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Elian Gonzalez Case: Miami Relatives Head to Maryland With Hopes of Meeting Elian and His Father at Andrews Air Force Base

Aired April 22, 2000 - 5:01 p.m. ET


BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: The Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez have now followed him to Washington, but the welcome mat is apparently not being rolled out by his father.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: This follows an early-morning raid in which U.S. immigration authorities took the 6-year-old boy from their home by force.

NELSON: And after five months apart, father and son reunited near Washington, D.C.

Hello, and welcome to our international viewers. I'm Brian Nelson at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

KAGAN: And I'm Daryn Kagan.

Our coverage of the Elian Gonzalez case continues.

NELSON: Elian Gonzalez is spending his first day with his father in nearly five months today at Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington. The 6-year-old Cuban boy was forcibly removed from the Miami home of his great-uncle by armed INS agents, and it came in a predawn raid. But Elian's Miami relatives, great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez and his cousin Marisleysis were not far behind. They arrived at Washington's Reagan National Airport a little more than an hour ago and they are now heading to Andrews Air Force Base themselves, but Juan Miguel Gonzalez says he will not meet with them today.

These photographs were among the first of the father and son reunion today. We hope to get those pictures for you shortly. The smiling faces that were seen in the photographs that we've broadcast throughout the day are in stark contrast to Elian's expression as he was carried out of the Miami house during the INS raid. Here you see scenes in Miami where riot police fired tear gas and arrested at least 80 protesters who took to the streets, dumping trash and setting bonfires in anger over Elian's removal.

KAGAN: OK, I think we're moving on -- there we are.

Elian is together with his father, his half-brother and his stepmother at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and that's where we understand the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has said he will not allow another meeting between the Miami relatives and between Elian Gonzalez.

Right now we have our Patty Davis standing by at Andrews Air Force Base. Patty, if we do the math, it looks like that the relatives could be arriving where you are any minute now?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's true. There are some news helicopters flying overhead here trying to track the family's movement here as they work their way toward Andrews Air Force Base here in Maryland. It is a half hour, 40 minute drive from Washington Reagan National Airport in Virginia. Now, we are told, as you said, by the public information officer here at Andrews Air Force Base that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, that's Elian father, does not wish to meet with those Miami relatives today here at Andrews Air Force Base.

Those relatives arrived just a short time ago at Washington's Reagan National Airport hoping their trip to Washington would result in a meeting with Elian, who was taken from them very early this morning by federal officials who broke down the door, broke into the home there of the Miami relatives, packed him on a plane and put him on his way to Andrews Air Force Base, where I am now. He was there greeted by his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who had arrived in a motorcade, sirens blaring here, led by police, and he is now reunited with his father. That reunification took place.

U.S. marshals indeed took still photographs. I don't know if we have those or not that we can call up here to show you. A lot of smiles all the way around between Elian and his father, also the father's new wife and their new baby. But now at this point, we are expecting the relatives at some point to arrive here shortly. Juan Miguel Gonzalez says he does not want to meet with them. We are told, however, that he cannot necessarily -- it's not up to him whether or not the relatives get on to the base or not. We will have to see what happens when the relatives do show up here at Andrews Air Force Base, we expect in short order -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, Patty Davis at Andrews Air Force.

As we understand it, just to clarify, they have not been given permission to come on to the base and Juan Miguel Gonzalez does not have the actual authority himself to keep them off the base -- Nelson.

NELSON: So we'll have to wait and see what happens.

In the meantime, CNN's Jim Hill flew from Miami to Washington with Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives, he was on the plane with them and he joins us now from Reagan National Airport -- Jim.


The flight was rather hastily boarded by the Gonzalez family from Miami, Florida. Lazaro Gonzalez, the great uncle of Elian, as well as Marisleysis Gonzalez, the cousin, both of whom have cared for the child the past few weeks and months, got on to the aircraft accompanied by attorney Roger Bernstein for the family, and a number of people from the activist Cuban community in Florida. Some of these people boarding the plane at the last possible moment on standby. During the flight, I had a chance to approach and talk very briefly with Lazaro Gonzalez. He and Marisleysis appeared to be sleeping. Neither of them had anything to say to me about their reaction to the snatching of young Elian this morning by the federal authorities. They did not say exactly what they expected to accomplish or do in their trip to Andrews Air Force Base. At that point, their attorney Roger Bernstein intervened and said that the family would not have any comment whatsoever.

After the flight, the family was taken off the rear of the aircraft under tight security, boarded a van that was waiting for them and was taken under police escort presumably on their way right away to Andrews Air Force Base.

I am Jim Hill reporting live from Washington.

Back to you.

KAGAN: Jim, thank you very much.

Now to President Clinton, who reacted to the removal of Elian Gonzalez by saying he supported Attorney General Janet Reno's action early this morning.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When all efforts failed, there was no alternative but to enforce the decision of the INS and the federal court that Juan Miguel Gonzalez should have custody of his son. The law has been upheld, and that was the right thing to do.


KAGAN: Meanwhile, Florida Governor Jeb Bush said he was surprised at the outcome. He called on Florida residents to observe the rule of law in their protests. Governor Bush complained that President Clinton told him last night that the matter would be resolved in a voluntary way without the use of force.

NELSON: And Justice Department officials say they also would have liked to have had had a peaceful settlement.

CNN's Pierre Thomas has been covering this story for several months now, he joins us now with the latest from there -- Pierre.

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Justice Department officials had hoped for a peaceful transfer of the boy and, in fact, negotiations stretched into the wee hours of the morning. But there did come a critical cut-off. We, a few minutes ago, talked with INS commissioner Doris Meissner.


DORIS MEISSNER, INS COMMISSIONER: When 3:00 came, there was an -- we were optimistic about the negotiations and so we talked to our people on the ground, asked whether they felt that there was any moving room and they believed that they could still be successful with another hour added to the negotiation time. So the attorney general did continue negotiating for that next hour. Finally, she told the people in Miami that they had to have an answer by 4:00. By 4:00, they simply could not come to agreement and it was then that we decided that the law enforcement action should go forward.


THOMAS: At the moment that 4:00 came, the attorney general looked to her top aides, among them Doris Meissner, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, and asked each one of them what to do. Each one said the time had come to act, Reno decided to make the call and action took place. Now the question is, did they take too much force, did they use too much force? The Justice Department is clear that they will be criticized, it is clear that they will undergo a great deal of scrutiny, but they feel they did the right thing in part because that they had to be able to plan for any contingency and that was a normal law enforcement procedure.

Pierre Thomas reporting live from Washington.

KAGAN: Thank you, Pierre.

A hot spot in the story today has been the unpredictable streets of Little Havana in Miami and that's where our Mark Potter has been all day long.

Mark, what's the situation right now?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, I'm pleased to report that it is a lot quieter here now than it was earlier today. If you look behind me you can see that intersection that we have been talking about all day, 27th Avenue and Flagler Street. The police are just standing by in their cars now. They don't even have the field forces up that they had before, the riot gear and all of that. It seems that the police have sealed off a fairly wide periphery here in Miami's Little Havana that surrounds Flagler Street and some of the avenues that cross it. It is much, much quieter now than it was before.

Now, I can tell you that the police department is saying that there are some 126 arrests that have been made -- it is probably higher than that actually. That's a number from 40 minutes ago. And one of our crews about six blocks away said that they saw five more arrests being made, noting that the age ranges there went from very young to older protesters. But we also have been told that -- by officers on this scene explaining why we saw two ambulances -- three ambulances go racing by about an hour ago, that two officers had been injured, two Miami police officers, they had been attacked, we are told, by a man wielding a baseball bat. We are waiting for the spokesman for the police department to confirm us -- to confirm more details for us.

Things have quieted down so much that now the fires that we saw earlier today are all out. There were tires that were burning, some trash, some furniture blocking the streets. Now, the fire department has gotten in there to put the fires out and clean-up crews have even arrived. We have seen garbage trucks, street cleaners, bulldozers cleaning up the material in the roads and clearing the roads again. Although, this area is still sealed off to traffic right now. The police moved in several times today pushing the crowd back using tear gas fairly extensively. Also in some cases spraying pepper gas and it was a very effective maneuver because it dispersed the crowd very quickly and the police were able to take control.

There were a couple of moments where the police actually seemed to lose control of the intersection here. The protesters got in the middle of it, jumping up and down on cars, setting fires. But then the police came back in and so we now have this situation where the situation seems to be quite a bit under control, much quieter than it was before.

Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: Mark, I heard you mention earlier that the nature, the type of protesters from one part of the day until later in the day changed. Can you tell us more about that?

POTTER: Yes, there was a very dramatic change. You could see it easily. It was an older crowd in the morning, a crowd that was very directly connected to the Elian Gonzalez incident. They were holding signs, they were very mad at the Clinton administration and the Justice Department and that's what they were talking about and that's what they were here to say. But as the day progressed, the crowd changed. Those people filtered out and young people got involved. It almost took on sort of a carnival atmosphere in some places.

A gentleman we talked to, a cardiologist, a Cuban-American man said he was very upset by the fact that the message that they were trying to get out in the morning was lost in the afternoon because of what he described as young thugs coming out here, causing problems and attracting all the attention. He was afraid that it was attracting attention away from the message that the protesters had originally, which was that they were very upset about what was done by the federal government to Elian Gonzalez and his relatives here in Miami.

Back to you.

KAGAN: Mark Potter on the streets of Little Havana in Miami. Mark, thank you -- Brian.

NELSON: Now let's shift our coverage to Cuba. The government was planning a mass rally scheduled to begin at this hour in the central Cuban village of Juavi (ph) Grande. But while the state-run newscast reported that Elian had been returned to his father unharmed, the government was calling for calm and dignity instead of spontaneous street demonstrations. These now are live pictures that you are seeing coming to you from Havana, where there appears to be a large demonstration.

In Havana, anyway, many said that the time now had come for action.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It had come to this point. I think the situation would have continued. Everything would have continued to have been delayed. I think the situation needed a drastic reaction. It needed a decision, even if it was the most drastic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We would have liked for it have been in a happier way for the well-being of the little boy so that he would not suffer yet another trauma by force having to be used to rescue him. But in the end, it was what was necessary and nothing happened to him. We are happy nothing happened to him or anyone else.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They should have waited, been calm, not put themselves in such a violent situation, because the one who is suffering is the little boy. With those reactions, the boy is the one who is suffers.


NELSON: And with more on -- from Cuba, CNN Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman joins us now and she is on the phone.

Lucia, we just had some pictures of a rather large demonstration in Havana. Can you tell us about it?


Let me just correct for a minute, this is taking place in Juavi Grande at this very moment. That is actually in Matansas (ph) province, it's about two and a half hours east of Havana -- a very, very large rally. It is one of the so-called open tribunals that have been taking place since December to demand the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. But today, of course, this rally is doing more than demanding that the father and son be reunited. Most people in this rally are actually elated that, that at least has already happened.

This rally was organized by the government. It was organized before it was known that the INS would go in and fetch the child and forcefully reunite him with his father, but of course now it will have obviously a different sort of a tone, somewhat more victorious. However, as you yourself said, the government is calling for calm, not for celebration.

The real celebration, they say, will be when the father and the son can return to Cuba, and no one knows just how long that will take -- Brian. Now, attending this rally are top-level Cuban officials. President Castro is expected to attend and perhaps to speak -- Brian.

NELSON: Lucia, could you have any idea what he might be saying? This is, I guess, a bit of speculation.

NEWMAN: Well, he will obviously react, or he is expected to react to the developments early, early this morning in the United States, also to the fact that father and son are reunited but are not able to return yet to Cuba -- Brian. NELSON: All right, thank you, CNN's Lucia Newman in Havana.

KAGAN: Our international viewers will be breaking away right now.

NELSON: And for our domestic viewers there is much more coverage of the Elian Gonzalez case right after this short break.



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