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Mental Health Specialists Meet Elian’s Caretakers For Reunion

By Sue Anne Pressley and Karen DeYoung

More than three hours after it was originally scheduled, a meeting between a government-appointed team of mental health specialists and the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez finally got under way Monday to figure out how best to ease the reunion between the child and his father waiting in Washington.

For most of the afternoon, it looked as if the meeting -- an important step in the federal government’s schedule to remove the boy from the Miami home -- was not to be. Initially, Lazaro Gonzalez, Elian’s great-uncle with whom the boy has stayed the past four months, failed to keep the appointment with the two psychiatrists and one psychologist named last week by Attorney General Janet Reno to assist the transition.

After a lengthy delay, however, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials and the mental health team agreed to meet Gonzalez at the hospital where his 21-year-old daughter, Marisleysis, the cousin who Elian’s Miami relatives say has become a substitute mother to the boy, was admitted Saturday. Marisleysis Gonzalez, who did not sit in on the meeting after all, has been hospitalized several times in recent months for exhaustion and stress related to the case.

The meeting was scheduled to take three hours, but lasted one, and the team of experts was headed back to Washington Monday night.

The Miami relatives already had criticized the mental health specialists because none of them planned to speak with the boy. They continue to state through their attorneys that they will obey the law when the time comes to relinquish the child sometime later this week -- but the logistics of that transfer of custody continue to be troubling.

“We are bending over backwards to accommodate them,” INS spokeswoman Maria Cardona said Monday, “because we feel strongly that this needs to happen in a cooperative way.”

In state circuit court, meanwhile, the Miami family made what seemed a last-ditch effort to prevent the boy’s removal from their home, filing an emergency petition over the weekend for a quick hearing of their custody case.