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Elian Gonzalez leaves U.S. for Cuba
Supreme Court cleared way for Cuban boy to go home
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Elian Gonzalez, his family and friends left Dulles International Airport in Virginia, on a chartered flight to Cuba, bringing to a close a seven-month legal and political drama.
The plane left less than an hour after an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals injunction against his departure expired at 4 p.m.
Earlier Wednesday, a police motorcade escorted the five-car caravan carrying Elian and his entourage from their temporary home in the Washington area at the Rosedale Estate past a few demonstrators outside the house.
Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, made a statement before the group boarded two aircraft.
Bomb-sniffing dogs checked the charter jet at Dulles that is taking Elian, his father, his stepmother and infant half brother back to Cuba. His teacher and favorite cousin also were taking that plane.
A separate plane is carrying an entourage of school mates, teachers and friends who had come to Washington to be with Elian while the appeals played out in court.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday decisively ended a seven-month custody battle over the 6-year-old Cuban boy, which began when he floated into Florida waters on an innertube.
At a news conference a few hours later, President Clinton expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the international custody battle.
"Do I wish it had unfolded in a less dramatic, less traumatic way for all concerned? Of course I do," Clinton said. "I have replayed this in my mind many times. I don't know that we had many different options."
In a brief, two-sentence statement, the court rejected a request by Elian's Miami relatives for a political asylum hearing on the boy's behalf and refused to extend the injunction requiring him to stay in the United States.
The ruling meant that Elian and his immediate family would be free to leave for Cuba after 4 p.m. Wednesday when the previous injunction expired.
Cuban officials tell CNN that the family arrives in Havana they will then return to their home in Cardenas.
Attorneys for the Miami relatives filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court Monday after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected their request to reconsider its ruling that said the Immigration and Naturalization Service did not have to grant Elian a political asylum hearing.
The appeal said the legal issues "boil down to a single straightforward question: Can the INS deprive an alien child of his statutory and constitutional right to apply for asylum without conducting any hearing of any kind -- or even interviewing the child himself?"
Miami's Cuban community was dejected Wednesday over the Supreme Court ruling allowing Elian Gonzalez to return to Cuba, but authorities said they were not expecting violence or major demonstrations.
Cuban-American leaders said that while the battle was lost, they would continue to oppose Cuba's communist leadership.
Outside the Little Havana home where Elian had stayed with his relatives people milled, hugging each other, talking sadly. Some cried.
Ramon Saul Sanchez, a Cuban-American exile leader, told CNN, "We're very disilliusioned with the Supreme Court decision, however unfortunately, it's something that we already expected. The fight for Elian Gonzalez continues because we must fight for the rest of the children of Cuba and he's going to be returned to that place where oppression has endured for 41 years."
The Justice Department had argued that Elian's Miami relatives' last-ditch appeal was without merit and said, "prohibiting Elian's departure would only cause him harm."
Justice Department officials are relieved by the Supreme Court decision, CNN Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas reported. He said they would like for the family to leave in dignity.
In a written statement, Attorney General Janet Reno said, "I am very pleased that the Supreme Court has declined to review the case of Elian Gonzalez. The law has provided a process, and this little boy now knows that he can remain with his father. All involved have had an opportunity to make their case--all the way to the highest court in the land. I hope that everyone will accept the Supreme Court's decision and join me in wishing thisfamily, and this special little boy, well."
Immigration officials have consistently maintained that the desire of Elian's father to repatriate the boy to Cuba must be respected, a position backed by a succession of court rulings.
Elian has been at the center of a legal tug of war between his father and his Miami relatives since he was found clinging to an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day. His mother and 10 other people died trying to reach the U.S. in a poorly-made boat.
Elian could be just hours away from return to Cuba
U.S. Attorney General
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