Elian's father rejects accusations of abuse and pleads for return of son

The father of Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old Cuban boy at the centre of an immigration and custody battle, took his case direct to the American public last night, pleading for the return of his son and angrily denying accusations from the child's Miami relatives that he had beaten either Elian or his first wife.

Juan Miguel Gonzalez said on the CBS TV programme 60 Minutes that the charges of abuse "are lies, totally".

Clearly exasperated at what he sees as the most spiteful attempt yet by Miami relatives to thwart his reunion with Elian, he said: "They have tried in every way to set me as a bad father, as a bad husband."

A sworn affidavit alleging violent behaviour by Mr Gonzalez towards his first wife, Elisabeth, and to Elian, was made public by the Miami relatives on Friday, after the US government moved to obtain legal authorisation to return the child to his father by force. The affidavit was supplied by a Cuban exile who knew the family in their hometown of Cardenas in Cuba.

Over the weekend, the Miami relatives also wrote to US government lawyers, asking that Elian not be removed from their care during Easter week.

On Saturday, crowds gathered outside the Miami relatives' home in Little Havana, directing chants of "traitor" and "coward" to Mr Gonzalez, whom they regard as being in thrall to the Cuba's communist leadership.

Last night's television interview with Mr Gonzalez was recorded shortly before he had his first telephone conversation with his son since his arrival in the US on April 6. A Miami Herald reporter who was allowed into the relatives' house to observe the conversation, wrote that Elian appeared reluctant to take the call, but then conversed with his father for 20 minutes.

The reporter said Elian "fidgeted" as he talked, and at the end he blew kisses into the phone. Then he ran to his room, and his relatives said that he was crying.

Mr Gonzalez had lamented earlier in the week that he had repeatedly tried to telephone his son but his calls were not being answered.

The Miami relatives said that Elian did not want to talk to his father, and that they had invited the reporter in to show "that we are not liars". A request by CBS to film Elian speaking to his father was refused.

Elian's mother drowned in the shipwreck that ended her attempt to flee to the US. The boy was rescued by fishermen after two days floating in the Atlantic.

Many Cuban exiles gathered outside the house yesterday expected that US immigration officials would move to take Elian today - the 39th anniversary of the US attempt to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

For many of them, sending Elian back to his father in Cuba would be a betrayal of a similar order.

External links: Let Elian Gonzalez go free | A kick in the rear(ESSAY) | A pie in the face (ESSAY) | Petition for the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba | Petition to Keep Elian Gonzalez in the USA |