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CNN Today

Elian Gonzalez's Grandmothers En Route to New York City, Unlikely to Visit Family in Miami Because of Security Concerns

Aired January 21, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: For the first time since little Elian Gonzalez made his perilous trip to America, some of his Cuban relatives are headed this way as well. Elian's grandmothers are en route right now to New York City, ostensibly to appeal to the American people for the six-year-old's return to his father in Cuba. Elian remains in Miami, where he remains the subject of a legal dispute stretching all the way to Washington.

We have extensive live coverage, with CNN's Gary Tuchman in New York and Susan Candiotti in Miami. We begin with our man in Havana, Martin Savidge, who's on the line with us now.

They're on their way, Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Lou.

The executive jet, the white charter plane that flew in last night bearing the delegation from the National Council of Churches, returned again this morning, and we watched just a short while ago as it lifted off in the air, carrying Elian Gonzalez' two grandmothers on their journey now to New York City.

This has been a dramatic, topsy-turvy 20 hours that has occurred here in Havana. Last night, after the delegation arrived, there was a meeting that was held late last night between them and the Cuban families members of the little boy. After that meeting broke up, the faces were very solemn, and, as one of the grandmothers went by, they were specifically questioned, are you going to the United States? The answer from the grandmother then was, no, they were not.

Then this morning there appears to have been a change of heart, and it's interesting how it played out. Delegation was at their hotel. They were having a meeting in the lobby amongst themselves when Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian Gonzalez' father, showed up. Shortly thereafter there was an announcement from the delegations that the grandmothers had changed their mind and they were now going to go to the United States. Apparently some compromise has been struck, because the grandmothers had said they wouldn't make this journey unless it was to retrieve the boy. Now it's being stated that they are going before the American people to state their case.

So, the plane has departed. When the grandmothers will come back and whether they will bring Elian with them is unclear. CNN's Gary Tuchman is at the headquarters of the National Council of Churches in New York, and he joins us with more from there -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Marty, we're outside the National Council of Churches' headquarters building here in New York City. This is the council that is the intermediary in this situation. We thought earlier today the two grandmothers would hold a news conference at this building later today. We now believe they will hold a news conference at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City after they arrive.

I apologize. We thought we were having -- we thought we were off the air, but I realized we are on the air right now. Please accept my apology for that.

It promises to be a very hectic time for the grandmothers when they get here. Not only is this the world's media capital, but it's also about 20 below zero Fahrenheit on the wind child scale. It's about a hundred-degree difference, considering the wind chill, between Havana and New York City.

Now, for security reasons and planning reasons, the grandmothers' itineraries are not being divulged. They do know they are not coming here to take six-year-old Elian back to Cuba. They are coming here, they say, to tell the American people about their situation.

Now, they're coming to New York City instead of Miami, officials for the National Council say, because of personnel security concerns about the Cuban hotbed, the anti-Castro hotbed of south Florida.

This is Gary Tuchman, CNN, live, in New York City.

HALL: All right, Gary.

And now to Miami, where the legal proceedings got even more complicated when a federal judge suggested he may need to step aside.

CNN's Susan Candiotti joins us now with that development -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Andria.

While we wait to hear more about whether a U.S. district court judge will recuse himself from this case, we can tell you that there is no activity at the house where the boy's Florida relatives appear unphased by the grandmothers' U.S. trip. They say they'll believe it when they see their arrival on U.S. soil.

The six-year-old youngster has been at his private school all day long after missing classes Thursday because his relatives said the boy didn't feel well. The boy's great uncle says the women are welcome to come to the United States, as he puts it, to the land of freedom and democracy. Lazaro Gonzalez says, if the grandmothers decide to come to Miami he has prepared for them a special dinner, and they can see for themselves how well the boy is doing. He tells CNN the boy would ask the grandmothers to stay here in Florida with him and adds that the boy has consistently said he is here to stay.

One of the boy's relatives -- rather, one of the relatives' attorneys says that the youngster also is not going anywhere.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSE GARCIA PEDROSA, GONZALEZ FAMILY ATTORNEY: The issue of going back is not an issue that's up to the Cuban government or to the grandmothers to decide. There is a court order in place that no one has appealed or quashed or in any way done anything other than criticize, which is not the way we doings in this country -- if you don't like a court order you challenge it -- and there's a congressional subpoena, and both of those documents -- they're legally binding -- require that the boy stay. So, he's not going anywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now, we are expecting, as we mentioned earlier, a decision later this day from U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King as to whether he will recuse himself from this case, the federal lawsuit; he has been assigned it. That is involving the boy's demand for a political asylum hearing. Why? Well, it has been disclosed that the judge's son has a political connection to the consultant for the family here, the Gonzalez family. It turns out that the judge's son has hired the spokesperson for the Gonzalez family to run a political campaign. So again, we expect word on that later this day.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, reporting live in Miami.

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