Yesterday, Granma published extensive information regarding Eliánís grandmothersí second trip to Miami to try to meet with their grandson. Despite all the obstacles, irregularities, indiscretions, lies and dirty tricks they have confronted, the courageous women boarded the plane to Miami, although they had yet to receive a response to several major issues raised with the State Department and the INS.
As it was published here and informed to the international press agencies yesterday, a message sent to the grandmothers before they left Washington by Eliánís father, grandfathers and great-grandfather stated the following in its first paragraph: "You will receive a cell phone in the morning. We will call you after you have been with the boy for an hour in Miami. If we are not able to get through to you at that time, you should call us because we want to talk to the child while he is completely free there with you." It was no secret. Millions of readers and television viewers knew it. Who could question such a basic human right?
Although almost none of the issues left pending had been resolved when the grandmothers arrived in Miami, their closest relatives in Cuba called them at the Opalocka Airport, just minutes after landing, to analyze the situation and despite the humiliating conditions surrounding their visit with the child the boyís father himself, speaking on behalf of the whole family, supported the grandmothers decision to show up at the house chosen by the INS, the property of a nun who is the president of Barry University in Miami. The fervent hope that the whole family would be able to speak with the child while he was with his courageous grandmothers was a primary element in this decision.
After travelling by helicopter, the grandmothers proudly crossed the threshold of the luxurious mansion at 5:15. Two nuns, the security chief and other authorities awaited them. The university president nun accompanied them to a room on the second floor, where they would receive Elián. Reverend Campbell was allowed to accompany them this far, but was then immediately removed from the house.
Two highly unusual things happened later. First, a blond woman came into the room leading Elián by the hand; a nun accompanied him on the other side. According to the agreed plan, two nuns would bring the child to the meeting with his grandmothers. Elián threw himself into Marielaís arms, and in the midst of all the excitement she did not realize who had entered the room with him. The woman remained in the room for several minutes before Raquel realized who she was. It was none other than the infamous and hysterical Marisleysis, well-known for her diatribes and insults against Eliánís real family, who have been demanding that the child be returned, the daughter of Lázaro, the great-uncle responsible for the monstrosity of the childís treacherous abduction in complicity with the counterrevolutionary mob. This was a genuine provocation. Mariela ordered that she leave the room immediately.
But, something even more disgusting happened approximately 20 minutes later. The family, impatient as it was to speak with the boy, called Mariela on her cell phone. Juan Miguel happily greeted his mother, then passed the phone for a couple of minutes to his father, grandpa Juanito. The cellular phone was then given to Elián, and after a highly emotional greeting, the father began to converse with his missing son. Suddenly, a nun opened the room door and said to the grandmothers that they were not allowed to talk on the phone. A police officer ordered them to hand over the telephones. Both grandmothers handed him the cell phones they were carrying. The conversation was thus interrupted. Through the cell phone that Mariela had been speaking on, which had obviously not been turned off, Juan Miguel continued to hear the voice of a man speaking in English. It is easy to imagine the grief and anxiety that this caused the family.
Informed of what had happened, various comrades immediately took action. In coordination with Remírez, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, repeated phone calls were made to Shapiro, head of the Cuba Desk at the U.S. State Department; Wendy Sherman, head advisor at the State Department; and Vicki Huddleston, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Remírez also called a number of sympathetic public figures in Washington.
Through Josefina Vidal, a Cuban Interests Section official who had remained at the airport with a cell phone, Reverend Campbell was asked to demand an explanation from the university president nun and the INS chief representative at the meeting place. Successive urgent calls were placed and repeated. Not a minute could be lost in trying to reestablish communication with the grandmothers and the child. It was repeatedly stressed that what had taken place was an act of unjustifiable cruelty. Shapiro did not know anything, and neither did Wendy Sherman. They would look into it. Meissner was equally ignorant of the entire matter. So was Vicki Huddleston.
The university president nun said that the telephones had not been subject to negotiation, a curious argument on something so obvious that nobody ever mentioned it. Later on, the State Department explained that it was not a prohibition, but rather a technical problem with the cell phone, which was being quickly repaired. The family watched the time pass in desperation, as if in a race against the clock.
It was almost 7:00 p.m. when Shapiro, Wendy Sherman, Doris Meissner and Vicki Huddleston informed Remírez in Washington and comrade Alarcón in Havana that we were right. One way or another they all concurred that it was an injustice, that the grandmothers should be given the opportunity for cell or direct telephone communication with the family in Cuba. The Dominican nun, president of the aforementioned university in Miami, in whose "neutral" home the meeting was held, and the INS chief representative there, told lie after lie and never did manage to provide a coherent and logical explanation for this uncivilized and cruel action.
At 7:20 p.m., the boyís father, Juan Miguel, along with his uncle Tony, grandfathers, great-grandmother and other relatives, all of them anxious to speak with Elián, heard on an U.S. station that the visit had ended.
In an extremely brief conversation, upon leaving the famous house that had been a prison and place of isolation for them, the grandmothers reported that the cell phones had been seized by a police officer as something prohibited. On numerous occasions they had been interrupted by repeated entries and exits by people supposedly at their service, bringing them juice, snacks and other tidbits. They sensed something intentional and organized behind the repeated attempts to pass on sweetly worded messages purportedly sent by relatives living in Miami, with dubious attitudes towards the counterrevolutionary mob.
The way in which the grandmotherís visit with the child was brought to an end was equally harsh and unpleasant. The university president nun suddenly burst into the room and in a peremptory tone declared the end of the meeting. They had barely had an hour and a half with the boy altogether.
Before the grandmothers left Washington, when Mr. Shapiro was asked about the additional hour requested for the visit he had assured our Interests Section that Eliánís grandmothers and the boy would have unlimited time together, actually all the time they wanted.
Elián left deeply moving and gratifying memories to his grandmothers. He affectionately kissed them the moment he saw them. He then examined with great interest, voicing comments and questions, the album with photographs of him and his family they took with them. Also, the drawings sent by his schoolmates, crayons, a cloth clown with three paintbrushes to color it, first-grade handwriting and mathematics workbooks, and a small cartoons book with the adventures of Elpidio Valdés, which the boy asked his grandmother Raquel to read to him, as she had done so many times when he lived with her.
Mariela recounted that when he bid her farewell with a hug for his father and for her, Elián squeezed her so hard and for so long that she thought he would break her neck.
Dirty tricks, lies, traps, betrayal, humiliation, inhuman and despotic treatment were the price exacted by the Miami mob in their Little Havana headquarters from these loving, heroic grandmothers. That was the price they had to pay for their success in showing the U.S. people their deep convictions and kindness, their natural intelligence and incredible courage.
What has been said here is but a brief summary of what happened. There is still much to be said. We shall wait to see what the press and the grandmothers themselves have to say.
Editorial published in Granma daily on January 27, 2000.