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Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, January 21, 2000

Hawaii mom is enraged
by fawning over Elian

WHENEVER Janet Greer opens the daily paper or turns on the TV news, there he is: Elian Gonzalez. The cute little 6-year-old -- whose Cuban mother and stepfather drowned while bringing him to Florida -- is being fought over by interests in his native land and the U.S.

Congressional representatives are subpoenaing Elian and doing whatever it takes to keep him in this country.

Immigration and legislative officials are flying to and from Havana to negotiate his destiny.

The U.S. government has offered to pay for Elian's father to visit him in Florida, while huge demonstrations in both countries clamor for his presence.

When 46-year-old Greer sees all this hoopla, she just sits in her Alexander Street apartment and cries. Then she gets mad.

In 1997, her 3-year-old daughter, Sarah Elgohary, was abducted by the child's father and taken to his native Egypt, where they reportedly now reside.

Since then, Greer -- who lives on a $370-a-month disability check with her mother -- has been writing letters and sending e-mail to Hawaii and federal officials soliciting aid in regaining custody of her daughter. She rarely receives a response.

"All this attention is being lavished on a foreign child like Elian, while thousands of internationally abducted American kids are forgotten," says Greer. "The only thing I've been offered is a plane ticket to Cairo. But what about the $100,000 it's going to take to fight this in the Egyptian court system? And who's going to protect me when my life has been threatened if I go there?"

Greer's is a sad, sad story and a mother's nightmare.

Even if she had the money to work the case through the Egyptian courts as she is being urged to do, the odds are against her. That country's laws do not favor the mother in custody battles. In fact, a mom is not even allowed to take a minor out of Egypt without the permission of the dad.

Furthermore, Egypt has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. That means Greer must wait while the U.S. government wends its way through a painstaking, slow and complicated process to get Sarah back.

Bureaucrats have been far from responsive to her repeated pleas for help. One in the State Department even told Greer, "We don't want to have an international incident over this."

WHAT kind of double standard is this, Greer wonders. As she watches folks bending over backward for a little Cuban boy, she's aware that non-custodial parents are kidnapping American children who will be illegally harbored in countries that receive millions in U.S. aid.

"It's really hard for me," says a red-eyed Greer, "but if anybody thinks I'm going to give up and go away, they're wrong. I will never give up trying to get my baby back."

Greer is active in a support group called PARENT -- Parents Advocating for Recovery through Education by Networking Together -- and she hopes that one of the TV news shows, like "Dateline" or "20/20," will focus on her predicament. That might shame U.S. officials into doing something, now that the Cuban raft boy is in the spotlight.

Meanwhile, Janet Greer is tired of seeing and reading about Elian. She wants to see her Sarah.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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