Cuban boy moves to Md. Shore; Elian, his father and stepmother in seclusion at Wye; Boy's playmates to visit; Senate GOP leader orders hearings into armed entry of home

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The odyssey of Elian Gonzalez continued yesterday with the boy and his family leaving Andrews Air Force Base, their home since he was taken from Miami relatives by federal agents early Saturday, and moving into private quarters at the Aspen Institute on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott ordered public hearings next week on Elian's seizure from the home in Miami's Little Havana, contending that Attorney General Janet Reno needs to explain why heavily armed federal agents were sent to retrieve him even as negotiations for a peaceful transfer were under way.

In Miami, the outrage of many Cuban-Americans was vented yesterday in a general strike that shut down Little Havana, but not the rest of the city.

Elian, his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his stepmother, Nercy, and his baby half-brother, Hianny, were surreptitiously moved into a quiet home belonging to Nina Rodale Houghton, about two miles north of the Aspen Institute's Wye River Conference Centers, which was initially thought to be their destination.

Houghton is the widow of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., a wealthy industrialist and arts patron who donated his more than 1,100-acre estate on the Wye River to the Aspen Institute in 1979 and died in 1990. Nina Houghton, a legendary, low-key hostess on the Shore, is chairman of the Wye Institute, which is part of the Aspen Institute. The institute is a nonprofit center for education and conferences on world issues. She was recently appointed to the Board of Regents that governs the University System of Maryland.

The residence is known as Carmichael Farm, although yesterday afternoon a workman covered its sign with one identifying it as Aspen Institute. Located at the end of a quarter-mile driveway lined with maples and dogwoods, the property is blocked from public access by a wooden fence marked "Private" and now, with Elian's arrival yesterday afternoon, a contingent of U.S. marshals.

Houghton would not comment on her latest houseguests. Nor would U.S. marshals or the Aspen Institute comment on why the family is living at Houghton's home rather than one of the conference center houses.

The Gonzalez family is expecting company soon: Elian's father requested that four of his son's playmates from their hometown of Cardenas, Cuba, be allowed to visit. State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the visas would be expedited for the four kids, each accompanied by an adult, to stay with Elian for about two weeks.

Additionally, a teacher and a cousin who previously were granted visas were planning to fly to the United States today.

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, a supporter of Juan Miguel Gonzalez's effort to be reunited with his son, said Elian's hometown visitors will help create "a sense of normalcy for him about the life he has led and will lead."

The home is the latest refuge for a boy who has been at the heart of an intense international tug of war that started when he was discovered on Thanksgiving Day clinging to an inner tube in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. He had survived the capsizing of a rickety boat that killed his mother and 10 other Cubans trying to escape their homeland.

Afterward, Elian lived with relatives in Miami who refused to give him up despite the pleas of his father and the orders of the U.S. government, saying they feared he would be returned to Communist Cuba.

Elian has been largely kept from the public eye since being taken from the relatives early Saturday and reunited with his father at Andrews later that morning. His seclusion has stood in marked contrast to his several-times daily appearances outside the Little Havana home of his Miami relatives, who are continuing their fight to see him. They await an appellate court's ruling on whether the boy can seek asylum in the United States against his father's wishes. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has scheduled a hearing May 11.

If Andrews, as a military facility, kept a tight lock on access to the little boy, the Aspen Institute has indicated that it will be no more open.

The nonprofit institute would say only this yesterday: "Today, Elian Gonzalez and his family have been relocated to the Aspen Institute while awaiting the outcome of the Court of Appeals decision. The Aspen Institute provides a private, retreat setting conducive to reflection. Aspen Institute campuses offer retreat environments, away from the disruptions of the outside world. We receive confidential requests from time to time for the use of our facilities where the need for such a setting is paramount. As a matter of policy we do not comment on such requests."

Carmichael Farm, built in 1920, is situated on a 50-acre site. It is a cozy, colonial-style home with dark paneling and shelf after shelf of books, according to a one-time visitor.

Arthur Houghton was a passionate bibliophile, collecting rare works and original manuscripts of such quality that he was asked by the Librarian of Congress to become curator of rare books in 1940. He held that post until 1942, when he joined the Army Air Corps and served in World War II for three years.

Houghton, who bought the Wye River property in 1937, had been president of Steuben Glass, a subsidiary of Corning Glass Works, which his great-grandfather Amory Houghton founded in 1851. His interest in the arts led to his becoming chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Society.

Houghton and his wife moved to Carmichael Farm after donating their larger mansion and the grounds to the Aspen Institute in 1979. At the time, Houghton had been operating a research center of his own, called the Wye Institute, which was then folded into the Aspen Institute.

Elian's arrival is not the Aspen Institute's first brush with international turmoil. The institute served as host to Israeli-Syrian talks in 1995, and, in 1998, to a summit of Israeli and Palestinian leaders who hammered out what would become known as the Wye Accords.

As during that summit, news media representatives who flocked to Carmichael Farm yesterday afternoon were shooed to Chesapeake College about four miles away.

While Elian remains sequestered in this tranquil Eastern Shore site, the sound and fury over him continues in Washington and Miami.

Yesterday, for nearly an hour and 45 minutes, Reno was quizzed by about a dozen senators. But Lott, the Republican leader, said she did not adequately answer several key questions, including why she ordered the raid when negotiations appeared to be still in progress, why such a heavily armed force was used and under what authority federal agents entered a private home.

"Wasn't there some way this could have been avoided," Lott said he asked. "She did not give an answer to that, other than a sort of a feeling that it was time to bring this thing to an end."

Several Democratic senators, who have been supportive of Reno's efforts to reunite the 6-year- old with his father, said the attorney general made a compelling case that Elian's situation was rapidly deteriorating even as the family continued to drag its feet on turning over the boy to his father.

"The chronology" of stalling tactics and resistance by the Miami relatives "was pretty compelling," said Vermont Democrat Patrick J. Leahy. "The string had run out."

Doris Meissner, the commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, told the senators at the private session that Elian was no longer going to school or even able to sleep through the night as his relatives sought to prevent the sort of forcible removal that ultimately occurred.

In explaining the use of agents armed with machine guns, Reno told the senators "there was a real possibility of guns in the house," said Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat.

"They chose to show force in order not to use force," Daschle said.

But the Senate Republicans' decision to proceed with hearings to examine Reno's handling of the Elian case comes as public opinion is shifting more solidly in support of the attorney general, opinion polls show.

Nonetheless, Lott said, Americans need to hear Reno explain her actions in the setting of a public hearing.

Other possible witnesses include the Miami relatives whose home was raided and the two long-time friends of Reno's who were serving as mediators. Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, might also be invited to testify, Lott said.

Republican leaders hope the hearings will help energize their base for the fall elections, but they are trying to avoid overplaying their hand.

"I think it could backfire on them, " said John J. Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "Unfortunately for the Republicans, this gun wasn't smoking."

Meanwhile, a federal appeals judge in Atlanta -- in a new legal victory for Elian's Miami relatives -- said the three-judge court overseeing the asylum case was considering naming a guardian to check up on the boy's "conditions and care" now that he is with his father.

The Justice Department was told to reply by this afternoon to that proposal, made by Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. The new order raised the possibility that a court-appointed guardian could second-guess the way Elian's father is acting toward the boy.

U.S. Circuit Judge J.L. Edmondson, in an order yesterday afternoon, also barred Elian from being taken to any place covered by diplomatic immunity, such as the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. Such a site would place the boy beyond the court's reach, the judge noted.

Sun staff writer Lyle Denniston and wire services contributed to this article.

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