan, she would immediately issue a federal order and open a case that would render it absolutely compulsory for them to immediately comply. That is, the INS would force the relatives to comply and, even if they refused, the meeting would take place, most likely on Monday afternoon.

Although the INS and the Attorney Generalís Office were almost absolutely certain that the people who are holding the child would not be able to reject this proposal, the plan involved four major risks:

  1. The almost certain leaking of this information to the public by the counterrevolutionary mob and its subsequent maneuvers to prevent the meeting.
  2. A categorical refusal by the kidnappers.
  3. The building of such obstacles and conditions as would render the meeting impossible.
  4. The arbitrary and unjustified idea about the grandmothersí immediate return to Cuba.

From the time they arrived in New York, the grandmothers have been in constant telephone contact with Elianís father, great-grandmother and grandfathers, who have been closely following their every step in the United States, through television coverage as well. The family learned of all the details of the plan proposed as the information was received in Cuba. That Sunday afternoon, the grandmothers consulted the rest of the family as to how they should proceed. That is, whether they should return to Cuba after the meeting, or go back to Washington to meet with lawmakers and other public figures who had expressed an interest in talking to them, which is what they wanted to do to continue the fight for the childís liberation. On Monday morning, they received a letter written on Sunday before midnight and signed by all of their closest relatives, which in substance reads:

"Mariela and Raquel:

"If the trip to Miami takes place, we believe that once you have finished the activities, you should return to Washington.

"It is very important to continue with the battle there for a few more days. Tomorrow, Monday, Congress will begin its sessions where a resolution will be discussed to grant U.S. citizenship to Elian while a response is still pending about the meeting requested by important members of Congress. It would be very useful to speak with them and continue arguing for Elianís return.

"We are all fine, happy and proud of your efforts and courage, and we will continue to keep in touch regularly by telephone. We also see you often on television, and you look very well.

"You would be staying with a family that works at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, close to that office. You will be provided with all the necessary comfort, communication with us, security and complete legal protection.

"You can invite Reverend Campbell to accompany you, if she wants to.

"You will have the full support of our countryís diplomatic mission.

"You should not miss out on this opportunity for any reason, otherwise you would obtain barely 30% of the benefits of this extraordinary trip and the success you have already achieved.

"Do not let anyone try to persuade you that the best thing would be for you to return to Cuba that same day.

"It is most important to meet with the members of Congress who have defended Elianís return and to win the support of the largest possible number of lawmakers in order to ensure that nothing can prevent the boyís return.

(...)

"Although we are very eager to see you and embrace you again, we are prepared to do without you for a few more days.

"Lots of kisses,

"Juan Miguel, Juanito, Rolando, Mamá Nena, Tonito, Elianne and Nelsy."

At this point, it should be said that both the Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ and the INS had expressed the view that once the proposed meeting had taken place in Miami, the grandmothers should travel straight back to Cuba.

On Monday they got up at 5:00 a.m. They went out at 6:00 a.m., and appeared on a number of television programs.

When they got back to the house, at around 9:00 a.m., they found the family letter and they phoned home to express their full agreement with its contents. At 9:30 a.m., Reverend Edgar called them and reiterated that he did not believe the trip to Washington was advisable. They told him that it was, and that they were determined to go.

At that moment, they still did not know the Miami mobís reaction to the plans made by the Attorney General and the INS although the plane was scheduled to depart barely two hours later.

At around 11:00 a.m., they received a message from INS Commissioner Meissner informing them that the proposed plan had not been accepted in Miami, and that they would only be allowed to visit with the child in the home of the great-uncle, a place constantly surrounded by cameras and counterrevolutionaries, as everyone knows. However, the INS insisted that the trip should be made in any event, because the Attorney Generalís Office would request a federal judge to issue a legal order forcing the relatives to surrender the child to the INS in Miami, in order for the meeting with the grandmothers to take place in the manner and location previously arranged. The grandmothers were also asked to make contact with the treacherous great-uncle in order to facilitate things. They immediately responded to the INS Commissioner as follows:

"Commissioner Doris Meissner:

"Our goal is to visit our grandson and take him back home with us to his father and his family in Cuba. We will go to Miami today. We plan to see Elian in a neutral and controlled location, in the absence of other family members. A conversation among family members is a possibility, but it must take place in a neutral location. This is a matter to be dealt with among adults, which cannot interfere with our private visit with Elian. If the family cannot accept this proposal, then we have no choice but to ask Janet Reno to ask a federal judge to make a decision today."

(grandmothersí signatures)

At 12:47 p.m., with admirable determination, the grandmothers took off for Dade County, the lair of the counterrevolutionary mob in Miami.

They landed at 3:30 p.m. at Tamiami Airport amidst chaos. Nobody was waiting for them, except for an official sent by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington with a cellular phone, who was not allowed to enter the airport and make contact with the grandmothers and their traveling companions. It was not until a full hour later that the latter managed to call the INS headquarters in Washington. The grandmothers were then asked to call someone neutral in the city since those who holding the child captive refused to meet in the chosen location and would only agree to do so in their own house.

In a last effort for both grandmothers to be able to meet with the child, Mariela made telephone contact with Manolo, another great-uncle of the child but one who has consistently supported his return to Cuba, even at the risk of losing his job and becoming the target of hostility by the counterrevolutionary mob. He was persuaded to allow his house to be used for the meeting. Mariela reported this decision to the INS, which asked her to swallow yet another bitter pill: to call the infamous great-uncle and propose that he brought the child to the house of this common relative. The hateful man refused to comply and insulted her instead. Once more the noble grandmother was seen in tears.

Over four long hours were taken up with telephone calls, recommendations from the INS in Washington, and meetings of the group, which in the end included a local INS representative and the official from our Interests Section who finally managed to fight his way in to speak with the grandmothers and the leaders of the Council of Churches, and thus to inform the Cuban Interests Section in Washington and the family and authorities in our country about what was going on in that room at the airport.

Meanwhile, the place where the child is being held captive had been transformed into a disgraceful show. A banquet had been laid out, as announced, with tables set up and laden with paella and roast pork, welcome placards, mobsters bearing bouquets of white flowers, a crowd of television cameras and radio microphones. And reigning over this circus were none other than the ferocious she-wolf, Ileana Ross-Lethinen; Basulto, the man behind the violations of Cuban air space; Ramón Saúl Sánchez, organizer of naval flotillas; the heckler at the baseball games in Winnipeg and Baltimore and other well-known counterrevolutionary mobsters making all kinds of statements and chanting victory. The banquet was a publicity show.

This was what became of the idyllic plans made by the Attorney Generalís Office and the INS. Even worse, people in positions of authority there continued to insist that Mariela and Raquel should return to Cuba. The plane was ready. The grandmothers made their decision: they would fly back to Washington with the courageous and noble Reverends Joan Brown Campbell, Oscar Bolioli and Pablo Odén Marichal. Reverend Robert Edgar would remain at the airport to meet the press and recount the events. Among other things, he said to the press:

"We did not trust the security around the house." "The family in Miami has turned it into a circus."

"They did something shameless telling the child that there was going to be a party."

"The grandmothers are prepared to meet with Elián González, but only in a neutral location."

If the program drawn up by the Attorney Generalís Office and the INS is strictly guaranteed as it was presented to them, they are prepared to return to Miami to meet with their grandson. They will not give up their fight. The INS already reported last night that it has filed a demand with a federal judge to order that the child be relinquished to the INS for the meeting promised to the grandmothers and that if it is not complied with, other more severe measures could be adopted.

The counterrevolutionary mob has once again shown their despicable and cowardly nature.

They said that the grandmothers would never travel to the United States, but they did travel there.

They said they would not move from New York but they did move.

They said they would never go to Miami but they did go, and are even prepared to go back.

Next, the grandmothers will concentrate their efforts in the fight against the repugnant plans of the counterrevolutionary mob and the extreme right in Congress to turn their beloved and deeply Cuban grandson into a U.S. citizen, an honor that neither the innocent child nor his self-sacrificing and humble family have requested, and which no one has the legal or moral right to impose upon him by force.

 

Editorial published by Granma newspaper on January 25th, 2000.