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National Perspective | UPDATE

Elian's Family and Friends Make a Move to the City After a month on Maryland's Eastern Shore, it's time for a change of scenery for the Cuban entourage.

May 25, 2000|ESTHER SCHRADER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The kid is bored.

All that frolicking with Dad, hanging out with friends and romping on the monkey bars installed just for him on a secluded Chesapeake Bay estate is getting a little old.

So Elian Gonzalez, the world's most famous Cuban after Fidel Castro, is doing what people do when they start to go stir crazy in the country: He's moving into town.

Any day now, the little boy, his family and an entourage of four playmates, a pediatrician and his kindergarten teacher will leave Carmichael Farm--a private retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore--for an estate owned by an international youth foundation in Washington, sources say.

It's the biggest move in weeks from everyone's favorite castaway, who has been ensconced at "Cuba on the Chesapeake" for a month, interrupted by a foray to a chic Georgetown manse, a trip to the National Zoo and a visit to an exotic animal farm, where he petted a camel and fed a llama.

"They need some city things to do," said the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell of the National Council of Churches, a stalwart supporter of Elian's father and his desire to return with his son to Cuba. She has become something of an adopted grandmother to the 6-year-old, who has been at the center of an international custody dispute for six months.

'Just Ready for Something Different'

As Campbell spoke on a cell phone from Carmichael Farm, Elian and his friends could be heard chattering and playing in the background.

"They like it here. It's been a good place for them to be away from prying eyes and to just be a family," Campbell said. "But I think they're just ready for something different."

Something different is a Revolutionary War-era yellow clapboard mansion on the Rosedale estate, a 6.5-acre property near Washington National Cathedral owned by Youth for Understanding International Exchange.

Gregory B. Craig, the high-powered lawyer who represented President Clinton in impeachment proceedings before he started working for Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, lives nearby. On Monday, he called his friends at the nonprofit youth group and asked to use the house, spokesman Len Doran said.

"We're not inserting ourselves in this," Doran said. "Greg Craig is a neighbor. . . . He is the one who asked us to consider doing this. We have no opinion about the matter other than we think the laws of the U.S. should be enforced."

Capital Was Designed in Dining Room

The seven-bedroom house where the Gonzalez family is expected to stay is not exactly modest. Built in 1740, it predates the White House. George Washington didn't sleep there, but he ate there. In fact, Washington and Maj. Pierre L'Enfant laid out plans for the capital in the home's dining room.

These days, the house on Newark Street is surrounded by spacious Victorians. Should the family venture out, there's a Starbucks and a toy store just down the street.

Of course, Elian's current digs aren't too shabby either. And when compared to the two-bedroom house in Miami's Little Havana community where he stayed after his rescue from the shipwreck that killed his mother--or the tiny, bright blue house in Cardenas, Cuba, where he lived before his odyssey began--it is, if not paradise, certainly a gilded cage.

Elian and his Cuban entourage have been living in a cluster of cottages on the Eastern Shore estate since April 25, three days after federal agents stormed the Miami house where he was living with relatives who have opposed sending him back to communist Cuba.

A court order forbids Elian to leave the country or to go to Cuba's diplomatic mission while a federal appeals court considers the asylum claim filed for him by his Miami relatives. The court heard arguments from all sides in the dispute two weeks ago but has yet to rule.

But Elian hasn't exactly been cooped up. The cottage where he, his father, stepmother and baby half-brother have been staying lies near the center of Carmichael Farm, the estate about 70 miles from Washington owned by Nina Houghton, widow to an heir of the Corning glass-making fortune.

The estate includes a working farm and woods full of foxes, deer and other wildlife. Federal law enforcement officials patrol the estate on golf carts, and Coast Guard boats keep constant watch on the property's waterfront.

Elian goes swimming when he pleases and tools around on a bicycle that a U.S. marshal taught him to ride. He plays with his friends, cares for a 6-month-old black Labrador puppy his hostess bought him and watches satellite television and videos.

Every weekday, the children attend classes taught by the boy's former teacher. Like every Cuban schoolboy, Elian wears the red shorts, white shirt and blue scarf denoting membership in the Pioneers, the Communist Party youth organization. Photos of Elian wearing the uniform have incensed his Miami relatives, who charge the boy is being brainwashed.

"This is like his school uniform," Campbell said. "Whether we like it or not, he is a Cuban child. He lives in Cuba. They are trying to get him ready to go back there."

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