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Arrest Totals Climb in Miami's Little Havana

Aired April 23, 2000 - 2:30 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: There have been angry protests in Miami today. Many have waved flags and chanted while some have provoked police, who responded at times with tear gas. Some dumpsters were knocked into the street and set ablaze. A bus stop was demolished, and rocks were thrown at police officers and news camera crews. Some demonstrators were detained and put aboard a Miami police bus. There have been many arrests.

It all began early this morning, when U.S. Immigration officials physically removed 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez from the custody of his Florida relatives. Agents knocked on the door of the Little Havana home several times, and identified themselves in Spanish and English. We're told when there was no response, authorities used a battering ram to knock down the door.

Father and son are smiling together for the first time in months in this picture taken hours ago at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Elian is also shown smiling with his half-brother, Jianni (ph) -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The scene of those demonstrations in Miami's Little Havana is where CNN's Mark Potter has been for most of this day. Mark joins us now.

And, Mark, we understand that you have some new reports from the police as to the number of people arrested.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a spokesman for the Miami Police Department says that so far, they have processed 80 people, 80 people have been arrested. That number may be climbing, because we just saw a couple of more people being arrested here. We're also told that the police department is what they call on the Alpha-Bravo shift, meaning half on, half off, 12-hour shifts. And about 600 officers, we're told, are out here on the scene now.

It's a little quieter here at this intersection where we have been all day. People are milling about. The police are telling people to go away, but they're not threatening them with the tear gas and the pepper spray that we have been seeing earlier today. The crowd is just quietly milling about. The police have stood down a little bit compared to what was going on here earlier.

There have been a number of confrontations between the police and the protesters. Some fires have been set, rocks were thrown, bottles were thrown. And as I said, arrests, a lot of arrests we saw. The police department is saying 80.

Now, someone asked me about the difference between the gases that they're using. They're using both, they're using tear gas and pepper gas. This is a long-range projectile. If you can read that, it says "Irritant agent." And I can tell you, it sure is. That's tear gas. They're firing that. And then at short range they've also been spraying pepper gas, pepper spray, on the crowd, using both. And they have been using it quite effectively to disperse the crowd, and they have done that several times.

We have witnessed it used six, seven, eight different times as the police move forward and then come back. They've had to retake this intersection from the protesters, who are very angry over what has happened in the Elian Gonzalez case. But right now we're enjoying a nice breeze, tear-gas free, and at this moment enjoying a little bit of quiet after a morning of some very serious conflict between protesters and the police.

WOODRUFF: We're very glad to hear that on everyone's account, Mark. Just two quick questions. First of all, what are the protesters hoping to accomplish here after all? The local authorities if anything are politically sympathetic with them.

POTTER: This is not about local authorities, this is about the federal government. They are very clear in what they want to say. They are angry at President Clinton, they are angry at Janet Reno, they are angry at the Justice Department, the U.S. government, for their handling of this case. They feel that they were not listened to. They are angry that they were, in their words, "betrayed." We have heard that a lot. And they -- this emotion has been building over time.

This was a very important case here in this community for months and months at a time. You can hear some of the emotion behind me. People were very concerned for political reasons. There was genuine concern about what would happen to this child if he goes back to Cuba. And all of that emotion has been building. And with the raid this morning, it all came out here on the streets in Little Havana.

I do want to stress that most of the anger has been contained to the Little Havana area, a several-block area, a number of intersections. It would be wrong to characterize Miami as on fire. That's not the case, and certainly not the county. And I also want to stress that while there has been a lot of passionate activity here, the violence level has been fairly low. There have been some scuffles, there have been some rocks thrown. Our camera got hit. Some officers got hit. Fires have been set. I saw a window being broken.

But compared to what has happened in other places, and also in this community decades ago when there was rioting, the damage has been minimal, at least so far. The violence level has been low -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Mark, just to wrap up, are you hearing anything about what the protesters may have in mind, these people who, as you describe as angry, what they may have in mind later today, tonight, tomorrow?

POTTER: We don't know. The police are certainly bracing for other activities. And whether there is an organized activity tomorrow or later in the week, I just don't know. We haven't heard, at least not from here. We've been fairly cloistered in this environment, keeping our head down and keeping an eye on this, and we just haven't heard for you. We'll try to find out, but we don't know yet -- sorry.

WOODRUFF: And you and your colleagues have been doing a terrific job of doing that and reporting for us. Thanks very much.

POTTER: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Mark Potter reporting from the Little Havana area of Miami.

And now, let's go to another part of Little Havana, to CNN's Susan Candiotti. She is outside the home of Elian Gonzalez's great- uncle there.

And tell us more, Susan, about the protesters' reaction to all this.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, as a matter of fact, first I'd like to tell you about the reaction of someone who's played a -- frankly, a very key role and was a witness to history earlier this morning. A few minutes ago, I spoke with Al Diaz (ph), who is the still photographer who was inside the home when federal agents came in. Unfortunately, he said, he felt far too exhausted this time to appear on camera but did speak with me briefly about what he observed.

Al Diaz, who was very emotionally caught up in this, he admits, he started to cry a little bit as he told me about it, said that he was very distressed as he was taking photographs of the federal agents as they came into the house. He said that initially he retreated to a bedroom when they came inside, and that he heard a lot of yelling. He was inside Lazaro's bedroom, or the bedroom where the boy had been staying, and that he was inside that bedroom with the boy and with the fisherman who had helped saved him.

Of course, we've seen those photographs that he was taken time and time again, and more photographs now becoming available. I don't know if you've seen one go by, but the one in which he said the -- where you see the U.S. marshal who has a gun in his hands, Al Diaz said he himself could not quite tell where the gun was pointed. There you see it now.

U.S. government officials have said that the agent's finger was not on the trigger, and they claim that the weapon was never pointed at the child. Al Diaz said that at that moment, the little boy yelled to him, "What's going on? What's going on?"

Now, meantime here, out at the crowd, you can see that the number of protesters -- perhaps you've been watching for a few hours now -- is not quite as large as it had been before. There is, just as there is a sense of anger over where Mark Potter is reporting from, there is also, along with that anger, a sense of emptiness by people, many of whom feel as though they lost a battle here to keep young Elian in the home of the Miami relatives.

We see over my shoulder, perhaps you can make it out, there is a crucifix that has been leaning up against the house since yesterday, Good Friday, and there is a new sign that is hanging from one of the front windows that reads, "God, family and friends, thank you for my freedom." And it is signed "Elian," someone hanging up that sign, obviously, on the boy's behalf.

And we see these banners that you're looking at now, some of which read, "Clinton, servant of Castro." And others in the crowd who are carrying the U.S. flag upside-down.

Now, the Miami Police Department has said that it plans to allow these people to stand here in front of the house for as long as they feel it's necessary and as long as the police department feels as though they're not causing any difficulties. This is a way, as they have said in the past, to allow these people to express their emotions and vent their feelings about what has happened here over the past several hours.

And finally, we would like to tell you that some of the people here say that they are not associated with that violent outbreak, the disturbance that Mark Potter was reporting about, and instead they are planning a peaceful protest, they say, for early next week, in which they claim, however, they are going to try to paralyze the city by staging traffic jams and the like.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, reporting live in Miami.

WOODRUFF: Susan, just a quick question. Is it fair -- we get the impression here in Washington and perhaps around the rest of the country that the entire Cuban American community there in south Florida is united in wanting Elian Gonzalez to stay in the United States with his Miami relatives, not to be with his father, not to even have the prospect of going back to Cuba. Is that fair to assume? Is this a universal view on the part of this community?

CANDIOTTI: Well, Judy, according to most recent polls taken, a clear majority of Cuban exiles here do indeed believe that the boy should remain in the United States. However, there are many others who -- some of which have told us that they are fearful of appearing on camera, have said that they believe in their hearts that the boy should be reunited with his father, except that some of them who are high-profile members of this community have told, for example, columnists who write about this in "The Miami Herald" from time to time, they're calling themselves closet Cubans, they're afraid to speak out for fear of causing trouble for themselves.

So certainly the majority of people, of Cuban exiles feel that way, but not everybody.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Susan Candiotti outside the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, the great-uncle of Elian. Thank you, Susan -- Gene. RANDALL: More on today's dramatic episode in the Elian Gonzalez saga when we come back.

Stay with us.



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