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New Deadline in Battle Over Elian Gonzalez

Aired March 30, 2000 - 6:00 p.m. ET


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: We begin in Miami, where there's been a development in the last hour in the case of young Elian Gonzalez.

CNN's Mark Potter joins us with the latest -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Bernie. After eight hours of negotiations today here at the U.S. attorneys office in Miami and five hours of negotiations last night at the INS headquarters, the attorneys for Elian Gonzalez and his relatives in Miami say there is still no agreement between them and the U.S. government. The only agreement that was reached was that they would again talk on Monday. It was also announced that the INS decision to revoke Elian's permission to say in this country tomorrow morning is also being delayed.


JOSE GARCIA PEDROSA, MIAMI RELATIVES ATTORNEY: Given the fact that discussions are still ongoing -- and I want to tell you that there has been no agreement reached -- the government has agreed, however, that they will postpone until Tuesday morning the revocation of Elian's parole.


POTTER: Now we're still awaiting a statement from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. That could come at any time.

It appears there are two main issues of discussion in the negotiations that have been occurring in this building today. The U.S. is insisting on the right to transfer Elian from the Miami relatives to the boy's father, Juan Manuel Gonzalez, should he actually arrive in the United States. It is also pushing for assurances from the Miami relatives that if they lose their appeal in the federal courts, they will then agree to allow the boy to be returned to Cuba. The U.S. government is not interesting in this case winding its way into the state courts. Attorney General Janet Reno said today that the U.S. government has bent over backward to be fair to the Miami relatives, but that she now thinks that the case should end as quickly as possible.

The biggest question here in this community, though, is what to do about the offer from the father to come this country. That is a major develop. If it occurs, it would have a dramatic effect on this case, and so everyone here is watching that very closely, knowing that that is probably the biggest news today.

Bernie, back to you.

SHAW: Mark, the Justice Department saying that it has agreed to delay until 9 a.m. Tuesday the revocation process. Was that decision by the U.S. government meant to calm emotions?

POTTER: Perhaps, but they realistically could not revoke the boys parole because it's contingent on the family refusing to cooperate. And if negotiations are still continuing, they haven't reached that point, so that's just the process of the continuing negotiations.

SHAW: Mark Potter, with the latest in Miami, thank you.

Here in Washington, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno remains firm in her decision that Elian be reunited with his father in Cuba.

Our CNN justice correspondent Pierre Thomas joins us with the latest on that -- Pierre.

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bernie, for the attorney general, the Elian Gonzalez controversy is causing pain in her own backyard, hometown Miami. And so to a degree, it is personal.


RENO: It is a community I was born in, raised in. It's a community I love. And when it's hurting, it hurts me.


THOMAS: Still, Reno says the law is the law.


RENO: This case has been heartbreaking for everybody involved, but we believe that the law is clear. The father must speak for the little boy because the sacred bond between parent and child must be recognized and honored, and Elian should be reunited with his father.


THOMAS: And it appears the father may be coming to the U.S., but this attorney says only under the right conditions.

SHAW: We're going to go live now to Miami, where the Immigration and Naturalization Service is making a statement.

KAREN PROSTHAR, SPOKESWOMAN, INS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your patience once again in this breaking story certainly. I'm Karen Prosthar (ph), and I'm a spokeswoman with Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, D.C..

At this time, we would like to make a statement concerning what has happened today. You'll be hearing from Robert A. Wallis, who is the district director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Miami's district office. Following his statement, I'll will be reading the same statement in Spanish. We will take no questions, no surprises there.

At this time, I will turn the mike phone over to Mr. Wallace. Thank you.

ROBERT WALLIS, INS: Thank you, Karen.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. The Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have agreed to resume discussions with Lazaro Gonzalez and his legal counsel at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 3. In the meantime, Elian's parole status will continue unchanged, and he will be allowed to remain in Lazaro Gonzalez' care. Elian's parole is therefore extended until 9 a.m., Tuesday April 4.

Like the family, we are monitoring developments concerning the possible arrival of Juan Miguel Gonzalez in the United States. The Department of Justice and the INS have approached these discussions in good faith, and we hope to continue to move forward on Monday. We continue to urge the community to recognize the importance of the of the bond between parent and child, as well, as the need to uphold the laws of the United States.

Thank you.

SHAW: That is the statement by Robert A. Wallis, the district director of the INS.

And now we're going to go to our CNN Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman for that side of the story -- Lucia.


Well, it's a waiting game now here in Cuba. Both the Cuban government and Juan Manuel Gonzalez, Elian's father, waiting to see if the United States will grant all of the visas that they have asked for, 31 in all. And more importantly, waiting to see if and when U.S. authorities will give them the assurances that they have asked for, that Mr. Gonzalez would be granted custody of his boy if he went to the United States. Now the reaction here on the streets of Havana to the news that he is now willing to go to the United States to take charge of his son has been welcomed. Most people hear, though, say, why did it take so long?

Now the president of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, told CNN that the reason why this is happening now is that this is really the very first time that there is a good chance that there is the real possibility for Elian Gonzalez to be given over to his father, for the custody to be transferred to his father.

Now the Cuban government is waiting -- has certainly proposed something novel. Thirty-one people would be going along with the father -- Elian Gonzalez' stepmother, his half brother and, in something that we've probably never seen before, most of his school, or at least half of his classmates, along with first-grade teacher, even we understand the desk that he used to sit at in his classroom would be transferred to Washington where Cuba proposes that the family wait out the legal battle in a U.S. appeals court in Atlanta.

Now what we have been told here is that Elian Gonzalez' father was feeling desperate, and the reason why he wanted this to happen is because he felt that he was becoming estranged from his son and that his son was losing touch with his roots and with his background.

President Fidel Castro says that by bringing all these people to the boy is the best way to solve this problem.


PRES. FIDEL CASTRO, CUBA (through translator): Let's see what they say now. If they accept these conditions in which the boys rights will be recognized along with the possible possibility of being reunited with those who saw him grow up, who educated him.


NEWMAN: Clearly, Havana is trying to call the bluff of the exile community in the United States, which had predicted that the father would never ever be allowed to go to the United States.

This is Lucia Newman reporting live from Havana.

SHAW: Thank you very much Lucia in Havana with the very latest on that.

Pierre, we interrupted you because we wanted the INS report, but we are approaching the prospect of the father coming to the United States.

THOMAS: That is clear, Bernie. The attorney for the father says, however, that he will only come under the right conditions.


GREG CRAIG, ATTORNEY FOR ELIAN'S FATHER: Mr. Gonzalez is willing to bring his family to the United States and to remain here during whatever time it takes to complete the appeals process. For that who to happen, however, he must have assurances that he will have custody of Elian during that time.


THOMAS: It remains unclear just how this will unfold, but sources tell CNN that these visa applications will be honored -- Bernie.

SHAW: Pierre, how does the new Tuesday deadline affect this case?

THOMAS: Well, it's clear that the specter of the father coming to Washington or to the United States is clearly impacting those negotiations. I think what the Justice Department is trying to do, in talking with sources today, they want to cool the fervor down, they cool the emotions down in Miami; they don't want a confrontation.

SHAW: Any U.S. political fallout here in Washington?

THOMAS: Well, the Justice Department clearly is mindful of some of the remarks being made by Al Gore, but they say they have more serious issues to resolve in terms of direct negotiations with the Gonzalez family in Miami, so that is what their focus is on.

SHAW: OK, thank you, Pierre Thomas.

And now quickly, we're going to back to Mark Potter in Miami -- mark.

POTTER: Well, Bernie, now we have heard from both sides, and there is at least some agreement, and that is that they have not agreed but that they will continue talking on Monday.

The only thing new from Robert Wallis, the INS district director, is a statement that they are "monitoring" the situation with the father, Juan Manuel Gonzalez, and his offer to come to the United States. As Pierre said, this is clearly the story now in the middle of this negotiation. There was a new issue here, and this one clearly overrides, and it may be putting some serious pressure on the Justice Department to come up with an answer, what to do now. The father says he will come here, he will be here with his son. It could be the answer that the Justice Department is looking for, but first the Justice Department has to guarantee the father that when he comes here, he will be able to be with his son. So a serious decision needs to be made before that can happen.

OK, thank you, Mark Potter, with the very latest in Miami.



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