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NCC Reflects on Elian's Grandmothers' Bittersweet Mission
Elian Gonzalez’s Return Home to His Father and Grandparents Remains Ultimate Goal

January 26, 2000, MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – As Elian Gonzalez’s grandmothers returned to the airport following their visit with their grandson here this afternoon, their National Council of Churches hosts reflected on the grandmothers’ U.S. mission and its bittersweet climax.

"We facilitated the grandmothers’ visit to the United States so that Americans could hear firsthand their love for their grandson and their fervent desire to take him back home with them to his father, grandparents, great-grandmother and extended family in Cardenas, Cuba," said the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, the NCC’s General Secretary. "That mission was accomplished as they witnessed eloquently to their love for their ‘little heart’ and their suffering because of his absence."

Since their arrival from Cuba mid-afternoon Friday, January 21, Raquel Rodriguez, Elian’s maternal grandmother, and Mariela Quintana, his paternal grandmother, shared their message in "a very personal meeting" with the U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, with members of Congress and through media with the public.

But the climax of their mission – the grandmothers’ private meeting with Elian at a neutral site – was achieved only following hours of negotiation and, finally, an INS directive to the Miami relatives who have temporary custody of Elian to bring him to the meeting. The grandmothers’ ultimate goal – to take Elian back to Cuba with them – is yet to be realized.

Following their visit with Elian, the grandmothers headed back to Washington, D.C., for more meetings with members of Congress (on Wednesday, they brought their case directly to a dozen or more representatives and senators, including both Republicans and Democrats).

The NCC has been working since early December at the request of – and in close consultation with – the Cuban Council of Churches to seek a way to ease Elian’s return to his family in Cuba. That work began quietly but when Elian’s return home continued to be met with delays, the Council made its effort public. NCC representatives traveled to Cuba Jan. 2-5 to meet with Elian’s father and other close family members and reaffirmed their humanitarian concern that Elian be reunited quickly with his Cardenas family. The INS Jan. 5 affirmed the father’s right to custody and ordered Elian’s return home by Jan. 14, but the Miami relatives are fighting the order. This further delay led to the grandmothers’ decision to bring their plea for Elian’s return to the U.S. in person.

As the grandmothers’ mission concludes and the NCC hosts return to their offices, Dr. Edgar reaffirmed that the Council remains available if its further help is needed to realize Elian’s return to his father.

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