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Elian Gonzalez Case: Custody Transfer Deadline Passes; Gloria Estefan Addresses Protesters

Aired April 13, 2000 - 1:57 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: CNN today focuses on Little Havana in Miami, where there is part protest, part festive -- like a festival with protest signs calling upon the federal government to resist its attempts to transfer Elian Gonzalez's custody from the great uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez in Little Havana, to his father up in Washington. That's what's supposed to happen in just a couple of minutes. The government has set a 2:00 deadline for that transfer.

The government's plan was to pick up Elian and his Miami relatives, take them by government jet to Washington for a meeting with Juan Miguel Gonzalez and effect a transfer there. That, apparently, is not going to happen, as the deadline passes.

But Susan Candiotti is at the home of Lazaro Gonzalez down there in Little Havana and can tell us what's going on there right now and what's expected to be happening.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, angry words from Elian's great uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, last night after his meeting with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, fighting words, some say. Lazaro Gonzalez saying that if authorities want to come and retrieve his nephew, quote, "they'll have to use force if they want to get him."

All this as the family is now passing a U.S. government deadline, ordering them to drive Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old youngster at the heart of this battle, to a local airport so that he could be put on a government aircraft and reunited with his father in Washington, D.C., something that U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has said must be done to re-establish a bond between father and son.

But Lazaro Gonzalez appears to be gathering strength from the demonstrators that you see behind police barricades, demonstrators that are backed up about three blocks or so. Indeed, this group is very well behaved. They are obeying police orders to stay behind these barricades. The Gonzalez family at odds with itself, a family divided. These relatives here refusing to follow a U.S. Immigration order to reunite Elian with his son, with his father.

In fact, a U.S. government official said, within the last hour, that as the 2:00 hour was reached, that an effort would be made to re- establish contact with the attorneys representing these Florida relatives, to see exactly what they have in mind, whether they intend to comply with the order. Clearly, Lazaro Gonzalez isn't going anywhere right now. He is staying put.

So the relatives here have some options: they could sit back and wait to see what the government wants to do next. They have also prepared paperwork to file an injunction, that is also called a stay with the 11th circuit court of appeals in Atlanta that would ask that court to stop the government from taking any further action to stop them from having to comply and perhaps ordering a hearing so that this family could further argue its case in court.

On the other hand, the U.S. government could take some action, but no announcement has been made about that. The government could go to federal district court here in Miami to ask than an order be filed to compel this family to comply with the law, as they see it.

So far this family is at an impasse. We have had some visits here within the last couple of hours, visits from the Miami-Dade mayor and the mayor of Miami, Joe Carollo, calling for continued peace from these demonstrators, and they've offered no trouble so far anyway.

And in fact, you have also had a couple of visitors from Hollywood, singer Gloria Estefan, one of them. She was born in Cuba, famous singer worldwide. She came to the home not long ago. We don't know if she visited with Elian himself, but she did meet with the family, with Lazaro Gonzalez and Marisleysis Gonzalez and with the family spokesperson.

She is now addressing the crowd.


GLORIA ESTEFAN, SINGER: ... what's happening here -- we stand together for many reasons, firstly, to assure this community and the world that we want no violence, that we're a peaceful community, as has been our history. There has never been violence from the Cuban- American community and there will be not be violence. We urge everyone that is watching, every Cuban-American that is watching to join us in this effort.

We demand the right of peaceful protest, which has been happening all along. I know that we Cubans are very passionate, and we don't want people to confuse our loud passion for violence, because it has never been such. I think that our record proves it.

I am very happy that Miss Reno, the attorney general, spoke and said that there will be no federal marshals coming to get the boy. She spoke to me before the press conference. She was kind enough to answer my call within five minutes expressing my concern over what was going to happen. She was very, very helpful and kind. She said she wants to resolve this in the best way, and I urged Miss Reno and our government to not let that ever become an option in this case.

We're talking about a 6-year-old boy. He should not bear the brunt of the legal system or the law. We, as Cuban-Americans, who enjoy the freedoms of this country, perhaps even appreciate it more than people that have been living here or born here. We know what it's like to be without these freedoms, so we do support the rule of law. The interpretation of law, however, is subject to the legal court system, which is why we have asked that this boy's story be heard in a courtroom, away from the political and the social events that we see happening.

This looks like right now it may not happen. We are still going to be a peaceful community that maintains the law. However, we are also taxpayers in this country, and we don't understand, and we want it to be clarified to us, why this family who has been guarding this boy is being compelled to betray his trust and hand him over on a silver platter. If his father is in this country, we want transparency, we want to know exactly why this father is not being compelled to follow the law, and the rule of the psychiatrists who have said that it should be in the best way for this child, this transition. We do not feel that a simple handing over of this child to the father is the correct transition. And it is not just the family, it's all the psychiatrists, that totally agree with this scenario.

Miss Reno was kind enough to offer a very good idea, a compound. She said it to our mayors. She mentioned it to me on the phone. Her own idea of establishing a compound where, as the family could be in one home, the father could be in the other home, and the child could slowly get used to, once again, being with his father.

This would be the best thing psychologically for the boy. It would allow the family a decent time to be able to get over all the things that have happened in these past few months. It's impossible to do that in one meeting. It's impossible to do that in three hours. They need time to be able to do this. It was turned down by the attorney for the father.

Now, we understand also an as a Cuban family, this father is a victim, just as this boy and is his family. He is a victim of the repressive government of Fidel Castro, He cannot speak for himself.

For some reason his lawyer is calling the shots. We don't understand why. If this family is being compelled to betray the trust of this boy, why cannot the father be compelled to follow this law? He is in this country. We saw recently a Jordanian father come and retrieve his son after a court proceeding. He came and picked up the boy.

Miss Reno told me specifically that the father is afraid of this community, that he feels that it's dangerous. We stand together as a Cuban-American community and offer the father sanctuary as well. He will be safe in Miami. He will be safe anywhere coming to get this child because we understand that he is also a victim here.

We extend our hand to him, our prayers are with him. We understand he is in a very difficult situation, as everyone is here.

There are many places in Florida that this exchange can take place if he does not want it to be in this home because of the attention. Marisleysis is in a delicate condition. I think we all know what she has been through, and I can only imagine how this family has been able to put up with the scrutiny day in and day out of the media.

So we would urge Miss Reno, if there is any compelling to be done, that she compel the father to do what is right by this boy. Perhaps that would make it easier for him to have to act apart from the wishes of the Cuban government.

We really think that this is the best interests for this boy. She can drive -- the family can drive to any location that Miss Reno appoints. She has said that the government would make a safe haven for them.

So we compel the U.S. government, if they're going to compel anyone, to please have the father do what is right by this boy. We all care about the boy. We want to do what is right by him.

And as a Cuban community, we stand strong in peace and offer him a peaceful and respectful welcome to Miami to come and retrieve his son. He is under no danger. There have been many people that in this community are viewed as supporters of the Cuban government that have come recently here. They have not been in under any danger. They have not suffered any violence.

Yes, there have been protests, it is the legal right to protest of any citizen in the United States. So this is what we wish to do here together as a Cuban-American community and anyone that cares to join us to offer a peaceful hand to Elian Gonzalez's father to come and be with his family, be with his son, give him the time that needs be for this transition to take place in the correct way for this boy.

CANDIOTTI: And so you have heard from Cuban-born singer Gloria Estefan, who is living in Miami, who has come to the scene here and revealed that she has spoken over the telephone with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno saying that the attorney general told her that the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, is afraid to come to Miami, which is what he has said before.

And Gloria Estefan saying that she believes, in her opinion, agreeing with the family, that the father should come here to Miami if he wants to retrieve his son. However, as you well know, Juan Miguel Gonzalez insists that the law is on his side, U.S. law and international law, in saying that he is within his rights to remain in Washington, D.C., that the U.S. government must enforce the law, and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has said she would do so.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has said that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, in a private meeting with her, with no Cuban officials present, indicated quite forcefully that he would like to go back to Cuba, that he has no intention of staying in this country, and that he believes that he deserves to have his son back.

So clearly, both side remain at odds, as the 2:00 deadline has come and gone with no action taken by the U.S. government, and in fact, no action promised by 2:01 p.m. to send federal marshals in. Instead, both sides appear poised to see what will happen next. No one is revealing what their next move will be. Will it be in court or will it be here? Natalie, no one knows.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Susan, we'll be in close contact with you there.

After an unsuccessful meeting with Elian's Florida relatives, Attorney General Janet Reno has been working behind the scenes in Miami today, as you just heard from Gloria Estefan, even speaking with the singer a short time ago. She also met with law enforcement officials and community leaders in an effort to avoid a confrontation in the Cuban-American neighborhood.

CNN's Mark Potter joins us from the U.S. attorney's office with more about Miss Reno and her efforts there in Miami -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon, again.

After meeting for most of the morning with law enforcement officials here at the U.S. attorney's office in downtown Miami, Attorney General Reno made an address to the Miami community. She said that, if the family refuses to honor the 2:00 p.m. deadline, which clearly it has now done, that the marshals, the U.S. marshals would not be showing up at the house at 2:01 and here in the Eastern time zone that time has clearly come and gone.

But beyond that, she offered no other details about what the government will do next. In fact, she reiterated her offer of trying to bring the -- all members of the Gonzalez family together.


JANET RENO, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have made arrangements for Lazaro Gonzalez and his family to be flown to Washington, D.C. at no expense to themselves to meet with Juan Miguel privately. This meeting would take place before Elian is transferred to his father's care. It would take place at a private retreat site where this family can finally sit down face-to-face and try to work things out among themselves. If they could work things out amongst themselves, the government would step aside. But if at the end of the day they could not reach agreement, the relatives would abide by the rule of law. We stand by this offer, and Juan Miguel Gonzalez has agreed to participate. Unfortunately, Lazaro Gonzalez and his family have refused these arrangements.


POTTER: Now, in her address to the community -- and Miami is her home town -- the attorney general said: Let us not have violence. She said the Justice Department has been told by the attorneys for the Gonzalez family that they will likely go to an appeals court to seek a temporary injunction against the government moving the boy from this community. And she said that the government would respond to that. And we can believe that the government would fight that attempt by the lawyers for the Gonzalez family.

But beyond that, she gave few details on what the government would do next.


RENO: I am prepared to enforce the law. But I want to be clear that if we are compelled to enforce our order, we intend to do so in a reasonable, measured way, the approach that we have always taken in this matter. We have the authority to take action, but responsible authority means not only being able to take action, but knowing when and how to take that action.


POTTER: "When and how to take that action," and what that action might actually be is something the attorney general said she would not speculate on, that it would be determined by events.

Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: All right, Mark Potter outside the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami.

Now to Lou.

WATERS: And as we've been reporting, Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has been talking with attorneys and officials in Washington, D.C. as he awaits to be reunited with his son.

CNN's Bob Franken is covering that aspect of the story from Washington.

Bob, what's new?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we've been waiting for some time now to find out what kind of reaction Juan Miguel Gonzalez would have to the videotape this morning -- that was released this morning showing his son Elian Gonzalez telling the world that he, in fact, did not want to go back to Cuba.

We have gotten a reaction just a couple of minutes ago from Gonzalez attorney Greg Craig who pointed out, he said that only, only Juan Miguel Gonzalez is the father and only Juan Miguel Gonzalez speaks for his son, that he had not approved any interviews, saying the news media should know Mr. Gonzalez has not given his permission or approval for any journalist to interview or photograph or broadcast his son.

The lawyer went on to urge media restraint and said that they should reflect the father's wishes and refrain from interviews of any sort.

Now, we're talking, of course, about that video which I mentioned a moment ago which was shot in the home, apparently, of Lazaro Gonzalez where they've been spending the last several months together. We do not know if, in fact, in that interview who was in the room. We do not know who shot it, whether it was edited, or whether the child was being prompted. But, of course, it's something that has been described as the kind of appearance on television that many people who have spoken with Juan Gonzalez say makes him feel very painful, that it's something, as a matter of fact, that he's described as every time he sees his son on television it's painful because he is not able to be with him.

This is all being played out as it's a last-minute effort to try and convince him that, in fact, he should stay in the United States, that, in fact, the son maybe would even be happier in Miami.

All of this is a very, very delicate negotiation. We do not know where it's going to end. But the attorney Greg Craig is urging restraint and allowing this to be done in as privately a way as possible.

Bob Franken, CNN, live, Bethesda.

WATERS: All right, Bob, thanks -- Natalie.

ALLEN: CNN Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas has been following this story for many months. He's at the Justice Department in Washington with the latest from there -- Pierre.

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, CNN has just learned that the Justice Department is now waiting to see whether the family will file for an injunctive relief in the 11th District Court of Appeals in Atlanta. That is where the story is beginning to shift. Sources are telling CNN that the Justice Department will wait and see what they do, and obviously will have to seriously consider and review any decision by the court.

Sources are telling us that the court might give prompt consideration to any action filed by the family members and that the Justice department would have to quickly respond or would have to very seriously consider whatever quick action was taken by the court.

ALLEN: So, Pierre, anyone that's standing near that home in Little Havana thinking that the INS is going to move any time this afternoon, perhaps, could be mistaken since this thing is now shifting to more legal avenues, correct?

THOMAS: Absolutely. But, meanwhile, Justice officials are continuing to review options, including having INS agents and Marshals at some point going to the home to get the boy should all else fail. That option is being reviewed, it's being studied. The attorney general has met with law enforcement officials, both federal and local, to discuss possible action. But, again, that is on hold, to some degree pending what happens, potentially, in federal district court.

ALLEN: All right, Pierre Thomas watching developments from Washington.

And now to Lou.

WATERS: And joining us now from Miami is Alan Delamater, who is a child psychologist. Mr. Delamater, we have seen this videotape earlier today. We don't know anything about this tape. It's of Elian Gonzalez at some time and place we know nothing about. We don't know if he's being coached, we don't know if the tape has been edited, but the essence of the tape is, hey, papa, addressing his father, Juan Miguel, I don't want to go back to Cuba. I want to stay here. I want you to stay here. What was your reaction when you first saw this tape -- as a psychologist?

ALAN DELAMATER, PEDIATRIC PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, it's highly unlikely that a 6-year-old would initiate such a videotaping. Obviously, this was something that was set up and, you know, the idea was not his to do.

But, you know, kids do have opinions. They say the things that are on their mind and what their feelings are. And it's important that adults around them hear them and listen to them, but it's also important to realize that what they say isn't going to really carry the weight of decision-making.

It's easy to understand how this child would want to stay, and it's easy to see how he would want to say the things that the adults in his immediate environment want him to say.

WATERS: There are various efforts to win hearts and minds on behalf of Elian Gonzalez surrounding this story. We have motion picture actor Andy Garcia in front of the Lazaro Gonzalez home saying, "he's very aware of why his mother brought him here and I think it's important that we listen to the child and let him determine his future."

You would, I would imagine, because of what you just said, take exception with that.

DELAMATER: Yes, I will. I mean, I think that 6-year-olds, while they can say certain things and feel certain ways, are not in a position to truly understand the implications of such decision-making, and that, you know, it's easy for them to say, yes, I want to stay here. But it's easy to see that that can be motivated by many influences in their immediate environment.

WATERS: We heard from the Catholic nun saying that Elian was aware that something serious was happening around him. I'm sure you would not disagree with that.

DELAMATER: Oh, I'm sure he's quite aware of everything for months now that's been happening around his house. He can't get outside of his house without a crowd of people attending to him.

WATERS: The question is, of course, will this tend to have any lasting negative impact on his life? Now, today, he's inside the home. You have 500 or 600 protesters outside speaking rather vocally and passionately about what they think should be done. There are political slogans being chanted, emotional slogans being chanted, religious slogans being chanted. What effect can this possibly have on this guy? DELAMATER: He's only a 6-year-old boy and he is trying to make sense of all this. And 6-year-olds depend upon the adults around them to help them make sense. So he is, I'm sure, getting some sense of what this is all is about and hearing about the reasons why his mother brought him here and so on. But, you know, he does need to be able to look towards the adults in his life for stability. He does have a father here who wants him back with him.

WATERS: And that's the big question: the value of a father in this boy's life. Those down there in Little Havana are saying only if the father renounces Castro's communist Cuba and stays here in the United States should the father be with the boy. What say you?

DELAMATER: Well, I mean, this is a father who is an individual adult who has the rights to make up his own mind. He certainly has the opportunity to do that here now. You know, in terms of the long- term impacts on this child, it will depend upon the response of the adults around him. If he is with his family, returns with his father and eventually goes back to Cuba, that will depend not only on how the adults around him deal with him, whether or not they allow him a normal environment without the cameras. This is an abnormal environment this child is in and has been in for quite a long time.

There is one other factor that will predict long-term, and that is the coping abilities that he had coming into this situation that he now finds himself. This is a kid who may have a lot more resilience, even though he is a vulnerable kid, he may have a lot of resilience and hardiness. Where does a kid get that kind of hardiness and confidence, to be able to engage with their environment and deal with stress that he's got? He did live with his family of origin for nearly six years in Cuba. He did emerge from a lot of the problems he's been in with seemingly some good coping abilities. Kids get that resilience from the stability that their primary attachment figures provide for them in their early years.

WATERS: He survived the sharks, look where he is now. He may recover from this one, too. Alan Delamater, child psychologist, we appreciate your help from Miami.

All of this began nearly five months ago when Elian Gonzalez and his mother out in that boat in Cuba trying to make it to the shores of Florida,

Soon the boy who none of us had ever heard of before became a household name, and was thrust into the middle of an international custody battle.


(voice-over): November 25, Thanksgiving Day, a couple of voters rescue Elian Gonzalez at sea, his mother is among the 11 who die trying to make the trip from Cuba to Florida aboard a 16-foot motor boat.

The next day Elian leaves the hospital with his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, who would take care of the boy during his stay in the U.S.

On November 27, in Cuba, the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, demands his son's return.

In January, the INS decides that Elian does belong with father, and must be returned to Cuba by January 14.

A week after that deadline passes, Elian's grandmothers arrive in New York from Cuba.

On January 26, they meet their grandson in Miami, but return to Cuba without him.

In March, a federal judge dismisses a lawsuit brought by Elian's Miami relatives challenging the INS decision to send the boy back to Cuba.

On April 6, the boy's father arrives in the United States.

And yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno meets in Miami with Elian's relatives and orders them to surrender the boy for a flight to Washington to be reunited with his father.


ALLEN: And again, that deadline for surrender has passed. We continue to watch development as Janet Reno continues to work behind the scenes to try to bring this thing to a peaceful conclusion. We will continue to watch it.



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