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Elian Gonzalez's Grandmothers Plead for the Boy's Return
As They Begin NCC-Facilitated Visit to the United States

January 21, 2000, NEW YORK CITY – In her first public statement on U.S. soil, Elian Gonzalez’s maternal grandmother asserted today that the best way to honor her drowned daughter, Elian’s mother, would be for Elian to come home to Cuba.

"Many people say it was the will of the mother that her son should stay here," said Raquel Rodriguez, Elian’s maternal grandmother, at a news conference upon arrival in New York from Havana on a visit facilitated by the (U.S.) National Council of Churches. Elian’s paternal grandmother, Mariela Quintana, and NCC leaders stood alongside her.

"(But) I talk for her because I knew her very much. She made that step because she had a person living with her who was very violent, sometimes very harsh with her, and he pushed her to be in that situation," Mrs. Rodriguez said, referring to her daughter’s boyfriend, who organized the fatal crossing by boat.

Then, coming close to tears, she pled, "If you want to help us, help us return Elian home. I want my daughter to be in peace and she can’t be in peace until Elian is back with his family."

The NCC, working since early December to ease Elian’s return to his father and extended family in Cardenas, Cuba, is enabling the grandmothers’ visit "to allow the grandmothers to speak for themselves," said the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, NCC General Secretary. Mrs. Quintana said, "We want to tell you we are free to say what we feel."

Dr. Edgar, along with the Rev. Oscar Bolioli (NCC/Church World Service and Witness Director for Latin America and Caribbean) and the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, former NCC General Secretary, flew to Havana on Thursday, met with Elian’s family, and returned today (Friday) with the two grandmothers. Also with them is the Rev. Oden Marichal, President of the Cuban Council of Churches and Vicar General of the Episcopal Church of Cuba.

They said they came with the blessing of Elian’s father, whose message is simply that Elian should come home.

As today’s news conference began, Dr. Edgar introduced him self and the others, noting that each is a grandparent. "We as people of faith believe that children should lead us to reconciliation and peace," Dr. Edgar said. "Our prayer is to take Elian home." The NCC and CCC stand ready to facilitate in any way that is helpful, he said. Pressed later for specifics, Dr. Edgar replied simply, "We believe in miracles."

The two grandmothers spoke in Spanish, with the Rev. Bolioli offering interpretation into English.

Mrs. Rodriguez’s statement was one of several points of high emotion during the news conference, late this afternoon at JFK Airport.

She thanked "everyone in the U.S. government trying to facilitate so that our grandson can go to Cuba, so that we can finish with this tragedy which is so hard for us as a family, so our grandson can come home as soon as possible."

When a reporter asked the grandmothers the first thing they planned to say to Elian, his maternal grandmother replied, "There are so many things we want to tell him. I don’t know if we could talk and ask questions. Maybe we will cry a lot. Today it’s 63 days since we’ve seen him and for three days we haven’t been able to reach him by phone."

Asked whether the grandmothers planned to go to Miami, Dr. Edgar said no, and Mrs. Quintana followed up, "I am not thinking to go to the house. They have no right to keep the child there. We are requesting the church to help us take the child to Cuba."

And asked about members of Congress who want to make Elian a U.S. citizen, Mrs. Quintana said, "Nobody outside has the right to make him an American citizen. He was born in Cuba, lives in Cuba, he’s a Cuban. No one, even Congress or the President, can change his status."

Dr. Edgar concluded the news conference, saying, "These courageous women have come. They have begun to tell their story. They would like to have Elian return with them. They would like to have mthe opportunity to speak with any government official who can help with that process."

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