It's never smart for a parent embroiled in a child-custody dispute to fantasize publicly about mass murder. It's especially unwise if you're Juan Miguel Gonzalez, father of six-year-old Elian Gonzalez, and your custody battle has become an international human-interest story and cold war political struggle. But longing and frustration had clearly taken a toll last week when Juan Miguel, 31, let loose a harangue from Cuba in an interview with ABC's Nightline. While angrily demanding the return of Elian, who has been living in Miami with relatives since fishermen rescued him from the Atlantic on Thanksgiving Day, the boy's father suggested that his U.S. kin were "unfeeling" accomplices to "child abuse." Then he mused that he might like to come to Miami "with a rifle and do away with" the Cuban exiles there who are fighting to keep Elian in the U.S.--or at least "break the necks of all those s.o.b.s."
In Miami, Juan Miguel's uncle Lazaro Gonzalez said in an interview with TIME that "Elian is my blood too, and it's my sacred duty to see that he isn't sent back to that wolf [Fidel Castro] in a country where children don't even have enough milk to drink." He added that Juan Miguel, a Communist Party member in Cuba, should "have the pants to admit that his son will be better off here." Lazaro insisted that Juan Miguel come to the U.S. if he wants to claim Elian--whose mother Elizabet, 29, drowned after the capsizing of the small boat in which she, Elian and 12 others had escaped Cuba. Elian was left to float on an inner tube for two days. Says Lazaro, an auto mechanic and former Cuban gymnast who brought his family to Miami in 1984: "Elian is virtually an orphan."
Until last week, most Americans had defined the Elian Gonzalez dispute as the shameful use of a child by both Castro and his single-minded enemies in Miami's exile community. But, as events have shown, Elian is also at the center of the sort of ordinary family feud that can be just as ugly as the political kind--and just as damaging to a small boy.
Elian's grandmothers, however, have offered hope of a solution. Castro, who has apparently refused to let Juan Miguel travel to Miami and bring his son back, finds Elian's "kidnapping" a useful tool for whipping up anti-Yankee fervor, including a demonstration of 100,000 Cuban mothers in Havana last Friday. Afterward, the grandmothers told TIME they are willing to make the trip--and they seemed to have Castro's blessing. "I am not afraid of Miami," said Mariela Quintana, the paternal grandmother. "I will pick Elian up myself." The other, Raquel Rodriguez, blasted the oft-repeated assertion by Lazaro's family that keeping the boy in the U.S. was the dying wish of Elizabet (who was divorced from Juan Miguel). "How dare they speak for her," she said. "Elisa did not know those people in Miami. For her to rest in peace, [Elian] must be with his real family, the one he has always known."