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With U.S. Visa, Father is Given Stronger Grip on Elian’s Fate

By Mike Clary

The father of Elian Gonzalez is expected to arrive in the United States perhaps as early as this week to take custody of his son in a dramatic step that could signal the end of a bitter international dispute over the 6-year-old.

During a third full day of talks between attorneys for the boy's Miami relatives and the U.S. government, the focus of discussions Monday shifted to the question of how to transfer custody to Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Immigration and Naturalization Service spokeswoman Maria Cardona said.

“It’s not a matter of whether we will do this, but how,” she said in an interview. “What we are trying to discuss is how best to effectuate that transfer so that it happens in the most cooperative way possible, in a manner most conducive to Elian’s well-being.”

The boy’s father, other family members and a dozen of his classmates from Cardenas, Cuba, were among 28 people who applied Monday for visas to come to the United States. State Department spokesman James Rubin said Monday night that the department had approved visas for Elian’s father, stepmother, infant half-brother, a young cousin, his kindergarten teacher and a doctor.

Lazaro Gonzalez, the great-uncle who has had temporary custody of Elian since the boy was rescued at sea more than four months ago, offered no comment as he and a team of attorneys walked out of the federal building in downtown Miami Monday afternoon.

He and other relatives have been battling to prevent Elian’s repatriation, arguing that the deprivation of life in Fidel Castro’s Cuba overrides the rights of a father. Elian’s mother and 10 others drowned when they tried to enter the country illegally.

Manny Diaz, one of the attorneys for Elian’s Miami relatives, spoke only briefly. “We continue to be first and foremost concerned about the welfare of the child,” he said.

Word of a possible agreement to hand over Elian to his father sent a charge through much of this city's exile community.