(CNSNews.com) - The new year brings a new round of speculation about the fate of six-year-old Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who washed into the headlines on November 25: While some conservatives suggest that President Clinton himself will hand deliver the boy back to Cuba (legacy-building, they joke), Tuesday's Washington Post reports that US officials have asked Cuba to grant the boy's father an emergency exit visa, so he can come to Miami to pick up his son in person.
According to a US official quoted in the newspaper, allowing Elian's father to come to Miami might blunt the fury of Florida's big Cuban-American community, which has been very vocal in demanding that Elian be allowed to stay in the United States.
Elian is now staying with his paternal relatives in Miami. Those relatives suggest that Elian's father, under pressure from Cuban president Fidel Castro, has no choice but to demand the return of his son. They say his repeated claim -- that he has no interest in traveling to Florida - was probably made under duress.
In Havana, the unspoken fear is that Elian's father might decide to stay in the United States if he is allowed to leave Cuba.
Elian's mother and stepfather died, along with nine other Cubans, in their attempt to bring Elian to the United States. Fishermen found the boy clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast on November 25, after the Cuban's boat capsized.
State Department and INS officials had no immediate comment on the report that Cuba had been asked to allow Elian's father to travel to Miami. One administration official suggested the report might be a trial balloon to see how the Cuban-American community in Miami would react. This is an election year, after all.
National Security Council spokesman Jim Fallin told wire services that the INS has not made a final decision on Elian's case, and therefore he said "it would be premature and inappropriate to discuss arrangements based on a decision that has not been made."
The INS has set a Jan. 21 hearing in Elian's case, but officials have said they could arrive at a decision any time. The Washington Post report suggests that US officials anticipate an INS decision in favor of sending Elian back to his father.
INS officials met with Elian's father for a second time in Havana on New Year's Eve, and it was after that meeting that US officials reportedly asked the Cuban government to let Mr. Gonzalez travel to Florida. Cuba reportedly said it would take the request "under advisement," although publicly, the Cuban government has said Mr. Gonzalez should not have to leave home to get his son back.
If his father did come to the United States, legal custody of Elian would immediately revert to him, and he would be free to leave the country with Elian.