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Elian’s Father Begs Americans To Lobby for Son’s Safe Return

By Richard A. Serrano

and Eric Lichtblau

The father of Elian Gonzalez made an impromptu, passionate plea Thursday, urging Americans to lobby Washington and demand that he be immediately reunited with his 6-year-old boy.

“He’s my son. He belongs to me. He belongs next to his family,” said Juan Miguel Gonzalez, speaking briefly to a small knot of television cameras outside the Bethesda, Md., home where he is staying.

Not long after Gonzalez spoke, President Clinton said in the White House Rose Garden that Attorney General Janet Reno is authorized to transfer the boy immediately to his father, particularly in light of an appellate court ruling Wednesday that does not bar her from doing so.

“That is the law and the main argument of the family in Miami for not doing so has now been removed,” Clinton said.

“The court has now said he shouldn’t go back to Cuba. The Justice Department agrees with that and (the father) has agreed to that. So there now is no conceivable argument for his not being able to be reunited with his son.”

In his comments, Gonzalez appeared nervous but impassioned, speaking in Spanish but not reading from a prepared text as he did two weeks ago when he first arrived in Washington.

However, Gonzalez also seemed well aware that a federal appeals court on Wednesday left the door open for Reno to use force if necessary to transfer custody of the boy from relatives in Miami to him.

“It pains me to see what they are doing with my son and the abuse they are committing,” he said of the family of his uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, which has been raising the boy in Miami’s Little Havana community since he was shipwrecked on Thanksgiving Day,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez’s plea to the public generated many calls to the Justice Department in support of his cause.

Justice Department lawyers plan to attack the idea that the INS should have given a full review to Elian’s petition for political asylum, lodged by his Miami relatives.