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Special Event

Millennium 2000: U.S. Church Group Meets With Father of Elian Gonzales

Aired January 3, 2000 - 6:14 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In Washington, senior U.S. Immigration initials say they could decide as early as this week whether to send a 6-year-old Cuban boy back to Cuba or let relatives keep him in Florida. Meantime, representatives from a U.S. church group met with Elian Gonzalez's father Monday and promised to press the U.S. government to return the boy to Cuba.

CNN's Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The head of the U.S. National Council of Churches traveled to the coastal town of Cardenas to meet with the father and grandparents of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez.

JOAN BROWN CAMPBELL, U.S. NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES: This is a very loving family. We are more convinced than we ever were that this boy belongs with his family.

NEWMAN: The council, which represents 35 Protestant and Orthodox churches with 52 million members, wants to use its influence to help resolve a custody dispute which has turned the little boy into a political symbol on both sides of the Florida straits.

The child was taken to live with distant relatives in Miami after he was rescued at sea, clinging to an inner tube. His mother and 10 others drowned when their boat capsized trying to get to the United States.

The boy's father insists Elian wants to return home but is not allowed to express himself.

"He's being pressured by the relatives there and by politics," says Juan Miguel Gonzales. "They practically don't let him communicate and talk with us."

Dr. Cambell was received at the boy's school with a prepared program of poems and chants calling for Elian's return. Both Cuban and U.S. religious leaders say the boy belongs with his father, but that the issue is not political.

CAMPBELL: I think what we have to do is help our president see that the issue is a moral one and that the concern is humanitarian.

NEWMAN: The U.S. religious leader promised to push for a quick resolution.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWMAN: The National Council of Churches has, in fact, offered its services as a mediator in the dispute. It says it's willing to bring the boy back to Cuba, hand him over to the Cuban Council of Churches, who in turn would return the boy to his father.

This is Lucia Newman reporting live from Havana.

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