The chief paediatrician advising the United States government in the case of the six-year-old Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez, said yesterday the child was being psychologically abused by his Miami relatives and should be removed from their house at once.
Dr Irwin Redlener made his appeal in a letter to the Attorney General, Janet Reno, and the head of the US immigration service, Doris Meissner, making clear it was a personal and professional initiative on his part and had not been solicited.
Dr Redlener was the paediatrician invited to chair the panel of psychologists that interviewed Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and several of the Miami relatives last week. The paediatrician wrote: "Elian Gonzalez is now in a state of imminent danger to his physical and emotional well-being in a home that I consider to bepsychologically abusive." He described the atmosphere surrounding the boy as one of "radical hysteria".
Elaborating on his views in a series of television interviews, Dr Redlener - who is professor of paediatrics at the Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said: "This child needs to be rescued."
The text of the letter was released by the Justice Department in a move seen as an effort to bolster the government's arguments in the event - which appears increasingly likely - that it decides to use force to transfer the boy from his Miami relatives to his father. It was the first time anyone officially advising the government had recommended such drastic action. Until now Ms Reno and other government officials have taken pains to say in public that they knew the Miami relatives love the boy.
Other members of the panel had criticised the relatives for making a video of Elian telling his father he did not want to return to Cuba. But they stopped short of condemning the overall care given by the relatives or calling for the child's removal, still hoping apparently that the relatives and the father could agree to a gradual and amicable transition.
Dr Redlener compared the Elian video to a hostage video.
In Havana, Patricia Ares, a psychologist, told Cuban state television that a team of teachers and psychologists would help Elian recover, saying that he had been psychologically damaged during his stay in Miami.
Cuban television showed pictures of a villa in Havana that, the commentary said, had been renovated for the Gonzalez family when they returned, with Elian, to Cuba. The villa, shown to have a swimming pool and a schoolroom, would accommodate not only the family, but some of Elian's schoolmates and child psychologists. They would ease Elian's reassimilation to life in Cuba in peace and privacy.
Both this footage and Dr Redlener's letter were condemned by the spokesman for the Gonzalez family, Armando Guttierez, and by the steadily swelling crowd of Cuban emigres gathered yesterday outside the relatives' house in the quarter of Miami known as Little Havana.
The doctor, they said, was in no position to conclude that there was any danger to Elian because he had never interviewed, nor even met him.