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Cuba keeps Elian out of sight, vows to persist in ‘battle’

Foreign Ministry demands end to 40-year U.S. embargo

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HAVANA — Cuba kept Elian Gonzalez secluded on his first full day home but pushed to turn the momentum of his return into a reinvigorated campaign of protests against American policy toward the communist island.

The Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Cuba would not only demand an end to the 40-year-old U.S. embargo and changes in U.S. immigration policy but also that the United States return the Guantanamo naval base it occupies at the southeastern tip of the island.

"Our battle to achieve what the Cuban people have been fighting for . . . for 40 years will not end with the return of Elian," said Aymee Hernandez, the deputy spokeswoman at the Foreign Ministry.

State television, meanwhile, repeated broadcasts of Elian's arrival Wednesday evening at Havana's Jose Marti Airport and showed new footage of his first few hours on Cuban soil.

A jubilant Elian was seen playing with children his age, running around a large reception room and laughing while chewing on a cracker as adults and family members chatted in the background and looked on.

The government had said the family would be taken to an undisclosed location before being brought to a secluded house in the capital's upscale Playa neighborhood where they would stay for a few weeks.

The government, which mobilized a nationwide campaign to bring Elian home, has already organized another rally for Saturday in the southeastern city of Manzanillo, where an estimated 200,000 people are expected to give support for the next step in Cuba's "great battle" against its northern neighbor.

Cuba has held more than 100 such rallies in the seven months that Elian has been away, busing hundreds of thousands of Cubans from around the country to designated sites to show popular support for bringing the boy home.

Now that Elian is back, the government wants to use that energy to fight against the U.S. embargo and American laws that allow any Cuban who reaches U.S. soil to remain. Cuba says that policy encourages Cubans to take risky crossings across the Florida Straits, such as the one that Elian embarked on with his mother and 12 others last November.

Attorney General Janet Reno said Thursday she will review whether there should be new regulations for dealing with children in political asylum cases.

"We're following up . . . and one of the questions I want to ask is what, if anything, should be done," Reno said. "Where do you draw the line between a 6-year-old and a 12-year-old? How do you make these judgments?"

Elian was one of three survivors from the shipwreck that killed his mother and thrust him into an international custody dispute between his father in Cuba and his relatives in Miami, who wanted him to remain in the United States.

"With Elian, we have saved a marvelous child, but millions of innocent creatures — older or younger than Elian but equally loved — run the risk of drowning, dying or suffering horrible tragedies such as those suffered by Elian," the government said in an official announcement.

Cuba and the United States regularly review migration agreements that stipulate that the United States grants at least 20,000 visas a year to Cubans to persuade those who want to come to America to do so legally and safely.

Talks scheduled to have begun last week in New York were suspended at the request of the Cuban government because the Elian dispute still was unresolved.

But even with Elian home, Hernandez said Thursday that the government wouldn't resume talks until the proper "conditions" existed. She didn't elaborate, but stressed that Cuba was "committed to the strict fulfillment of the migration accords."

Hernandez also rejected as "cosmetic" an agreement reached this week in Washington among lawmakers to allow the sales of U.S. food to Cuba. The agreement, which still must be approved by the full Congress, prevents American financing for such purchases, forcing the cash-strapped Cuban government to either pay cash for the goods or seek financing from a third country.

"What we see is that this is a cosmetic measure which, far from making (the embargo) more flexible is making it endure longer," Hernandez said.

If approved, the measure "would only put in place more obstacles to clean and unconditional commerce between Cuba and the United States," she said.