Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.


BY WILLIAM E. GIBSON and RAFAEL LORENTE Washington Bureau Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

April 27, 2000, Thursday, Broward Metro EDITION



When Elian Gonzalez drew a picture of his father after their joyful reunion last week, the 6-year-old boy depicted a powerful protector gazing from a mountaintop, a child psychiatrist reported to the Justice Department on Wednesday.

The psychiatrist also said Elian seems to miss Marisleysis Gonzalez, the cousin who cared for him in Miami.

After spending the morning with Elian on Tuesday, Paulina F. Kernberg of Cornell University described a happy boy, easily tired but playful, loving and closely tied to his Cuban family. Her recommendation: Give Elian some healing time before exposing him to his distraught Miami relatives.

"I conclude that his removal from his Miami relatives' home, although clearly startling and frightening, was in all likelihood not a traumatic experience producing lasting effects," Kernberg said in an affidavit filed with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kernberg's advice provided one side of contrasting reports that framed a day of dueling doctors.

Psychiatric pronouncements have became the latest round of ammunition in a war of words, as the adults surrounding Elian continue to squabble over the decision by federal authorities to yank him from his temporary refuge in Miami's Little Havana and return him to his father.

The Miami relatives brought out their own psychiatrists at a Capitol Hill news conference on Wednesday while releasing a letter to President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno requesting permission to evaluate Elian. The letter accused the Clinton administration of harming the boy by using force to remove him from his relatives' home on Saturday.

"The physical and mental abuse to which Elian has been subjected may forever scar his life, one already severely affected by all the events that brought him to U.S. shores," the letter said. "In addition, every moment that Elian remains forcibly separated from his adoptive family represents further emotional abuse." Family remains secluded

While the experts conveyed their contrasting opinions, Elian remained secluded with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, at a remote conference center at Wye River in eastern Maryland. They are soon to be joined by a former schoolteacher and a playmate from Cuba.

Angueda Fleitas, his former kindergarten teacher, and Yasmany Betancourt, a 10-year-old cousin, were expected to arrive in the Washington area Wednesday evening to visit the Gonzalez family for the next two weeks at their Wye retreat.

A Cuban pediatrician is expected to follow within the next day or two. The State Department said it would expedite travel visas for other playmates and their adult escorts. U.S. officials plan to issue 14 travel visas, including the three already used by Elian's father, stepmother and half brother.

"It obviously will be helpful for Elian to have his playmates around," said Michael Maggio, a Washington attorney who has advised the elder Gonzalez on immigration matters. "This kid is trying to heal and be whole. To be in family surroundings and not surrounded by a media circus and throngs of demonstrators in Miami all the time has got to be refreshing and beneficial."

"What the psychiatrist (Kernberg) is saying is what Americans are feeling: Elian deserves a break, and everybody deserves a break from Elian's case," Maggio said. "Let it rest for awhile and let the kid settle down."

While Elian settled into his new surroundings at Wye, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Wednesday that is sure to stir the controversy surrounding his case. A witness list was still being formed, and the committee is expected to decide by late this week whether to invite or demand the elder Gonzalez to testify.

The Miami relatives and psychiatric experts are expected to be among the witnesses.

Elian's state of mind has been a concern to all sides ever since his rescue on Thanksgiving off the Fort Lauderdale coast. His mother drowned when a boat capsized before they could reach Florida.

Concerns were compounded during five months of intense public scrutiny at his Miami relatives' home, and compounded yet again after gun-toting U.S. agents removed him from the home.

Kernberg said she watched Elian play with some plastic toy soldiers she had brought to assess his reaction to their appearance, "which was not unlike that of the officers who had retrieved him from his Miami relatives' home," her affidavit said. "He engaged in this sequence of play with pleasure and without anxiety." Boy shows strains

Elian did seem to tire easily, she said, showing strains of his ordeal. He seemed to miss Marisleysis Gonzalez, the cousin who has described herself as a surrogate mother.

Elian described "Mary," apparently meaning Marisleysis, as a "secret love." The cousin "may be an idealized love, rather than a maternal figure," Kernberg said. "His feelings for Marisleysis are similar to the romantic feelings of a schoolboy for his teacher or a wished-for girlfriend."

"In my opinion, a visit by Elian's Miami relatives would not be advisable in their current angry state," Kernberg said.

Marisleysis and other family members said little during their rounds on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, letting their doctors do the talking.

Dr. Jose Carro, president of the Cuban Pediatric Society in Exile, and two psychiatrists who have examined Elian said the boy should see Marisleysis. Carro compared it to a child seeing both parents after a divorce and said a joint living arrangement -- such as the ones that were discussed before Elian was taken Saturday -- is not needed.

"Elian needs to see Marisleysis as soon as possible," said Dr. Lydia Usategui, one of the psychiatrists.

Usategui was very critical of the Justice Department-appointed doctors who made judgments about Elian without meeting him or the Miami family, and of Kernberg.

"She never saw Elian before the whole raid," Dr. Usategui said. "She never met the (Miami) family."

Jeffrey Schaler, a developmental child psychologist in Silver Spring, Md., said, "The mental health professionals are acting as agents of each side," he said.

William E. Gibson can be reached at or 202-824-8256 in Washington. Rafael Lorente can be reached at or 202-824-8225 in Washington.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, AP photo/Jose Luis Magana; Elian's cousin: Cuban Embassy officials try to shield Elian Gonzalez's cousin, Yasmani Betancourt, 10, from the media at Mexico City International airport on Wednesday.

Copyright 2000 Sun-Sentinel Company