2000 NCC News ArchivesStatement Of NCC General Secretary Regarding Return Of Elian Gonzalez To His Father
The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA sent a mission to Cuba at the invitation of the Cuba Council of Churches to discover ways to return Elian Gonzalez to his father and family in Cuba. On the trip, representing the NCC, are The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, who retired as General Secretary on Dec. 31, 1999, and The Rev. Oscar Bolioli, Director of the Latin America and Caribbean Office. Ms. Carol Fouke, News Director for the NCC, is the media officer for the trip which began on Sunday, January 2, 2000. The mission was undertaken with the full knowledge of the U.S. Government.
January 4, 2000, Havana,Cuba
Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, former General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, representing the NCC in an effort to reunite Elian Gonzalez with his father in Cuba.
We believe Elian Gonzalez should immediately be reunited with his father in Cuba. The value of that kind of family life is vitally important to his well-being, as is being raised in a loving family, is crucial for any child.
We visited for some time with the family in Cardenas and any child would be lucky to have a family that is this loving and caring. There is a full set of grandparents, a great grandmother, uncles and aunts. Elian's father lives in a very modest, but very immaculately and well taken care of, home with Elian's own room and his toys there waiting for him.
Our visit was very emotional. The father and the rest of the family are very sad. There is some anger since they don't understand why no one will tell them when their son, this little six year-old boy, will be returned. They feel very strongly that everyone should know that this is where they believe the boy should be. They are distressed about rumors that the father is happy that the boy is in Miami. This isn't true. They want Elian to be at home with them. They are a very strong Cuban family and they want to bring him back into the fold of his close family.
We saw his school and his schoolmates look very, very tiny. They reminded us of how little a boy he is. The students talked about how he had missed his lessons and that he was going to be behind in his math, just like kids always do. They were especially concerned that he had missed his tetanus shot and his class was very concerned about how he was going to catch up with his work.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez expressed real concern that as Elian starts school in Miami, he will have to learn in English and that is not the father's wish. As he said, "I should be in charge of my child's education, where he goes to school, and what kind of schooling he receives."
The fact is this is such a strong family values argument for the well-being of the boy. This is a very connected and sharing family. They live very close to each other and are a part of each other's lives.
Particularly poignant for me was when I met the mother of Elian's mother. She lost her daughter at sea and now she says, "Elian is all I have left." None of them knew that the mother was leaving with Elian. They were all shocked and surprised that she left. And there's a bit more to this story than first appears to be there. The mother had fallen in love with a man whose business was taking people from Cuba to the United States. And they had packed a boat designed for six with fourteen people. So I think there is a lot more to the story than has first been reported.
The mother's mother wants him back with his father. And for me, that tells you everything. When the mother of the mother wants her former son-in-law to raise this child, that tells you a lot about both the family relationships and the respect for this young man as a father. The great grandmother was very teary and during our visit the family kept asking her if she was tired. And she said, "No, not for Elian."
There's nothing programmed about this. This is just a simple family coming together in a time of trouble. You can feel that. It's hard to communicate it because it sounds too rote. But it's very real. I couldn't see any governmental influence in what was said. In fact, it would be impossible to get such a diverse and large group to speak and act in such a natural and touching way.
I would feel very good about advocating that Elian Gonzalez come back to his father and family in Cuba. I have no qualms about that.
(The NCC mission to Cuba participants are meeting on Tuesday with Vicki Huddleston, Principal Officer U.S. Interests Section in Havana, with Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Popular Assembly, and with religious leaders in Cuba. They return to the U.S. on Wednesday, January 5.)
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