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Elian Gonzalez Case: Cuban Government Encourages Citizen's to Remain Calm

Aired April 22, 2000 - 3:32 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We've been -- spent much of this day listening to reaction here in the United States to the removal of Elian Gonzalez from the home of his relatives in Miami and his reunion with his father at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. Now we want to go south to Elian Gonzalez's home country, to Cuba, to our own Martin Savidge who is there in Havana.

Martin, you want to bring us up to date on reactions there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, so far there has been no formal reaction that has come forward to us from the Cuban government here in Havana. It is possible that they may wait until 5:00, that is the time of the traditional evening protest.

There is a protest meeting that is scheduled, actually an outdoor demonstration at a town that's about two hours to the east of Havana. This had been scheduled already ahead of the action that took place in Miami today. We are told that Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba, is anticipated being there. Again, his presence was expected before the transition of the boy this morning.

Some of the first Cubans to hear the news out of Miami were employees that were working here in Havana at tourist hotels. The hotels are among the few places that news generated from outside of Cuba is allowed to be shown. Most other Cubans, though, got the information from the government-controlled broadcast media. It first came on Radio Rebelde, and then it came in the form of a communique that was read on Cuban television.

Cuban TV has also broadcast images of the operation that seized Elian from the Miami home where he'd been staying. And they've also been showing images of the disturbances on Miami streets that followed.

The Cuban government has been encouraging people here to remain calm, saying that there should be no spontaneous celebrations in the street, claiming such images could harm Elian's case in the legal struggle that still lies ahead. Most people in Havana went about a typical Saturday pleased by the news, but not jubilant.

And also, Cubans are not accustomed to such visible displays of force broadcast on their television screens, like the ones they saw from outside of the home where the young boy was. And some of those Cubans seemed troubled by it. One woman said that they scared the boy and that she wished that the negotiations had gone on perhaps some time longer.

There's no question, though, that the government-controlled media has been quick to show and tell of developments in Miami. The president Fidel Castro has used the plight of Elian to his political advantage. But though Castro may be pleased, many Cubans say the celebration for them won't begin until Elian Gonzalez is back on Cuban soil -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Martin, are any of them expressing views as to whether they think Juan Miguel Gonzalez actually will return to Cuba with his son?

SAVIDGE: No. No one has expressed anything like that. If you're implying -- what -- before the time that he has stated. I mean...


SAVIDGE: ... the Cubans here have been told and expect, that Juan Miguel Gonzalez will remain in the United States, as they have agreed, until all of the appeals process is over with. The Cubans have not been told how long that may take. They do understand it could be still some time before the boy were to returned here.

WOODRUFF: You've made reference to this several points during your report, Martin, but just to be very clear, how orchestrated is any of this reaction? You've talked about the comments of individuals, citizens of Cuba. You've also talked about the government view. How much of what you're hearing is the freely expressed opinion of people?

SAVIDGE: Well, at all times, when it comes to interviewing, let's say, people on the street for their reaction, whether it be to developments today or events that have occurred previous, we are allowed freely to go out on the streets at any time to speak to anyone. And there is not a government official that escorts us. There is no one there that, you know, is obviously visible watching us as we do these interviews.

We pick people at random. We talk to a wide variety of people in different places throughout the city. So by that selection process, you know, we believe that we are talking to legitimate people and getting their legitimate opinions.

Now, you could ask how freely do they want to express those opinions, and it would be a good point. But we have had a number of people who off camera will tell us that they believe, perhaps it would be better for the boy economically and for his future to remain in the United States. But they also say they believe that morally and perhaps for the best upbringing of the child, they honestly believe that he would be better off here.

And another good indication is that the dissident community here has been strongly supported by the exile Cuban community in Miami. Yet, when it comes to the case of Elian Gonzalez, there is a very big and obvious split. A vast majority of the Cuban dissidents in this country who have been some of the outspoken critics of Fidel Castro, have come forward and said that they believe the boy needs to be reunited with his father. He needs to come back to Cuba.

WOODRUFF: Finally, Martin, when you say that some people have said privately that morally -- even though they may think that for economic reasons it might be better for Elian Gonzalez to grow up in the United States -- morally they think he's better off back in Cuba, what did you mean by that?

SAVIDGE: Well, it's basically the strong bond of family, the belief that a father and son, the father being now the closest living relative to the young boy. That the grandparents are here, that these are the closest family members, and that this would be the best environment for the young boy to be brought up not just Elian, but they believe with all children.

WOODRUFF: All right. CNN's Martin Savidge who has been joining us by telephone from Havana.

Thank you, Martin. And I know we're going to be checking in with you a little bit later. We're expecting some sort of statement from the Cuban government -- Gene.

RANDALL: The reunion of Elian Gonzalez and his father Juan Miguel Gonzalez happened this morning at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. The media are being kept well away and that means our own Patty Davis is outside the base's front gate -- Patty.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gene, Elian Gonzalez and his father are together once again reunited here at Andrews Air Force Base earlier this morning. Elian Gonzalez's plane arrived here about 9:20 Eastern time this mornings. He was greeted by his father Juan Miguel and then -- he had been whisked away, of course from his Miami relatives very early this morning, pre-dawn.

He is, the arrival here at Andrews Air Force Base, you see these aerial shots of him being greeted by his father. His father leading him into a building at Andrews Air Force Base. They will spend several days there together at Andrews Air Force Base getting reacquainted, getting to know one another once again.

Today is the first time in nearly five months that the two of them have seen one another. When U.S. Marshals took these photographs of the reunion, Elian with his father, big smiles all the way around. Still more photographs of Elian along with his father's new wife and their baby, taken here at Andrews Air Force Base shortly after their reunion.

We're told, of course, that they will stay here a couple days. It's private, it's very secure. This is where the president of the United States, his airplane is kept, Air Force One, also Air Force Two -- very secure, very heavily patrolled. It is out of the media spotlight. And as you said, Gene, the media being kept well away. As you can see, we are outside of the main gates here at Andrews Air Force Base. We cannot see what's going on inside. We did not witness in person that reunion taking place today. Now, after a couple days here at Andrews, Elian and his father will be housed at a yet undisclosed location in the Washington, D.C. area -- Gene.

RANDALL: Patty Davis at Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington. Thanks, Patty, and we'll check back with you later.

We're expecting the imminent arrival here in Washington of Marisleysis Gonzalez and Lazaro Gonzalez, the two relatives who have been caring for 6-year-old Elian for the past almost five months. They're due to land at Reagan National Airport shortly.

And we hope to bring you those pictures when we get them, but for now, we'll take a break.



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