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Custody Transfer Deadline in Elian Gonzalez Case Passes

Aired April 13, 2000 - 2:44 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: You are seeing a lively demonstration -- less a protest than a demonstration on this day when the federal government had imposed a 2:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight deadline for the transfer of Elian Gonzalez from his great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, where this demonstration's taking place around his home in Little Havana, to his father who still waits in Washington for this transfer. The deadline has come and gone.

And in the past few minutes, we have learned that the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta has received a petition seeking an injunction against the federal government for trying to impose this transfer.

We have our legal analyst Greta Van Susteren with us from Washington.

What does this mean exactly, Greta, in the context of this whole legal battle, because we already have an appeal filed by the federal government that we're still awaiting a ruling upon. Now we have another legal maneuver. How does this all add up for us.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is the way it works, Lou, is that the existing order from the trial court is still in effect even though they filed an appeal on that. And so what they're trying to do now is to go to the court of appeals and say, look, even though the trial court ruling is still in effect, would you put it on hold, would you enjoin it, would you stop it until the Court of Appeals can consider the issues.

So it's an effort to stop the effect of the trial court order, which is still good. It's still in effect, but the Court of Appeals needs an opportunity to review it. So that's what they're trying to do. They're trying to stall it a bit.

WATERS: Now, the federal government has an option now, does it not?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what's going to happen is that the U.S. Court of Appeals is either going to deny the injunction -- frankly, I'm surprised that it's called an injunction. Usually what you ask for is a stay, that you ask to stay the lower court order while the higher court considers whether or not the original decision was a correct one or not. But apparently they've decided to call this a request for an injunction or a petition for an injunction. What typically happens is the court will look at it. The court will either dismiss it right out or they will turn to the federal government, say, look federal government, you respond to this so we can decide whether or not an injunction should be issued. And they may instead say, look, we may put this down for a hearing to decide whether or not an injunction will be issued. But what it does in the meantime is it slows things down a little bit. But we don't know if the Court of Appeals is going to issue the injunction which will simply stop the trial court decision. And it's that trial court decision the Miami family wants to stop because that's the decision that reaffirms that the attorney general of the United States has the power to remove that child, give that child back to the father, and then the father take the child back to Cuba.

WATERS: That would be my -- that was going to be my question about any sense of urgency about this, or are we going to be covering the Elian Gonzalez teenage years here in America?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I don't know about that. But there's an incredible sense of urgency by the Miami family because, look, once the trial court judge issued that order some time ago, the attorney general of the United States and Immigration was able, by law, to go in and take that child. Now, they didn't do it right away, and they gave them until 2:00 today for the family in Miami to turn over the child. But they could have gone in and, technically, taken the child between the time the trial court order issued and 2:00 today. They didn't.

Now the family realizes that that could be imminent. They don't know what the federal government's going to do and they need to get some court to say to the federal government, stop. Don't do anything until the appeal is heard. Well, we don't have that right now. We have a live order that can be enforced by Attorney General Janet Reno, and the U.S. Court of Appeals has not put that order on hold. That's what the family wants. they want that trial court decision put on hold until the entire -- until the Court of Appeals can consider whether or not it's right that he be returned, that he be given to the attorney general, to the father and back to Cuba.

WATERS: And if the family in Miami doesn't get that, we'll be right back here in Little Havana with the crowds and the flags and the demonstrators and the...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, not -- I don't know, Lou. I mean, lawyers are a rather litigious and aggressive group. You know, you lose in the Court of Appeals -- if the United States Court of Appeals says, look, we're not even going to order the federal government to respond to your request for an injunction, we're just going to outright dismiss it, I suspect that the lawyers will then go to the United States Supreme Court and ask relief from the United States Supreme Court, ask the Supreme Court to issue an injunction or a stay in the trial court order.

Now, if you got to go to the United States Supreme Court to get this, I have to tell you that your chances of getting it are rather slim. The farther you get away from the court that issued the order, the more difficult it is to win.

What would be a real victory today for the family is that the United States Court of Appeals said, look, we want to take a look at this issue. Federal government, you have five or 10 or 15 days to respond to this request for an injunction, and at that time we'll decide whether or not to issue an injunction, thereby buying some days for the family. That would be an enormous victory right now, but they could very easily, by 4:00 today, say, look, this injunction is not appropriate for the United States Court of Appeals. You're out of luck. And then the family will be probably scrambling to Washington to the Supreme Court. That would be the sort of predictable path. But at this point, who knows?

WATERS: All right, Greta Van Susteren in Washington -- Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And let's go now to our Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas who's been checking in with the department to see what the response is about this injunction filed by lawyers for the relatives in Miami -- Pierre.

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, CNN has learned that the Justice Department has received a request from the 11th court of appeals asking them to forego any enforcement action until they review this request for an injunction.

We were also told by Justice Department sources that the Justice Department has agreed to forgo any enforcement action until the court can review this particular injunction. It does not speak to the larger question of, you know, should the Justice Department forgo action throughout the entire appeals process. The court has simply asked the Justice Department that while it considers this request for an injunction to forego any enforcement action. The Justice Department has agreed to do.

ALLEN: And what kind ...

THOMAS: We should be getting a statement on that at anytime now.

ALLEN: And kind of timetable could we be looking at? How long could this take, Pierre?

THOMAS: Well, that's unclear. It depends on how quickly the court will move. I am sure the Justice Department will argue before the court that they want prompt consideration of this request for an injunction.

ALLEN: All right, Pierre Thomas, there in Washington -- Waters.

WATERS: As you are no doubt aware, the Elian Gonzalez story is being watched as closely in Cuba as it is here in the United States.

CNN's Bill Delaney in Havana today.

Any reaction yet from the Cuban community to what's going on in Little Havana, Bill? BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, the contrast to the pace of events in the United States as compared to here in Cuba couldn't be more stark, and the answer is no. We haven't had any official public commentary from the Cuban government on all of this. Privately, Cuban officials do tell us they're following the situation closely. They add, they're very proud of how Juan Miguel Gonzalez continues to conduct himself under so much pressure up there in the United States, and the officials also they us that Elian's Gonzalez' grandmothers, who of course went to visit the boy in January, are particularly anxious at this moment.

The basic Cuban position remaining what it's been for months, Lou: They just want the boy to come.

Now in about two hours, we will have one of the daily so-called tribunals, which are government-sponsored gatherings of Cubans, which will today take the form of a roundtable discussion broadcast on television and radio, where we may get more information about the Cuban government position. It's even possible Cuban President Fidel Castro could show up at this roundtable. He sometimes does appear at these tribunals -- Lou.

WATERS: Bill, early on in this story, we saw the demonstrations in the streets of Havana, more or less, government-sponsored demonstration, but we're not seeing that now. Why? Is there some conscious effort to limit this kind of activity?

DELANEY: Well, Lou, that's not completely true. These tribunals, as they're called, have continued virtually every day for months now, and they've continued in recent weeks. We may not be putting them on television quite as much as we were, partly because these gatherings have not been happening here in the capital, Havana, but they've been happening in scattered places around the countryside. But there still able to gather crowds, sometimes of hundreds or more, to come out and protest, and they marshal these roundtable discussions, which are broadcast on the two government television stations and on the radio when they don't hold those gatherings. That's the sort of get together there will be today, this roundtable. And again, that's when we may get more official Cuban government reaction to all of this, and possibly even an appearance by Fidel Castro himself. But as I said, the position here remains steadfast. They want the boy home. It's as simple as that.

WATERS: All right, CNN's Bill Delaney keeping watch in Havana today -- Natalie.

ALLEN: You've been hearing people outside Little Havana talk about their anger at one person who's name has been coming up today, and that is the attorney for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of Elian. That attorney is Greg Craig, the spokesman for the family saying they wish he would make a move to change how a meeting between the families could take place.

And Bob Franken is in Bethesda, Maryland, covering that side of the story.

And, Bob, perhaps you have the latest on what the father is thinking and his attorney, Greg Craig..

Well, Juan Miguel Gonzalez left the Cuban Interest Section's residence here in Bethesda, went down to first the Cuban Interest Section downtown, and then to his attorney, Greg Craig's, office, where he's been meeting along with the head of the Cuban Interest Section, Fernando Ramirez, and others. We're expecting that Craig is going to come out and appear before our cameras within the last half hour. But he's already put out a statement about that videotaped presentation overnight of young Elian Gonzalez, in which he has said that did not want to go back to Cuba. Of course, we don't know whether he was being prompted, who was in the room, whether it had been edited and who shot it.

But Craig put out a statement saying that only Juan Miguel Gonzalez speaks for his son, Elian Gonzalez. He has approved any appearance in the media, urges restraint, and says -- and I quote -- "News media should know Mr. Gonzalez has not given his permission or approval for any journalist to interview, photograph or broadcast his son."

Now we have been told that throughout the months that he's been separated from Elian Gonzalez, that Juan Miguel Gonzalez tells people that it was painful for him every time he saw him on television, that in fact he felt even more distant because he was not close to his son. We've heard various psychologist say that it is very difficult to say what exactly prompted the young boy to make his statement this morning. And they also say, we've heard several interviews to that effect, that they don't want him to, in fact, be the one who decides this, that this is a little bit too much for a 6-year-old child to do. It's sort of like the child saying I don't want to go to bed.

This is a very human drama of course and one that continues not only to be played out in a very tedious fashion.

ALLEN: Bob Franken, thank you for the latest from that angle of this story.

Now for more, here's Lou.

WATERS: It's been an eventful afternoon. As you know, an hour ago was the deadline for transfer of Elian Gonzalez to his father. That was a directive from the United States government. That deadline has come and gone. The demonstrators around the Elian Gonzalez home, his temporary home in Little Havana, goes on, but it's dwindling down, as now the Miami relatives have filed with the 11th circuit court in Atlanta, seeking an injunction to stop the federal government from effecting this transfer of Elian to his father, who still waits in Washington.

And also within the past hours and half or so, a Florida family court judge has thrown the suit by Miami relatives seeking to gain custody of the boy. That may prove to yet be significant in this whole legal affair. We are still waiting to hear from the federal government on what they plan to do after news of this injunction being sought in 11 circuit was filed. We're seeing pictures now, live pictures from Little Havana. We're seeing Elian Gonzalez, who has been conspicuously absent most of the day, as this rather tumultuous event takes place outside the residence where he's staying with his great uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, who said that he had refused to cooperate with the plan by the government for the transfer to the father today.

And that's all we have for know, but we're going to continue to follow the story. The Elian watch continues.



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