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Fallout unabated after raid; Elian in seclusion, as case leads to talk of protest, hearings; U.S. officials defend action; Miami kin denied entry in attempt to visit boy at Md. base

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Elian Gonzalez spent yesterday away from the public eye for the first time in months, but he continued to inspire everything from Easter Sunday sermons and Sunday morning talk shows to a possible protest strike in Miami and congressional hearings in Washington.

The fallout from Saturday's pre-dawn raid grabbing Elian from his Miami relatives continued unabated, as outrage over the federal government's strong-arm tactics drew calls for further demonstrations in that city and an investigation into how the Justice Department has handled the case. Federal officials took to television to defend the use of force to retrieve the boy.

Meanwhile, the Miami relatives who had cared for Elian since he was rescued off the coast of Florida five months ago spent yesterday hopscotching through the Washington area demanding -- emotionally but unsuccessfully -- to see the boy.

"I'll take it wherever I have to take it, but justice will be done," Marisleysis Gonzalez, the 21-year-old cousin who considers herself Elian's surrogate mother, said yesterday of her continuing crusade to see the boy and rally action against the Clinton administration for the Saturday raid.

She and other relatives were turned away from the gate of Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where Elian and his father, stepmother and baby half-brother celebrated Easter together.

The Easter Bunny, on a visit to children who live on the base, stopped by to see Elian, who playfully kissed the tall white creature on its black nose.

Elian reportedly enjoyed a lunch of the Cuban staple, black beans and rice, and was seen in newly released photographs laughing and playing with his family.

He and his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, were dressed in matching tan jackets and blue jeans and kicked a ball around.

Juan Miguel Gonzalez's attorney, Gregory Craig, called the Miami relatives' repeated attempts to see the boy a "disruptive cloud" and criticized them for "transporting their soap opera from Miami to Washington, D.C."

Marisleysis Gonzalez wept through many of her public appearances yesterday, starting with a news conference on Capitol Hill in the morning and continuing through Easter services in the afternoon. he was accompanied by family and associates including her father, Lazaro Gonzalez, and Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman who rescued Elian from the ocean Thanksgiving Day, the survivor of a boat wreck that killed his mother and 10 other Cubans trying to escape their homeland.

'Community torn apart'

The relatives denounced the storming of the Gonzalez home in Little Havana by heavily armed and helmeted agents, a theme picked up by Republican congressmen, Florida's Democratic U.S. senator, Cuban-American protestors and even initially impartial mediators who said they were finalizing an agreement for the boy's peaceful transfer to his father as the 5: 15 a.m. raid began.

"I'm very disappointed the government didn't wait a little longer," said Aaron Podhurst, a prominent Miami attorney and longtime friend of Attorney General Janet Reno who was among the civic leaders brokering a deal for a peaceful resolution of the impasse over Elian. "And now the Miami-Dade community has been torn apart."

"We were in striking distance of a resolution that would have been peaceful," said Edward Foote, president of the University of Miami and another mediator. "It was extremely unfortunate the government did what it did, and now we have to live with it in Miami, Florida."

But Reno's deputy, Eric Holder, said the negotiations had stalled because the Miami relatives would not agree to relinquish the boy to his father.

The mediators, though, say the relatives had signed a deal turning custody of the boy over to his father and agreeing to join him at a secluded compound where they could settle their differences away from lawyers, government officials and the news media. There were a few details to be ironed out -- the location of such a meeting, for example, was in dispute -- but the mediators insist the major points were settled.

Podhurst said he believes that it was the attorney for Elian's father, Craig, who turned down the agreement. That notion was also raised by Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat often mentioned as a possible running mate for Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign who has broken with the Clinton administration over its handling of Elian's custody.

"What I think has happened is that the Department of Justice has delegated its governmental responsibility to a private attorney," Graham said on ABC's "This Week."

Simmering emotions

In Miami, as the turbulence on the streets Saturday gave way to the relative calm of a community celebrating Easter Sunday, emotions continued to simmer.

Residents who picked up the Miami Herald found a rare sight: a front-page editorial calling for calm, even as it denounced the government, stating, "The scenes of overwhelming force from [Saturday] at dawn shock the conscience."

While the cause of keeping Elian in the United States has largely been fought by the Miami area's large Cuban-American exile population, Saturday's chilling image of a submachine gun-toting agent confronting an obviously terrified boy might serve to draw non-Cubans into the fight, said Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University.

"The heavy-handed manner of the raid has created sympathy among other groups," Moreno said. "Whatever your position was before the raid, you cannot support the raid itself."

Moreno, a Cuban-American who has taken a more moderate stance than that of the hard-line exile groups in the city, said his feelings have changed because of the raid.

"I was sort of an agnostic on who Elian should be with," he said. "But I felt this was so heavy-handed, it was almost dirty pool. This was far beyond fair play."

Call for demonstrations

Cuban exile leaders have called for a general strike and demonstrations tomorrow. What such a strike would entail remains unclear -- it could involve a work stoppage -- but widespread support among Cuban-Americans could substantially affect the area. Of Miami-Dade's 2.1 million population, about 800,000 are of Cuban descent.

"The raid on the Gonzalez home was almost a raid on the community itself. There is a lot of pain and anger and sense of betrayal and loss," Moreno said. "I think there will be a well-organized demonstration of community unity."

Republicans took to the microphones and the Sunday morning talk shows to call for investigative hearings of the Justice Department's handling of the case.

"It was an abuse of power without any court order at the point of a gun," Sen. Bob Smith, a New Hampshire Republican, said at a news conference he organized for Elian's Miami relatives on Capitol Hill yesterday morning.

GOP leaders including House whip Tom DeLay called for hearings to investigate. "You bet there'll be congressional hearings," he said.

"This is a frightening event, that American citizens now can expect that the executive branch on their own can decide on whether to raid a home," the Texas congressman said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "There was no court order that gave them permission to raid the private home of American citizens. This has been a bungled mess."

Reno defended

Reno's surrogates appeared on the Sunday shows. Holder, her deputy; Immigration and Naturalization Services Commissioner Doris M. Meissner; and civil rights leader Jesse L. Jackson defended her actions.

"We were forced into the action we took by the intransigence of that family," Holder said on NBC. "We probably should have taken a decisive action sooner."

Holder said a court ruling upholding the government's actions, with an order from the INS, provided sufficient legal grounds for forcibly removing the boy.

Meissner said the INS agents also had a search warrant.

Holder acknowledged, though, that the administration was concerned that Cuba's leader would use Elian as a political trophy.

"That is Fidel Castro's history," Holder said. "He has shown that he has always tried to use whatever he can for his own political advantage."

The Miami relatives, Jackson said in a TV interview, "were negotiating on a card they did not have."

Relatives press on

Those relatives pressed onward yesterday. After their news conference, they went to Andrews Air Force Base, where guards refused them adnission and declined to take a bag of Easter goodies for Elian.

The group then proceeded to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Catholic University in Washington, where they joined a Mass about 20 minutes in progress. An entourage of photographers circled them, their flashes firing in the midst of the solemn service.

Marisleysis Gonzalez, again in tears, shook hands with worshipers sitting near her during the Mass' sharing of the sign of peace. After Mass and still weeping, she knelt before a statue of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and lit a white candle.

She and her family and friends drove off without speaking to the media.

"The family from the very beginning has not lost its faith," said Kirk Reagan Menendez of the Cuban American National Foundation, who was escorting the group.

"Today was the moment of prayer for Elian, and the family will continue armed with their faith."

Wire services contributed to this article.

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