Fate of Cuban boat boy still undecided

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The Independent Online
THE FATE of the six-year-old Cuban boy rescued at sea off the coast of Florida last month was still uncertain yesterday after talks between the child's father in Cuba and immigration officials from the United States.

Sentiment in America is divided evenly over whether the boy, Elian Gonzalez, should be sent back to his father in Cuba or allowed to stay with relatives in Miami. A Gallup poll published yesterday showed 45 per cent of Americans thought he should be returned while 45 per cent supported him staying.

Elian was found clinging to an inner tube in waters off Fort Lauderdale on Thanksgiving Day. He was one of three who survived when a boat sailing from Cuba to America sank in heavy seas.

Among the 10 who perished was his mother.

After a meeting with the US officials, Elian's father, Juan-Miguel Gonzalez, said he was optimistic he would soon be reunited with his son. "They agree the boy should form part of his family and return here," he said. "I am sure they will help me."

It seems unlikely, however, that the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) will make a decision quickly. While officials may be sympathetic to the rights of the father in the case, they must also respond to an asylum request that has been filed on behalf of the child by his Miami relatives.

A spokeswoman for the INS denied the officials had made any promises during their visit to Cuba. "I can tell you they were not there in any way to take sides in the case," she said.

Yesterday's poll revealed different attitudes towards the dilemma among men and women. More than 50 per cent of the men said Elian should return to his father while only 39 per cent of the women considered that the best solution.