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Cuban-American National Foundation: 'We Are Very Close to Making that Family Reunion Reality'

Aired April 12, 2000 - 10:38 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Back now to Washington, Cuban-American National Foundation still talking at this time, just went into Spanish, we did not expect that out of the break, we thought he was speaking English.

But again, just a short time ago the spokesman clarified for our viewers here on CNN that last night, when they indicated there would be a reunion, it did not involve Elian, rather it involved or planned to involve relatives from Miami with Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of Elian, to talk further about a potential reunion.

Now we've got English. Let's listen.


JORGE MAS SANTOS, CUBAN-AMERICAN NATL. FON.: ... We are working on a site where the family will feel comfortable. The site that had been agreed to and negotiated, the family felt comfortable with. We are going to continue to work on venues that the family feels comfortable with, but the venue that had been selected was one that the family had agreed to.

QUESTION: did Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin play a role in any of what you put together here? I know she's with the family in Miami today. Is she working with your team?

MAS SANTOS: Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin has been with the family yesterday and over the course of the day today, she is lending support to that family. She obviously would like to see a resolution to this matter, and I that think she could help in this process, in terms of what she saw and her discussions and conversation with Janet Reno. So I do think that Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin can be part of the solution.

QUESTION: Is she working with them trying to bring about this meeting?

MAS SANTOS: Excuse me. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is she working with to try to bring about this meeting?

MAS SANTOS: Yes, she is, Jeanne is very, very active with all parties involved to try to bring a solution to this. QUESTION: Is the Justice Department still actively involved with the negotiations?

MAS SANTOS: Yes, the negotiations are ongoing, as we are here. They are on an ongoing basis this morning, and we hope that that meeting can become reality, is what the family wants.

HEMMER: As we go back into Spanish, just let you know what is happening here quickly. You heard the name Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, you may remember her name from back in January. She was the Roman Catholic nun in Southern Florida and a long-time friend of the attorney general, Janet Reno, as well, who brokered this meeting between the two grandmothers who came from Cuba to meet with Elian. Again, that took place back in January. And getting word there today that Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin came back into the fold full time yesterday and continues to be at the house of the great uncle, Lazaro, as you here in the videotape taken about two hours ago.

Again, she's hoping to try and mediate and smooth out the matters between the two sides. It's been an ongoing story that continues to take twists and turns just about every 60 minutes, about every hour on the hour we get a new change of course, and a new change in action.

The latest word we have given to us about an hour ago from southern Florida is that the great uncle, Lazaro, has taken Elian to a local hospital, Mercy Hospital, in southern Florida to meet up with Marisleysis, the woman who has acted like the mother figure for Elian throughout this time.

It is our understanding. after that, they will go to the home of Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin and continue in what is considered a calmer place.

As we go back and forth between English and Spanish, we hope to bring more to you. But again, as we watch the situation develop, not only in Washington but in southern Florida, trying to keep up-to-date on things.

Here we've got English. Go back now to Washington.

QUESTION: To the point of view of the family, briefly in Spanish, about what the family, you know, presented the family, what you want?

MAS SANTOS: In terms of the venue of the meeting...

HEMMER: Now, I feel like a linguistic ping-pong. Here we go in English.

MAS SANTOS: The meeting, which was planned, and we hope would take place was going to take place in the apostolic delegation of the Holy Sea of the Vatican here, which is the embassy of the Vatican on Washington on Massachusetts Avenue.

QUESTION: Is that the prime venue if you can make this happen? MAS SANTOS: Yes, we are. We are looking at that as a prime venue. I think all parties feel comfortable that it be under the auspices of the Catholic Church, and we hope that that venue would be acceptable.

QUESTION: Realistically, do you see that the transfer, given everything the government wants and demands on the father, realistically do you see that the transfer is inevitable, and this is simply the best chance to make it a smooth one that allows the Miami family to have a degree of comfort about who they are turning the boy over to?

MAS SANTOS: I think this meeting is an extremely good opportunity, a family reunion among the family, so that they can work this out among themselves, and that this decision not be imposed upon them by the Justice Department. I think it is an extremely good opportunity for the family, that's what they wanted. This ultimately should be a family decision and we would hope that that happens.

We are going to continue working towards that end, the family looks forward to that meeting taking place, but again, it is important that there are no conditions placed on that meeting. The agreement that was reached last night was with no conditions on either side.

QUESTION: Do you believe or do think the family can be convinced that the little boy's best place is with his father, when in fact that's what the government inevitably wants, what is your position on that?

MAS SANTOS: I think that the family's position, which is important, is that they want to decide this among a family, that has to be worked out among themselves. They have much deeper relationships that we from the outside can see. What we have done is try to help the family in trying the make a reality a family reunion, and I think that we have worked hard at it, and I think we are very close to making that family reunion reality.

HEMMER: Jorge Mas Santos from the Cuban-American National Foundation in Washington saying at the end there. very close to making a family reunion possible, but reiterating that no conditions be placed on the meeting with Elian's father. It continues to be battle between venues and meetings and negotiations. It is quite possible throughout the day today, though, we will have better direction on this story.



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