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Cat And Mouse On Cuban Visas

It has become routine for parents to arrange "play dates" for their young children. But it would be hard to imagine any parent going to as much trouble to make such arrangements as has Juan Miguel Gonzalez, father of 6-year-old Elian.

As the whole world knows, Juan Miguel now has been reunited with his son and they are getting reacquainted at a secluded farmhouse on Maryland's Eastern shore.

Behind the scenes, Juan Miguel's effort to reunite Elian with some of his Cuban playmates was the focus of much diplomatic wrangling this week.

Ever since the saga of young Elian began last November there has been jousting between the Clinton administration and Fidel Castro's Cuban government over the issuance of visas.

First, the State Department issued two visas for Elian's grandmothers who came to visit him in Florida.

Then last month, Cuba requested visas for thirty-one people including family, schoolmates, teachers, psychologists, pediatricians and a senior Cuban government official.

Why so many visa requests? Perhaps because in speeches, Fidel Castro had talked about setting up a "reintegration school so Elian could be reintegrated into Cuban society."

The State Department wouldn't buy into that plan. Instead, it issued only six visas: for Elian's father, stepmother, Elian’s half-brother, a young cousin, a former kindergarten teacher and the baby's pediatrician.

The father, stepmother and half-brother used their visas to come to the U.S. about two weeks ago, and the kindergarten teacher and young cousin left for the U. S. Wednesday.

Earlier this week came the request by Greg Craig, Juan Miguel's attorney, for additional visas for playmates for Elian.

Craig called the State Department to request additional visas to allow some of Elian's friends from Cuba to come to the U. S. and play with young Elian.

The State Department responded by saying it would approve visas for four young friends of Elian, each to be accompanied by an adult relative. These visas, officials said, would be good "for a two week period."

Because the Justice Department had received advice from a psychiatrist that young Elian "needed some company his own age," according to government officials, the State Department responded to Justice's request by saying it would "expedite" handling of visa applications for four young playmates, each with an accompanying adult.

However, wary of Cuba's intentions, State limited the number of visas and restricted the time—they were good for to two weeks, not the usual ninety days.

One State Department official said the visas for the four kids and the accompanying adults "are not intended to be used for anything other than to provide playmates for Elian."

So, just as a handful of Cuban children may soon be playing the games kids play on a Maryland farm, politicians representing two governments can be expected to continue their own adult version of the game called cat ad mouse.


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