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Joe Lockhart Briefs Press on INS Raid to Retrieve Elian GonzalezAired April 22, 2000 - 11:18 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to the White House, and this is the presidential press secretary, Joe Lockhart.
JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... return your calls, let me just go through a bit of the chronology here and then I will be glad to take some of your questions.
Just before the president recorded his radio address yesterday over in the residence, he had the opportunity to talk to the attorney general. The attorney general briefed the president on the status of the situation on the ground, and the discussions that took place yesterday between the parties, that included some Miami citizens who came forward with some ideas for how to voluntarily transfer custody of Elian Gonzalez to his father.
The president then did his radio address, proceeded to work on some other things. At 8:30 in the Oval Office, he had the opportunity to talk to the attorney general again who -- the attorney general gave the president a status report, where they were as far as those discussions.
After that telephone call, the president returned to the residence. As I think I've told a lot of you last evening, a lot of his family is here for the Easter weekend, and spent the evening with his family.
The chief of staff, John Podesta, stayed in hourly contact with the Justice Department, getting updates. He called the president at 2:15 to give him a status report of what the Justice Department was reporting here to the White House. The gist of that conversation was that the discussions with the parties were continuing to try to work out a voluntary transfer of custody.
I think at that point there was some sentiment that that could be done. I think the attorney general made the point to Mr. Podesta that they were going to continue with that process while they thought there was some hope of it working out. But if they reached a conclusion that there was no hope of that working out, or made a judgment that there was no hope, that they were ready to go in and transfer the custody of the boy to the father in the way you saw this morning.
John talked to the president. The president agreed with the approach, that they would continue the discussions, even if that meant going out another day or two, if the judgment was made that that was useful. But when a judgment was made that they were no longer moving toward a voluntary transfer of custody, the boy to the father, that they should go and remove -- and transfer the custody themselves.
And that was the last conversation until just before 5:00, when before talking with the president, Mr. Podesta again talked to the Justice Department. He told the president that it was their judgment that negotiations were not going to result in a transfer of custody of the young boy to the father, and that they were beginning to move ahead with taking custody and transferring the boy, as you've seen, over the day.
The chief of staff called the president at about 5:30 to let him know that the transfer had taken place, that the boy had been safely removed from the house, and was on his way to Washington to be reunited with his father.
The president took a call from the attorney general just before 6:00 this morning. The president thanked the attorney general for her leadership, told her that he was pleased that they were able to reunite the young boy with his father in the way that this morning unfolded.
I think that covers everything up until when the president spoke to you before. I expect that sometime in the next couple of hours the family will get together and head up to Camp David for the rest of the Easter weekend.
QUESTION: Was the president told the exact plans, I mean in terms of the operational, that it had been rehearsed and...
LOCKHART: I think the president...
QUESTION: ... and guns would be used?
LOCKHART: I think the president over the last several days has had the opportunity to have fairly extensive conversations with the attorney general. So he was aware of the plans for removing the boy and transferring his custody.
QUESTION: Well, Joe, was the president disturbed by the very heavy show of force, and by the still photographs from inside the house that showed a helmeted a SWAT team member with an automatic weapon near the boy?
LOCKHART: Well, I think that the attorney general, I think, did a fine job of trying to put the pictures that you all have been talking about in perspective. And I can't add anything to that.
I will take some issue with your characterization of a heavy use of force. I think there were -- as the attorney general put it before -- I think there were eight people who went in. They drove up in white mini-vans.
Every effort was made to do this in a careful and limited way, and this was a careful and limited operation. The attorney general also indicated that they had information that there might be weapons either outside or inside. These are U.S. Marshals, public servants, who are asked to do work that has the potential for being dangerous. We believe that this was a careful and limited operation that succeeded.
QUESTION: Are you concerned, Joe, that the picture, though, gives a different impression to the public? And there is any move to...
LOCKHART: It's certainly my hope that those who are in the business of describing such things to the public will use great care and great perspective.
QUESTION: Joe, the president said he was hoping it wouldn't have to come to this. I wonder what his personal reaction when Mr. Podesta told...
LOCKHART: I'm actually -- I'm glad you said it, because it is something that I've left out. I think we have to think of this as more than in the context of the last six hours. This has been going on for months.
For three months, the attorney general has done everything she could possibly think to do to try to find a way to effect a voluntary custody of the boy to his father. She has worked tirelessly over the last three months. And I think she has shown great patience. I think as she said this morning, the consistent part of these discussions is how often the goal posts have moved.
I think that's something that you all will recognize if you go back and look at your previous stories.
But she continued to work patiently until the very last hour to try to resolve this in a way where there was a voluntary -- I think given her ability to make judgments here, having been involved in this for the three months, given her indisputable record here of showing patience and compassion for the people involved her on all sides, it is sound judgment that she made that we needed to move forward in the way we did.
QUESTION: That being said, the president's personal reaction, he must have been disappointed to hear that it had come to...
LOCKHART: I think the president, like the attorney general -- and I would venture to say all Americans -- believed that the best way to do this was for the Miami relatives to voluntarily transfer custody, follow the law, abide by what the court said.
I think the president believes that the attorney general offered every opportunity for that to happen. That did not happen. We were left with no other alternative.
But the bottom line in the situation remains that the court, the INS, our law dictates that the boy should be with his father. And the boy is with his father. QUESTION: Is the U.S. government taking care of them now?
LOCKHART: You know, that is a question -- I do not know the arrangements, to tell you the truth. I know that they are at a U.S. government facility where they were taken. But I would put that question to the INS, because I honestly do not know the answer to it.
QUESTION: Is the president going to speak directly -- any plans to speak directly with either the family, Elian, his father?
LOCKHART: No, I think the president rightly views this as a legal matter that should be -- should go through the proper channels.
The president believes that any of the parties that have anything that they would believe is important to communicate with the government, should do so through the auspices of the Justice Department and the INS.
The Justice Department and the INS have listened, as I've said, very patiently over the last three months, to all sides in this case, have taken very much into account the position of the Miami relatives, the father, other interested parties who have expressed a view in this case.
I think they will continue to listen. But that is the appropriate place. We don't believe it's appropriate for the president to communicate directly.
QUESTION: Did he see the TV today? Did he see the young woman who was...
LOCKHART: I don't think he -- did not describe that scene. He had seen very little of it this morning, so I don't know that he saw any of that.
QUESTION: Do you know anything else about the actual reunion of the father and the son?
LOCKHART: I think the INS has -- is the best place to go for that information or, you know, through the attorneys for the father. I don't have independent information on that.
QUESTION: Do you know if some of the parents or close relations to Elian will be allowed to come into the U.S. to ease the transition?
LOCKHART: Some of the -- from where?
QUESTION: Friends, there were a couple of people who I think...
LOCKHART: I think the State Department issued a number of visas, some that were used, some that were not taken up by people associated with Elian's father. There are a number of others that the last time I checked remain pending, so I would check at the State Department.
QUESTION: Was there any communication between the U.S. government and the Cuban government through the State Department overnight...
LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: Regarding the negotiations last night, in retrospect, do you think they were in good faith or do you think that they were playing games?
LOCKHART: As far as Miami relatives, listen, I -- I can't -- I am not in the position to speculate on what their bottom line was and what their negotiating position was.
What I can tell you is for three months the attorney general has in good faith tried to find a voluntary way to transfer custody of this young boy to his father, and for three months was unable to do that. And we were never able to get to the bottom-line question and the bottom-line issue of would they transfer custody. We were never able to get to a yes.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, and the reason I ask is, you know, there are now statements from the Miami relatives that there was a phone call, open line, to the Justice Department at the time the raid began.
LOCKHART: Well, I would leave you to talk to the Justice Department about the actual details as they were talking. But my understanding is that it was made very clear -- the circumstance was made very clear to those that they were having discussions with.
And I will remind you further that this is not a process that began yesterday afternoon. This is a process that began three months ago. And the Justice Department worked with incredible patience in dealing with all sides and letting them have their say, letting them have, whether it be in discussions, whether it be in the court proceedings -- and after three months of these discussions, I think the attorney general was in the best position to make a determination whether these discussions had the potential to bear fruit or whether they were fruitless. And we need to move forward, and I think that judgment was sound.
QUESTION: Joe, there are calls, particularly out of Miami, for the president to offer assurances, that Elian won't be returned to Cuba. Will he ever come forth with something that direct?
LOCKHART: I think the court has offered the assurance that the family, the Miami relatives, were looking for, in the decision; that even before the court, though, the attorney for the boy's father had said that. I think the father had said it directly, but the court has been -- is quite clear on the subject of the boy remaining in this country.
QUESTION: Is there something that the administration wants to say to some of those Cuban Americans that are vilifying the president and the attorney general for this action and see this as a betrayal of somehow what the United States government should stand for? LOCKHART: Well, I understand, and I think the president understands, how difficult this is for all of the parties involved. I think we understand the emotional nature of some of the responses.
But the president believes that when you are having a discussion about what the United States stands for, and what the Constitution is, he believes that the rule of law here was upheld, and an important principle was upheld, that when a court and the INS come to the determination that a young boy should be with his father, then that young boy should be with his father.
QUESTION: Did the president -- has the father -- Miguel -- has Gonzalez gotten in touch with the White House -- and the father?
QUESTION: No. No.
QUESTION: The government of Cuba had launched a national campaign around there. What do you expect them to do now? What would you want them to do? Tone it down?
LOCKHART: I would have -- I would send the same message that the president sends to all involved, that this isn't about politics and politics should be kept out of this. This is about who speaks for a young boy and whether a young boy should be with his father.
I think what's happened today is a young boy has been reunited with his father. And I think the time, as president said, should be to give them space so that they can be a family again. And the politics should be tuned out here, because it provides no benefit or comfort to the people who are most directly involved here.
QUESTION: Will there be any communication between White House officials and mayors or city officials in Miami to deal with any violence that...
LOCKHART: I don't know any communications with the White House. I mean, I know Justice Department has had an ongoing dialogue with city and county officials, and I assume that continues.
QUESTION: Have they been cooperative at all?
LOCKHART: I would -- I have not been told that they were not cooperative, but that is a question to put to the Justice Department. No one has given me any information about noncooperation.
QUESTION: How often will the president throughout the rest of this holiday weekend be kept informed of the tensions in Miami?
LOCKHART: I think, you know, the president looks forward to spending some time with his family. We will communicate information to him as appropriate.
QUESTION: And his failure to not to go up to Camp David last night, it had nothing do with... LOCKHART: No. I think as I described to most people here, this was something that probably a lot of Americans can understand -- a delay due to weather and his brother got here -- didn't get here until about 8:30. And they had already planned a family dinner, and they were going to watch a movie together. They decided to do that here.
And then when the final piece of news came, which was that the helicopter couldn't take off because of weather, I think it was -- everything was aligned to let's stay over night go to the camp in morning.
QUESTION: What was the movie?
LOCKHART: I wish I knew.
QUESTION: They are going up today?
LOCKHART: Yes, they will go up today.
Yes, sir. You look like you have a question or are you going to let me go?
QUESTION: Another subject, campaign finance. Can you tell us anything about the president being interviewed yesterday, and the vice president, on the...
LOCKHART: I can't really elaborate beyond the statement that I put under my name yesterday, that the president was interviewed, the vice president earlier in the week.
QUESTION: Why was he interviewed?
LOCKHART: The statement that I put out yesterday gave as much information as I'm prepared to go. If you want to ask the Justice Department, they might be more forthcoming.
RANDALL: White House news secretary Joe Lockhart at the White House saying that there had been sound judgment on the part of Attorney General Janet Reno in this morning's seizure operation in which custody of Elian Gonzalez was transferred. He now is with his father at Andrews Air Force Base. Lockhart said that this was a careful and limited operation. He said the attorney general did a good job of putting into perspective the use of armed force. Of course one of the controversy aspects of that operation this morning in Little Havana in Miami.
We're going to talk to Roger Cossack, our legal analyst, in just a moment, but first we have some details from a witness to reunion of father and son this morning at Andrews Air Force Base. We are told that Elian, the 6-year-old Cuban boy, was very happy and very affectionate toward his father, that he played with his 6-month old baby brother. Some of the agents who took part in the operation in little Miami we are told met with Juan Miguel Gonzalez and he expresses appreciation for what they did this morning. And with that background, we turn to Roger Cossack, our legal analyst and co-host of "BURDEN OF PROOF."
Roger, the issue of whether or not Juan Miguel Gonzalez is to stay in this country, is he legally bound to do so while this judicial process unwinds?
ROGER COSSCAK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There is a departure order, as we know, that makes sure that the young boy, that Elian Gonzalez does not leave this country. There is an order, by the 11th Cirucit while somewhat strangely worded, would seem to imply, that also that Elian Gonzalez cannot leave this country during the pending litigations.
Now the question is, can Juan Miguel Gonzalez leave? And I suppose the answer to that is, of course he can leave. The question is -- the same question is, but can he take his son? And the answer to that it is clear to me, I am sure, that he is not allowed to take his son, pending the completion of the litigation.
RANDALL: Roger, when 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issued its ruling this week, the Gonzalez family members in Atlanta interpreted that as a major victory, but in fact, didn't it set off the chain of events and the rhetoric that led to today's transfer of custody.
COSSACK: This really -- this 11th Circuit decision really was the beginning of the end of custody for the Miami family, and while in fact one could argue that for months this has been coming, what 11th Circuit decision was, while in some ways very favorable or giving hope for eventual legal discussions or legal victories for the Miami family, but in fact what they made clear was there was nothing to prevent the transfer of Elian Gonzalez to his father. And once that occurred, it was now a question of time as to when that was going to happen.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Roger, we're going to interrupt you a moment to show our audience live pictures of Miami. There is a fire that has been set by some protesters in the Little Havana area. We really don't have much information about this, other than what you see in front of you on your television screen. This is in the Little Havana area. We have a correspondents in there, producers, so as soon as we get some details, we will share them with you, but this an outgrowth of the enormous anger felt by these people that this boy was taken from the home of his relatives there are in the Little Havana area and was brought to Washington to be reunited with his father.
Roger, the family, the relatives in Miami, of course, are saying, that the government was wrong, was breaking the law, in effect, violating its own law in taking this boy. Is there any merit to argument that they are going to be making that they are making now?
COSSACK: No, I don't think so, Judy. I mean I it's certainly an unpleasant set of pictures that we have seen this morning, and the notion of our government sending in troops to take this young child is something that make us all, at least very uncomfortable. But in terms of did they violate the law by going in and taking the child and returning Elian to his father? I don't think they did. Obviously, all along, all of us hoped there would be some way to work out a peaceful transfer.
But as I started to say earlier, once that 11th Circuit made that decision that while giving hope to the family for perhaps an eventual chance at custody, they certainly never said anything that prevented the government from going in and taking custody. And I must tell you that these negotiations that both sides were going through, I think all sides recognized that the government had the right to come in and take the child.
WOODRUFF: All right, Roger Cossack here in studio in Washington, as we continue to see these pictures, live pictures, from Miami, in the Little Havana area, this fire that has been set by protesters, angry over the removal of Elian Gonzalez from the home of his relatives there in Miami.
Let's go to our Mark Potter, who is on scene -- Mark.
MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, this situation has changed dramatically, in just the last 20 minutes or so. This was an intersection, West 27th Avenue and Flagler Street, that was under the control of the police. They were working hard to keep the area open, to keep traffic flowing, to keep people on the sidewalks. But within the last 20 minutes or so, they completely lost control of area, and now you see a fire that has been set on 27th Avenue, about a half block north of the Flagler Street intersection.
The other point that I want to make is that there is not policeman, one, in this area. The police were here in force, but completely pulled out, and it seems that what are they doing is setting up a perimeter, a several block perimeter around this area, and have basically given this area up to the protesters. There were a couple of incidents a short while ago where law enforcement vehicles came into this area, and they were chased away, by the crowd, which has gotten more rambunctious than it was in the past. A fire chief's vehicle came in here from the north, and the crowd went after it, started jumping up and down in the vehicle, throwing bottles at it, and the car had to, in reverse, speed out of the area, and did not make any other attempt to come back.
Again, we are not seeing any police officers in this area at all. I can see a line of police officers maybe a block or so away. So it appears, as I said, that they are building a perimeter around this area.
Passions are rising very high. People are very angry about the taking of Elian Gonzalez from his family here. I have talked to a number of people in this crowd. All of whom say that they feel betrayed, they feel that the Clinton administration and the Justice Department had no respect for their feelings of this community, and now they are venting their anger. This started out as a tire fire, and now other things are going into it.
It looks like, there is -- it has been brought to my attention -- I couldn't see it from where I was standing. It appears that a large trash dumpster has now been put in that area. People are now gathering in the intersection, and it appears as if they're setting another fire in the intersection, that again, just a half hour ago, police had under control. But the police, obviously, not here. There are some fire vehicles standing about standing about a block away.
Now we're hearing -- now the police are coming in. You can see them coming past the fire. And they are firing tear gas. And some of the people are firing back, throwing things at the police officers. They're trying to put the fire out, as you can see. They have come back, now from the north, on 27th Avenue and are trying to regain control of this area. The crowd is starting to run away from these encroaching officers.
So this situation, which was relatively peaceful about an hour ago, has changed very dramatically. Some of the people behind us are starting to throw things in the direction of the officers. The crowd has now cleared out. There is tear gas fired. Behind us as well, to the south of this intersection, the police have come in, after apparently giving control of this area to the protesters for a short, while they have come back quickly to try regain it. They have come in from all directions. I now see officers to my right.
The tear gas is starting to affect us. That's why they call it tear gas, kind of hard to see right now. But the police have very quickly, within the course of a minute or so, brought control over this area. Most of the people, the protesters who were here, have run away, are heading to the west, and the fires are still burning. This is exactly the image that the leaders of Miami said they did not want the world to see. They were very much afraid of this. And unfortunately for them and for community, this has occurred -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Mark Potter, if you would, as we keep camera there, trained on that intersection. Mark, what -- can you describe the neighborhood to us? What is in this immediate area? Are these shops? Are they restaurants? Are they residents? Or what?
POTTER: This is a business district. There are gas stations, a (OFF-MIKE), a Walgreen's pharmacy, a lot of shops. This is not a residential area. This is a business area, and it is in the heart of Miami's Little Havana.
And I'm having a little difficultly speaking right here for a second, tear gas pretty thick here.
This is a business district, and as you can see, the police have come back in in force very quickly to regain control. They have control of it now. And protesters, they ran away.
WOODRUFF: Mark, we want to make sure that you are in a safe place there. We know that this is a volatile situation, so we want to make sure that you are in a safe place.
POTTER: Judy, I think we're OK. We've never had any problem with this crowd at all. I want to stress that. The crowd was engaged in acts of civil disobedience. They were throwing some things, some bottles, but largely, this has been a nonviolent protest. It's dramatic looking with the fires and all and now with the police coming back in to take control. But we do not feel that they are in danger. The businesses are not in danger. It's not a situation like that. This is not -- we did not see anybody get attacked. The crowd did not do anything like that. I want to stress that. There were some scuffling that occurred as people were arrested, but that's about the extent of it.
Probably the most dramatic activity was the setting of the fires, and also chasing away a couple of law enforcement vehicles that came into the area, before this force came back in to use tear gas, and a sizable force to bring this area back under control.
RANDALL: Mark, it's Gene Randall, if you can hear me -- if you need to change location at all because of the tear gas, please do, but in the meantime, you talked about how the mood of the crowd had changed dramatically. Was there anything discernible that sit off?
POTTER: No, and thank you for your concern about us. The tear gas has been fired, but we have a nice westerly breeze that's just blowing it all away from us right now, so we're OK again.
What changed the situation -- and it's amazing how quick it could change, was that a couple of cars, came into the intersection and stopped, and that drew other people to those vehicles, and suddenly, just like that, the area was inundated with protesters, an area that the police had worked very hard, using several lines of officers, to keep clear. And just like that, they lost control of it, left the area for a while, seemed to have established a perimeter, and now as you can see, they're back in.
Fire vehicles are now in the area as well.
RANDALL: Mark, thanks, and we'll get back to you shortly.
We're going stay in Miami now and go to Susan Candiotti. She is at ground zero for this morning's move by law enforcement officials from federal government, the home of Lazaro Gonzalez.
Susan, can you hear me?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Gene, I sure can.
Why at this hour, there remains a crowd, you know, it started at only about maybe less than 50 people who were here at 5:00 in the morning, when federal agents moved into seize 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez. Since then, the crowd has steadily grown to several hundred people. However, throughout that time, the crowd here has been under control. They continue to express their outrage and their pain.
During the past five months, for these demonstrators here, in this particular area, this child has become much more than someone who survived a tragedy at sea, and lost his mother. And a situation where a father wanted to be reunited with his child, for these demonstrators, this child has become a symbol, a symbol of an ongoing Cold War, in their view, between the United States and the Cuban government. So for them, a reunion was out of the question.
Now at about 5:00 this morning, their hopes of keeping the child away from his father came to an end when agents came into take the boy away, but they are here to continue to vent frustration.
Now over my shoulder and directly in front of the home, flags have been flying for several days, in fact, for several weeks, both a Cuban flag and an American flag, and as a way of demonstrating their displeasure over what has occurred, I will attempt to show you what may be for many people a very disturbing view. They have taken the United States flag, some of the people here, and have tied a black bar garbage bag around the bottom of it.
Apparently, you can't get quite a picture. It must be out of view at the present time, but that is the picture that is being painted here. There you can see it, hidden partially by piece of shrubbery there, but you can see the garbage tying down the American flag. That is symbolic of their anger here. Joining us is one of the members of the legal that has been represented the Miami relatives, Jose Garcia Pedrosa.
Mr. Pedrosa, you have been involved in the negotiations and were late into night, but weren't here when this occurred. What happen leading up to this? Where were you? When did you leave the house?
JOSE GARCIA PEDROSA, ELIAN'S MIAMI RELATIVES' ATTORNEY: We were told yesterday afternoon, that if we prepared a document that contained several points, six points that the attorney general had discussed with mediator that there would be no raid, and that that document would form the basis of an agreement to reunify the family. I personally, typed that document on the computer. It was faxed, as demanded by the attorney general, to her by 5:00. It was signed by the family, and that was faxed to them.
CANDIOTTI: Next thing we'd like to ask you about is that we do know, Marisleysis Gonzalez, Elian's cousin, and other members of the family, presumably Lazaro Gonzalez and other family members, are flying to Washington a little bit after 1:00 today. Why are they going to Washington, in hopes of what?
PEDROSA: Well, in contrast to the father, who would not come here for four months, until the Cuban government sent him, the family is going to try to this afternoon immediately to go to Washington and seek to see the boy.
CANDIOTTI: How do they hope accomplish that?
PEDROSA: Well, by announcing their presence and demanding to see the boy, and hopefully trying to avoid what we really fear, which is that the process of brainwashing this child may begin in Washington.
CANDIOTTI: Mr. Garcia Pedrosa, quickly, what do you make of the activity we see going on about five blocks way from here, the crowd that has gone out of control to a degree, and started a fire in the middle of the street?
PEDROSA: Well, that's not fair. This crowd is not out of control. The people...
CANDIOTTI: No, this crowd is not out of control.
PEDROSA: And in fact, the only violence here was the violence brought by United States government. These people...
CANDIOTTI: I think you can see the monitor over. This is what's happening over -- happening over, about five blocks way from here. What do you make of this happening? Evidently some people, a group of people, have gotten out of control and started a fire in the street.
PEDROSA: There's always a small group. In Washington D.C. last week, it was 1,300 people, but this a handful of people burned some trash. This is the crowd here, and they are very peaceful. The only people who were not peaceful were the government, and I'm proud of our community and ashamed that the government broke faith with us yesterday and this morning.
CANDIOTTI: Mr. Garcia Pedrosa, thank you very much for joining us, and we'll be back here to join you later on.
Gene, back to you, or Judy, sorry.
RANDALL: And five blocks away, Mark Potter is standing by, where Miami police have begun putting on show of force, using tear gas, after fires were set in streets of Miami, and the situation there is one of great unrest.
Mark, can you hear me?
POTTER: Yes, Gene, I hear you. I'm not speaking too clearly right now because we just got a faceful of this stuff.
The police just came in here, they came from the east, they walked up the street, you can see the line of officers, and they came in, sprayed the crowd with pepper gas, and made it very clear that they are take back this intersection. That is obviously occurred. The crowd then ran away to the (east, and the police are standing here with their riot gear and their shields, and they gave warning that they were coming, walked up street from about a block away, and then fired pepper gas into the crowd to clear out the intersection, and it clearly worked.
You're looking at a fire that was set -- excuse me -- about 20 minutes ago, and that seemed to have been what precipitated the officers coming back. They had given up this intersection for a while, but then came back, the Miami Police Department came back in force, firing gas first, then setting up this perimeter at the corner of 27th Avenue West 27th and Flagler Street. And the protesters have fled the area ahead of the police and the gas.
This is the image that city leaders had said they just did not want to see again in Miami. There have been a number of incidents in the past decades of this sort of thing, and it has happened once again. Police, of course, are concerned that it could continue throughout the day, and they are taking their stand here, at least at this intersection, to bring it under control.
We are seeing fire vehicles coming by. There is a perimeter that has been set up. There are officers standing by with those plastic handcuffs, in case more arrests need to be made. We have seen a number of arrests made already, and we don't know if just this latest incident if any arrests were made. We couldn't see, we couldn't see anything actually because of the tear gas, but I think we're back under control here. The wind is blowing it away. Sadly, we were downwind of some of it a short while ago.
But that's our situation. The crowd is extremely angry over this situation. The Elian Gonzalez passions have been building here for five months. They came to a head today after the news spread that the federal authorities had come in to get the boy, and we're looking at that situation with the fire that is what describing earlier, and the Miami Police Department is there, putting that fire out, police trying to get control of this situation.
I think the ultimate aim is to control the crowd, get traffic flowing again, if they can. There is no traffic here now coming through. There is a little bit of stuff coming out of businesses. This is a business area, in Miami's Little Havana.
And I want to stress that we didn't see any violence, a little scuffling during the arrest process, some bottle throwing at a fire vehicle that was in here earlier, chasing the vehicle out of the area. There has been no attack made that we can see on any of the businesses or any of the shops along the way here. There are gas stations, an auto parts store, a funeral home, a Walgreen's pharmacy, and those businesses, seem OK. And again, to stress, this is not the whole area; this is a specific intersection within Miami's Little Havana.
You're looking, again, at line of police officers from city of Miami, who are standing watch here at the intersection of West Flagler and West 27th Avenue, and have brought this area crowd under control.
The tear gas -- when they first came in, they were firing tear gas, or pepper gas -- it's pretty awful stuff -- and it worked. It really worked. It's disabling, and it very definitely had its effect of chasing the people away.
Gene, back to you.
WOODRUFF: Yes, Mark, it's Judy, if you can hear me.
It seems to me there is some irony here in that the local political officials there in Miami have expressed, if anything, sympathy for the family of Lazaro Gonzalez for these Miami relatives. They have spoken out, both the mayor of both of the city of Miami and of Miami-Dade, the two mayors in that area, have been very much against this move by the U.S. government, and yet the authorities these protesters have engaged here are the local authorities, right? POTTER: Yes, very definitely. They made two points. They wanted to make it clear that, the political leaders, that they very definitely were in sympathy with the Gonzalez family and were against the idea federal authorities coming to get the, boy they also did say that even though they had no interest in the local officers being involved in the grabbing of the boy at the house, they would be involved in crowd control and restoring order, if it were to break down here, and that is the situation here.
Yes, this is very clearly an irony. These are Miami police officers at this location, city of Miami police officers. The county police officers are dealing with the unincorporated area. We understand the highway patrol is in here as well.
But this is -- a lot of people predicted that this was going to happen. This is not a surprise to anyone who has lived in this community for any period of time. The authorities knew this was going to happen. They tried to make it not happen. They tried to urge people to -- I mean, they urged people to remain calm, but I think, in their heart of hearts, everyone knew that this was the situation that we would have here.
Now there is incident over at a gas station right now. We can't exactly see what that is. Maybe you're seeing a better shot than I. But the police are chasing people it seems away from the service station. Right now, we've seen no businesses harmed by any of this, and I don't think -- I don't know if anybody has been hurt seriously.
We've seen some arrests being made, and there has been a little a scuffling over that, but to my knowledge, nothing beyond that.
WOODRUFF: We did have a camera shot of that gas station you mentioned, and we really can't get a close enough look at this moment to see whether anyone has been hurt. But yes, a massing of police officers, and people -- it appears that people are being told to leave, leave the area.
We're going to continue of course to keep a very close eye on this situation in Miami. Meanwhile, up in Washington, near Washington, at Andrews Air Force Base, a reunion of Elian Gonzalez and his father continues, a reunion that began just a matter of a few hours ago.
Our live coverage of this breaking story continues in just a moment.
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