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Miami Mayors Address Crowd Outside Home of Elian Gonzalez's Florida Relatives

Aired April 13, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Florida relatives of Elian Gonzalez have just one hour left to bring the boy to federal officials at the Opa-Locka Airport outside Miami. Elian's great-uncle says he will defy that order. Attorney General Janet Reno says the law will be enforced, but she says, federal marshals will make no immediate effort to retrieve the boy.


JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Another rumor that exist is that the government is federalizing the streets around Lazaro Gonzalez's home and ejecting the media. These rumors are wrong, flat out wrong. We have not taken any such steps and have no plans to do so.

I can also assure the public that they will not see marshals at 2:01 today, attempting to remove the child by force.


ALLEN: Supporters gathered outside the Gonzalez house in Little Havana remain wary. They say they will form a human chain to prevent authorities from getting the boy.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Susan Candiotti is in the middle of the crowd, continuing her vigil outside the Gonzalez house in Little Havana. She joins us now.

What's the latest, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, crowds here that probably numbered about 100 or so, as the day began, have now grown and have leveled off at several hundred, I would say. We've seen some aerial views and the crowd seems to go back about three to four blocks, and in a surrounding area there are people gathered beyond police barricades who want to enter the street here and get as close as they can to help the others who are here keep vigil.

Now so far this crowd has been very, very well behaved. From time to time, they speak through megaphones and carry on and chant Elian's name and say: "Don't go back, don't go back."

Lazaro Gonzalez, the boy's great uncle, has come to thank this crowd for their support and ask for their prayers, but he has made no political statements to this group. However, he continues to act in a defiant way. And the family spokesperson says that Lazaro Gonzalez is prepared for federal authorities to come to this house, if they decide to do so, and if they do, Gutierrez says, that Lazaro Gonzalez will, quote, open the door and say: "Come on in." In fact, they are prepared to not offer any resistance to authorities if they decide to come to this house. We would like to stress that absolutely no decision has been made in that regard.

Now for a brief time, the 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez did come outside to play a little bit today. He went down to the slide -- play on his slide and in the last few minutes, Miami's mayor, Joe Carollo, appeared on the scene and is now addressing the media.


MAYOR JOE CAROLLO, MIAMI, FLORIDA: ... declare a federal zone. The press being taken from here. It's just not so. At the same time, she has assured us that she will keep trying to make this reunion between the families a reality. We have asked the residents that are here today that we have to keep that long tradition of Miamians of being peaceful, of being nonviolent, the real Miami, not the one that some have tried to show.

We express to the group here today that if there is any type of disturbance in Miami, Elian Gonzalez would lose, Miami would lose, America would lose and the only winner would be Fidel Castro. Therefore, we have asked the residents of Miami to behave in the way that Miamians always have, through their constitutional rights of lawful assembly and freedom of speech, without violence, the way Miamians truly are: peaceful and to most of all, pray, to pray for Elian, to pray for Miami.

The eyes of the world, all of you representing media from coast to coast, worldwide, are upon Miami now, and we want you to let the world know what Miamians are really like. This is a peaceful community, a nonviolent community and we're going to keep it that way -- Mayor Penelas.


Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

First and foremost, we are here to call upon the good people of this community to remain calm in what is a very, very tense situation. We are also here to call upon the good offices of Janet Reno, to call upon all those with authority to try to bring about this family meeting that we've been talking about and that the community has been talking about over the course of the last several weeks.

We all believe that this is an issue that should be decided at a table between the family members, without bureaucrats, without the security apparatus, without politicians, and without lawyers. Let them decide, let them sit down and decide face-to-face what's in the best interest of this child. And that is a decision that will be accepted by this community. We came here today to urge this crowd that is assembling, that this is a pivotal moment in the history of this community, and despite what some are trying to describe as an unruly crowd, as a violent crowd, as a disorganized crowd, people have been protesting appropriately and correctly. And we want to ask them to continue to do that.

At each of the last two large public manifestations where thousands and thousands of people have gone, people have demonstrated appropriately. And today, we also need your cooperation, we need your help. This issue is evolving so quickly, moment-to-moment, that the rumors reach people almost unexpectedly.

We need your help in getting the word out to the community, as Mayor Carollo said, and repeat what Janet Reno has said. Federal marshals are not coming to this home at 2:00 today. They're not coming to this home this afternoon. We need to tell the community that because that is what has them with as much ago tension. So we want you to urge each of you to cooperate with us, as we try to ease tensions in this very, very tenseful moment in the history of our community.

Finally, let me say the following: What you see here in the faces of many of these people, what you see here in the faces of these women, dressed in black, what you see in my face and in Mayor Carollo's face is over 41 years of persecution, is over 41 years of having our loved ones losing their lives in searching for freedom. It's 41 years of having loved ones killed in firing squads.

Luckily, my father was one of those who avoided a firing squad, but he too was sentenced before a firing squad. It is 41 years of seeing families separated. That is what you are seeing here. There are real human emotions. This is not just a drama for the world to see. This is real. This is real pain. This is what -- this is -- this is the manifestation of 41 years of a government that on a daily basis violates human rights, that denies people the right to free expression, that's what this is about.

And we need to let the world know that. We need to let the world know what's really happening in Cuba. And you all need to help us do that, and I hope you will.

Thank you very much.

CAROLLO: Ladies and gentlemen, one other area that I would like to address here, with the presence of Mayor Penelas, because he was there at the meeting that we both attended with Attorney General Reno. He was at my office when we both had numerous phone conferences with the attorney general yesterday. And while we have a debate not only in Miami but in America as to what should happen with this boy -- and I respect that there are Americans who feel one way and others who feel the way that we do -- but I think that what we all as Americans can agree upon is that the final solution to this situation has to be done with fairness, with justice, with the liberty and freedom that America guarantees. And in the meeting that we had Tuesday afternoon with the attorney general, she said to us several things that were very significant, and particularly because she brought them to our attention before we would to hers. The attorney general stated to us that she was considering bringing the Lazaro Gonzalez family from Miami, bringing the Juan Miguel family together in a compound where one family would stay in one home, the other family in the other home under the full security of the United States government, paid for by the United States government, where Juan Miguel would have full liberty and freedom away from the security personnel of Cuba, where little Elian would be able to go from one family to the other, where the families could meet, talk, and be able to sleep in their own place in this same compound, where it would be agreed that they would stay there for a set period of time. We spoke of at least a minimum of a two-week time.

Unfortunately, what you've heard last night, what you've heard earlier today was a different scenario than what the attorney general stated to us that she was considering. Granted, she did not give any promises to that, but she stated clearly to us that she was considering that. And if we truly want the best for little Elian, every single fair, objective, unbiased psychologists and psychiatrists have stated that you need those several week's transition period between the Miami family helping Juan Miguel in the transition of reuniting his son with him.

And that was stated -- as we stated to the attorney general, we would be satisfied that having that kind of transition, having the kind of transition that would be the least harmful, that would be the least traumatic transition to Elian, that whatever the final decision would then be of Juan Miguel, of whether he wanted to stay in America or go back to Cuba with his son, that we would respect. This is why I am very disappointed that instead of bringing this offer to the Miami family that only the attorney general and our government can provide, instead, it was a different offer that we received.

I trust that the attorney general can accomplish this. And if it cannot be accomplished, then I think that she deserves to tell the American public the reasons why, which could only be that the government of Cuba has refused.



We've been asked to say a few words in Spanish. So with your permission, I'd like to address the Spanish that has been patiently waiting.

CANDIOTTI: Now, a short while ago, a U.S. government official told me that they are not sure exactly what they are going to do next. This official said that, quote, we will take an assessment of the situation as it develops.

They are calling events here very fluid, as they have been from the beginning, with a lot of twists and turns, and that when the 2:00 deadline approaches -- that is the deadline given to this family by letter that they must surrender 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to an airport near here so that he can be flown back to Washington for a reunion with his father -- that if the family does not appear at the airport at 2:00 -- and so far we have absolutely no indication that they intend to do so -- this U.S. government official says that there will probably be a reaching out of some kind, perhaps a courtesy call or something else to the attorneys representing the family here to see whether, in fact, they intend to comply.

Beyond that, however, the government official would not respond when asked, well, what would happen next if the family says, no, we don't intend to take the boy to the airport?

Now, Lou, there is one other late-breaking development that I just learned moments ago and that has to do with a legal development in this case. A few days ago, the attorneys representing this family went to a state family court in an attempt to ask for an evidentiary hearing to present evidence they claim would prove that Elian would face eminent harm if he were returned to Cuba. To that end, the judge and family court asked all parties to submit arguments, file briefs explaining why they thought this state family court had jurisdiction.

Well, just moments ago, the judge issued her ruling. And what she has done is dismiss their case altogether, throwing it out of state family court, which is not a surprise to many legal experts who have been observing this situation, agreeing with U.S. attorney general that the U.S. government has precedence in this matter -- Lou.

WATERS: So she based her ruling of the preemption of the federal government?

CANDIOTTI: That is correct. She heard from all sides and decided that state family court does not have jurisdiction in the case at this moment.

WATERS: Another -- Mayor Carollo, again, referred to this media question that came up earlier today by assuring the crowd the media would remain where it is. The attorney general of the United States was forced to shoot down a rumor that the media would be evicted from the area because of some federalization of the streets around the Gonzalez home. It was the police department itself that shot down this so-called rumor a short while ago in an interview that you had. What's the grapevine there? It's something we do not understand.

CANDIOTTI: It's something else here. Word in this area, and particularly in this case, has traveled like wildfire. We spend many hours each day, and have for the past few months, taking the time to shoot down, as they say, rumors that are flying around here. It is because, I think, this case is a very emotional one.

Now, unfortunately, that rumor was admitted by the police department to be their fault. As it turns out, the police department said that they've passed on a rumor and treated it as fact instead of checking it out themselves. So, in this case, it was the police department that stated as fact that there had been a request by the federal government to federalize this area. So it turns out it was only a rumor and the police department was unfortunately spreading one. They have apologized for doing that.

WATERS: You have been saying for weeks, Susan, that's there's a certain amount of playing to the camera down there in Little Havana. Did that have anything to do with this rumor or so-called rumor getting out today that the relatives of Elian Gonzalez definitely do not want the media leaving that area?

CANDIOTTI: Well, certainly that much is true. The family here has consistently wanted to play out their case before the cameras. They have granted interviews most of the time when asked. They have certainly let this child come out to play not only during the daytime but, in fact -- and some people took offense to it. Many people have, as a matter of fact, expressed displeasure about it -- allowed this children to come out and hold up federal subpoenas, put them on their shoulders and hold up the V-for-victory sign and, in fact, a few days ago even brought him out to play at 11:00 at night to be photographed.

So, in fact, they would like the media presence to stay here and would not be in favor of these cameras going away because, a family spokesperson says, they view it as protection to document what is happening here this day.

WATERS: All right.

And all the cameras are on today as we await a government deadline in 40 minutes. Susan Candiotti will remain at her post in front of Lazaro Gonzalez's home where Elian Gonzalez has been staying these past few months, and we'll keep in touch with her.



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