Why they can't all just get along

In the unfolding telenovella over custody of Elian, the Gonzalezes look more disturbed than the Sopranos.

Published April 13, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Poor Juan Miguel Gonzalez must feel like Charlie Brown. Every time he thinks he will get to see and hold his son Elian (no last name necessary), the entire brood of Lucys -- great-uncles Lazaro and Delfin, Marisleysis and the Cuban American National Foundation's (CANF) lawyers -- yank the football away. The extended Gonzalez family saga has come to seem like the world's longest telenovella, except a soap opera writer would probably reject the family as too implausible.

First there is cousin Marisleysis, the so-called surrogate mother, who has said on TV that she thinks Elian would be tortured if he returned to Cuba. Does anyone have a moment's doubt as to what she is telling this 6-year-old? And why he is saying he doesn't want to go to Cuba? Or even to Washington? (Although we only have his great-uncle's word for this.) And should we be surprised that a boy whose only traveling experience ended with his mother's death and his near-drowning doesn't want to travel?

Marsileysis slips in and out of emergency hospital rooms faster than an overworked doctor. I previously wrote that she had been hospitalized once before Elian came to these shores. I was wrong. The count is now up to three known times before Elian came to Miami, undermining the family's argument that she has these nervous collapses out of fear that Elian will be taken away. Altogether there are now 11 known hospital visits, according to Meg Laughlin of the Miami Herald.

Questions arise. Why do these stress attacks always happen when it is convenient to slow down the process of handing over Elian? Who is paying for the bills for a young woman who has no insurance? (Could we suggest CANF?) Why doesn't her mother ever visit her daughter during these hospital stays? Father Lazaro is ever-present, but her mother, Angela, remains a mystery, out of sight in the house.

Wednesday, instead of flying to Washington as was expected before the great-uncle nixed the deal around midnight Tuesday, Elian and Marisleysis were briefly ensconced in the home of Sister Jeanne, the nun who has told more mystifying tales than Pinocchio about her brief visit with the grandmothers from Cuba months ago. At first she said Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba; then she changed her mind after learning of unspecified disturbing reports. She told a reporter that the disturbing stories came from the Miami family; but then, after the reporter suggested the family might not be totally reliable, Sister Jeanne said she heard the stories from the grandmothers. Then she tried to take the interview off the record, though the reporter disagreed.

The family sought her out as a sympathetic haven Wednesday, but did they really believe that Juan Miguel would come to this place as if it were a neutral arena? Attorney General Janet Reno was brave enough to show up at Sister Jeanne's to try to effect a peaceful handover of Elian, but expecting his father to show up seems too much to ask. Apparently, the Gonzalez family came to that conclusion, too, since they took Elian and Marisleysis back to their house in Little Havana not too long after the meeting.

And why does the Immigration and Naturalization Service and everyone else play this game of "Can This Family be Saved?" suggesting a "reunification" of people who barely knew one another before -- and today are more hostile and divided than the Sopranos. The INS suggests a two-week Gonzalez family love fest after Elian is transferred to his father. But isn't there something ludicrous and even offensive about Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his wife, their infant and Elian together with the Miami brood -- the twin cousins with their criminal records, the two great-uncles, Lazaro and Delfin, with their DUI records, and fragile Marisleysis -- in one house? Especially when the family has vehemently insulted Juan Gonzalez as well as Cuba?

While they're at it, they might just as well find a bedroom for Fidel Castro and his fierce enemy, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Fidel is Lincoln's uncle -- which makes him a closer relative to the hated dictator than Elian is to great-uncle Lazaro.

By Myra MacPherson

Myra MacPherson, former Washington Post reporter, is the author of five books, including the Vietnam War classic “Long Time Passing” and her recent “The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage and Scandal in the Gilded Age.”

MORE FROM Myra MacPherson

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cuba Family Psychology