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Breaking News

Cuban Grandmothers Arrive in Miami For Reunion With 6-Year-Old Cuban Refugee Elian Gonzalez

Aired January 26, 2000 - 5:06 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf.

After some initial apprehensions about their meeting this afternoon with Elian Gonzalez, a meeting that was supposed to happen about an hour and 10 minutes ago at the Miami Beach home of a Dominican nun, the grandmothers from Cuba now have arrived by helicopter from the Opa Locka airport where they arrived by executive jet a little over an hour ago. They have spun across the water. They have landed at a hospital about two to three miles, we understand, from the meeting site where Elian Gonzalez is waiting, and outside is CNN's Mark Potter.

Mark, they're on their way.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it appears they are and it appears that this meeting that everyone has been fighting over for the last three days is now going to happen. There was a bit of a stumble even today.

The grandmothers came in and were expected to come here first, to arrive at this house an hour and 10 minutes ago as you said, at 4:00 Eastern Time, and they just sat there at the airport and they sat and sat and there was no movement. And then we heard from someone from the Cuban government that there was a concern about the privacy of the meeting inside here.

It was supposed to be a two-hour private meeting between the grandmothers and the boy, the 6-year-old boy, Elian Gonzalez, and the grandmothers apparently had some concerns that it wasn't going to be private enough. So, apparently that's been ironed out now and the grandmothers are on their way. We hear they have left the helicopter. It's not a very long drive from there to here.

WATERS: Yes. They're in their Sedan now. They have been greeted at the site where they landed by helicopter by a number of people who are throwing bouquets of flowers in their direction. So, emotions and passions are running high even as this meeting is taking place in what has been characterized as a neutral spot.

The grandmothers earlier had expressed some objections, we understood, on the grounds of their own personal safety and security to going to the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez, but perhaps there was more to it than that, because the families do appear to be squabbling even today over the plans for this private meeting between Elian and his grandson.

Have we been able to determine, Mark, whether or not the phone call from Elian's father will be included in this meeting, or is that just a rumor going around?

POTTER: From my standpoint here outside the house it's unconfirmed. It's -- I don't know if it's a rumor. I cannot confirm that myself. What I can tell you as we're looking at the scene here, this is not a security problem for the grandmothers.

This is a very secure situation provided by the Miami Beach Police Department. They started working on it yesterday as soon as the meeting was put together, and the street is blocked off. The media is kept two lanes away from the house. There are some protesters here. There aren't that many, a few dozen, and they're relatively well behaved. They have been chanting. There was a little bit of a scuffle earlier, but it didn't amount to much. They're even behind the press corps.

And the meeting itself is going to be in a gated community well guarded by a lot of rather beefy members of the Miami Beach Police Department, and no one is getting through there. And then there's Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin to deal with once you get inside and she's not going to allow anything to happen, at least that's the reputation she enjoys as a very well-respected member of the community here in south Florida. And so the meeting is expected to be inside a building facing the water, which is away from this area, and we're all waiting for the cars to round the corner as they did with Elian's family a short while ago.

WATERS: Apparently it's rush hour. The car was waiting for a few minutes there to make a left-hand turn onto what street I don't know. But we're near Mount Sinai Hospital with this camera shot here, which is just a couple of miles from the meeting site. Elian Gonzalez arrived -- he was supposed to arrive after the grandmothers arrived, then this glitch developed, but Elian is there now waiting for the grandmothers to arrive.

And, Mark, who showed up with Elian Gonzalez? There were a couple of cars there.

POTTER: Yes, the Miami relatives that we have seen over and over in the last couple of weeks, Mareses (ph) Gonzalez, his cousin, and the young woman who has been caring for him, his great uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, his other great uncle Delfine (ph) Gonzalez, we saw the family spokesman, Armando Gutierrez, the lawyer Spencer Eig, who has been representing the family. There were other people in the second car that I couldn't see behind the darkened windows, but there was -- I would say it's the usual contingent that surrounds this 6-year-old boy whenever he moves.

WATERS: Where will those folks be, do you know, when the grandmothers arrive? They most certainly will see one another inside those gates, will they not?

POTTER: Well, I am not sure about that. The grandmothers indicated yesterday on -- last night on CNN that they didn't want to meet with the relatives here, so that may not happen. My understanding is that the relatives will be in another room away -- nearby but away from where the grandmothers and the boy will be meeting, that according to Sister O'Laughlin, Jeanne O'Laughlin who spoke to us earlier today. So I am not sure that they actually will see each other.

There is great acrimony, as you reported out earlier, between members of this family. They do not get along. They have been sniping at each other for days on end ever since the grandmothers arrived here. The grandmothers speak very despairingly of the family here, saying that they are harming the boy emotionally by keeping him here, and the relatives here in Miami are criticizing the grandmothers who, they say, are engaged in a propaganda ploy engineered by the Cuban government. So they're not getting along and caught in the middle is 6-year-old Elian.

It was so bad that the grandmothers came here Monday night -- they flew all the way to Miami to see the boy, but they and the family could not agree on where the meeting would take place. The -- and so Sister O'Laughlin, who we're seeing now, was brought in. She was asked by INS commissioner Doris Meissner to mediate, to provide a location. She's a well known community activist in Miami, well respected president of Berry (ph) University, and also a close personal friend of U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. And Sister O'Laughlin has said that she suspects it's that friendship with Attorney General Reno that got her this job today of trying to keep everything together and she says...

WATERS: Here's your car, Mark.

POTTER: ... that she's going to...

WATERS: Here's your car.

POTTER: She says that she -- OK. We're not seeing it here yet.

WATERS: It's the Ford -- it's the maroon Ford.

POTTER: OK. We're seeing it now.

WATERS: And we're hearing cheers.

POTTER: Yes, the women inside, Raquel Rodriguez, the maternal grandmother, and Mariela Quintana, the paternal grandmother -- the crowd behind us started cheering and making a little bit of noise when they drove by, but they're separated from the grandmothers by three lanes -- street lanes and the media. So I am not sure that the grandmothers were able to even perceive that there were protesters there making noise. They went by very quickly.

WATERS: All right. Mark Potter outside the gates. The grandmothers are inside the gates. And the meeting that's taken several days to arrange is about to happen. As we mentioned earlier, Elian Gonzalez has been here for almost now -- about 45 minutes or so. He's inside waiting for his grandmothers, and this private meeting which is scheduled to last a couple of hours under the auspices of Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, who is the president of Barry University. They're walking inside. For now we can only guess what will happen.

Mark Potter will be keeping watch outside and we'll keep up with the story. As soon as there's something new to report, we of course will report it to you. I am Lou Waters at CNN Center. We'll take a break. "INSIDE POLITICS" will continue after the break.


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