Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

THE ORLANDO SENTINEL April 27, 2000 Thursday, METRO



By William E. Gibson and Rafael Lorente, Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - 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 a 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 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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

Psychiatric pronouncements have become the latest ammunition in a war of words, as the adults surrounding Elian continue to squabble over the decision by federal authorities to take him forcibly from his great-uncle's home 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 Wednesday while releasing a letter to President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno requesting permission to evaluate Elian. The letter accused the administration of harming the boy by using force to remove him from the home 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 read. "In addition, every moment that Elian remains forcibly separated from his adoptive family represents further emotional abuse."

While the experts conveyed their contrasting opinions, Elian remained secluded with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, at a remote conference center on the Wye River in eastern Maryland, 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 the Wye retreat.

A Cuban pediatrician is expected to follow within the next day or two. The State Department said it will 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 baby 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 a while 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. next 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 since his rescue last Thanksgiving off the Fort Lauderdale coast. His mother and 10 others 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. They were compounded again after gun-toting U.S. marshals removed him from the home Saturday after months of negotiations between immigration officials and the Miami relatives failed.

Kernberg said she watched Elian play with 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 states. "He engaged in this sequence of play with pleasure and without anxiety."

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

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 advised.

Marisleysis and other family members said little while 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 there did not need to be a joint living arrangement as had been discussed before Elian was taken.

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

The contrasting conclusions show that psychiatry can be inexact, said Jeffrey Schaler, a developmental child psychologist in Silver Spring, Md.

"My own feeling is that Elian does belong with his father," said Schaler, who has not examined the boy. "I agree that it's good for him to have time alone with his father. I think that if he has contact alone with the [Miami) relatives, it will be confusing and traumatic for him."

"If they truly care about Elian's well-being they should leave him alone," Schaler said.

In other developments Wednesday:

Juan Miguel Gonzalez sought to intervene in the federal appeal his Miami relatives filed on Elian's behalf.

Elian's great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez is asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to order a political asylum hearing for Elian over the strenuous objections of his father.

In his 34-page motion filed with the court, Washington, D.C.-based lawyer Gregory Craig argued that, as Elian's father, Juan Miguel should replace Lazaro Gonzalez as the adult representing the boy's interest.

If the court were to agree, it could substantially alter, or even end, the legal appeal because Juan Miguel could request that the political asylum claim be withdrawn. Though he has agreed to remain in the United States until the appeal is settled, he has repeatedly said he wants to take Elian back to Cuba with him.

Government lawyers argued against the appointment of an independent guardian to represent Elian's interests, as requested by his Miami relatives. Such a guardian is unnecessary, the government told the court, because Kernberg, the Cornell psychiatrist retained by the government, already is visiting the boy and his family, and a social worker soon will make regular visits.

The government attorneys promised to keep the appellate court apprised of Elian's progress, based on reports filed by Kernberg and the social worker.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO: A playmate for Elian. Yasmany Betancourt, 10, who will visit his cousin, Elian Gonzalez, awaits a flight at Mexico City's airport.

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