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ELIAN'S DAD SAYS HE WAS OFFERED GIFTS TO JOIN SON

Elian Gonzalez's father told U.S. immigration officials that his Miami relatives offered him millions of dollars, a house and a car to join the 6-year-old boy in the United States, according to court papers filed Thursday.

"I could go there with all my family and would be taken care and could have a job if I wanted to work, but with the money offered I would not need to do so," the father said. "That's when I hung up the telephone."

Elian's cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, denied the accusations leveled in Thursday's court filing by the Justice Department. The government was responding to the Miami relatives' federal lawsuit seeking to block the child's return to Cuba.

"We would never buy anybody, because we are the type of family that believes money can't buy people," Gonzalez said.

As part of more than 400 pages filed in federal court in Miami, federal attorneys offered new personal details about the boy's life in Cuba and his relationship with his father.

"Elian lost his mother nine weeks ago and, to compound his tragedy, since then he has yet to see his father," Justice Department lawyers wrote in asking a judge to throw out the lawsuit.

The most emotional details in the government's arguments came from Elian's father, 32-year-old Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who in December was interviewed twice in Spanish by a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officer in Cuba.

Gonzalez said he and Elian's mother were divorced in 1991 but wanted a child so badly that they later got back together before splitting permanently.

"He is my first son. Wherever I went, he went with me," Gonzalez said. "I taught him how to swim, do karate. He has a parrot here, dogs, a bicycle and all kinds of toys. As a matter of fact, I haven't been to the barber because he isn't here, since we always went together."

While U.S. government officials believe that international law clearly holds the father's wishes to be sacrosanct, the debate over that issue continued to burn on several fronts Thursday. One surprise turn came in Miami.

Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, president of Barry University, a small Catholic institution, said that before setting up Wednesday's high-profile meeting between Elian and his grandmothers, she believed the boy should be reunited with his father.

But Thursday, O'Laughlin said, "A meeting that should have been a joyful celebration was tinged with fear and lack of trust." As a result of that fear -- which the nun suggested has its origins in Cuban leader Fidel Castro's totalitarian regime -- she concluded that "at this time, the best environment for Elian is in the United States."

The 70-year-old Dominican sister said she knows that her revised views are contrary to those of her old friend, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, and that she hopes to discuss her change of heart with Reno during a visit to the capital today.

Elian's future is now in the courts, where competing immigration and custody claims are working their ways through federal and Florida state judicial system. The case may not be resolved until March or later, officials said, while Elian continues to live in Florida with his great-uncle.

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