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Elian Gonzalez Case: Miami Relatives Hold News Conference in Wake of Federal Seizure of ElianAired April 23, 2000 - 9:30 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now to Washington we go. We had been telling you about a news conference which was slated to begin this morning. This is Senator Bob Smith, New Hampshire. He is flanked by Marisleysis Gonzalez and Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman who plucked Elian from the sea. The news conference just began. Let's listen in.
SEN. BOB SMITH (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: ... Bernstein, an attorney for the family, and perhaps Kurt Menendez (ph). Then we'd be happy to take a few questions.
What happened yesterday morning was an armed assault on an innocent family, an unarmed family, where a young boy was taken from his home forcefully. Their home was destroyed inside. And after that attack, this family was left with no communication with their government. They had nowhere to turn. Their house was left in a shambles. Their boy was taken from them. And they were concerned, A, about his safety and his well-being, and they also wanted him to know, Elian, that they had their concerns for him.
He was hooded and dragged from his home at rifle point, not knowing what happened to the family that they yanked him away from at 5:00 in the morning. They asked me, the reason why I'm involved, they asked me to help them to set up a meeting with Elian or with Elian's dad at Andrews Air Force Base. Again, they were left in Miami in the lurch with no one to turn to.
Yesterday I called the Andrews Air Force Base and spoke to Colonel Young. I indicated to him that I was a United States senator, third-ranking Republican member of the Armed Services Committee, and that I would like to take at least two and preferably more, but two at least, family members, Marisleysis and Lazaro, onto the base, not demanding a meeting with Elian or with Elian's father, but asking for the courtesy of this tired family who had been up since 4:00 in the morning, to have a place to sit and make a formal request for a meeting with that family, make the request.
I was denied access with them to Andrews Air Force Base in what I consider to be a very confrontational situation yesterday with armed marshals and armed MPs denying me and two members of this family to that military installation.
Subs -- prior to that, or -- I spoke to Greg Craig and indicated to him that there was an agreement, with the exception of geography, where this family would meet with Elian's dad, and I asked him if we could renew that agreement now that the geography had been settled forcefully. He said there is no agreement, as far as he was concerned, at this time.
So we were denied access to Andrews. I then asked for an opportunity for this family to have a press conference like this on site. I asked for, A, a facility, if not a facility, at least an orderly situation. They were denied that courtesy as well. It was basically, as some of you know because you were there, protesters and chaos, and this family could not even have a press conference to make their statement.
That's the way this family and this United States senator were treated by an air base basically under my control, if you can believe that.
Now, what happened yesterday was not the rule of law yesterday morning in Miami, it was an abuse of power, and it was a violent abuse of power. This family's only crime was to take care and give a loving home to a young boy whose mother died as they tried to escape Castro's Cuba.
The father, Juan Gonzalez, never requested his son when he left Cuba. As a matter of fact, it started with this -- when Fidel Castro in Cuba preventing the father from immediately leaving Cuba to be with his son in the hospital in Miami following his rescue by Donato, who is here today.
Castro's involvement has continued to this day. When Juan Miguel was finally authorized by Cuba to come here, Castro set the conditions. I have a copy of his -- Castro's April 2 statement, in which he spoke allegedly at the request of the father and said that Juan Miguel, quote, "does not wish to meet with any kidnapper or accept any conditions," unquote.
This family, who had taken loving care of Elian, was not -- were now kidnappers. Juan Miguel allegedly authorized Castro to say that, and it wasn't the other way around. If anybody believes that, well, then, I have some shorefront in Phoenix for you.
But this is no longer about Castro, who continues to manipulate Juan Miguel. It is now about President Clinton and Janet Reno's abuse of power. When is the last time in America that a child was taken at gunpoint and custody transferred without the order of any judge of any court in this land? When?
This is how every other custody transfer has been done in the history of our country, yet this one was done without any court order at the point of a gun. The American people need to understand this. No court order authorized this transfer, and at the very least, if the administration thought they were on solid legal ground doing this, then they should have sought a court order directing the transfer.
In point of fact, last Thursday the federal court of appeals in Atlanta issued an order which stated in part that Elian and his Miami relatives had made a substantial case on the merits that he was entitled to political asylum -- a hearing on political asylum, and that he deserved, quote, "his day in court." And the court chastised the INS for their handling of this case, and the decisions they had reached. And as you know, oral arguments for this appeal are set for May 11.
Despite this court order and the injunction that was issued, President Clinton and Attorney General Reno instead decided to seize Elian by force in the most traumatic way possible, at gunpoint, with profanity and violence that this family wants to tell you about this morning. They witnessed it.
So it's the Justice Department and the INS who are not following the rule of law.
In conclusion, the president of the United States, this president, defender of human rights, a president who invokes the name of Martin Luther King, a president who went to war in Bosnia over human rights, who went to war in Kosovo over human rights, who interfered in Haiti on human rights, snatched a little boy on Easter weekend from his home at the point of a gun. He also refused to bomb Iraq during Ramadan.
There was no hesitation on the part of this administration to sacrifice innocent lives to achieve their own agenda, and the agenda this time is diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro. So Elian was expendable.
This is a Easter egg that Donato gave to me, and it's a very precious gift, and I appreciate it, Donato, I know it was special to you, that Elian was supposed to hunt for today on Easter Sunday. Now he won't celebrate Easter.
Karen Carpenter's song said, "Bless the beasts and the children, for they have no voice, they have no choice."
I'd like to introduce to you now a woman, in my view, who is a hero, a woman who has given of herself for the last five months to take care of a little boy. And her government, her government, I am ashamed to say, has let her down. I am ashamed of my government over the past two days. I'm ashamed of my party, the Republican Party, over these past few days and months, who would not stand up for this little boy.
But Marisleysis did, and she is a hero, and I'm pleased to introduce her to you now.
MARISLEYSIS GONZALEZ, ELIAN GONZALEZ'S COUSIN: Good morning to everybody that's listening, and good morning to all of you that's down here today.
I came here because what was done in my house was the worst thing that could ever happen to a family. Besides what they've done to Elian, what they've done to my family, I stand here today because I see that still after everything that they've seen, there's people out there that could stand up and judge and not really know what happened in that house. There was force in that house, and still Janet Reno and Clinton can stand up here and lie. All of you of the press, all of you have been getting news since day one. All of you should open the tape when she stood out and said, There will be no marshals getting this boy from the house, especially at midnight.
We never thought this would happen. We never thought that a word from such a powerful person could be turned down so low as they did today, as they've done since day one. There's still people that don't believe in my family, who are honor family, who are a loving family, and we've always been like that, and that's the way that I've been raised.
I picked up this boy from this hospital, as everybody know, because his father wasn't able to pick him up. That means a lot. Every camera that's been outside my house has never gotten a tear or a fearful face from Elian, all they've seen is laughter, how he comes outside, how he plays, how everything.
That night, there was a lot of people in my house, family members, kids, not only Elian, there was other kids in that house. We couldn't sleep. Everybody was on the sofa waiting for an answer. We were on the phone trying to negotiate with her, how can we meet with the father? How can this boy see the father without having to fear, without having to go through any trauma?
That's all we've asked is for the best interests of Elian. And what happened that night in my house wasn't the best interests for Elian, and wasn't the best interests for the child that were in that house, and it wasn't the best interests for my family.
And I want everybody that's hearing me to open up your eyes and open up your hearts and think about something. We were waiting for an answer. We were put on hold. And there's banging all over your doors, people screaming outside. You have kids inside of your house, 5-year-old and 11-year-old and Elian, a 6-year-old that's been through so much, and is just waiting for the day that he's come to be picked up.
You hear banging all over the door. You don't know who it is. We didn't know who it was. God forbid, we thought it was the Cuban government coming inside my house, because we never thought that there would be marshals in my house, because she promised it wasn't, she wasn't -- she was -- she had us on hold. She never told us they were coming. We were trying to raise -- picking up all the kids and putting them in a room with all the mothers that were there, because we didn't know what was going on in my house.
I didn't even know what to do, because all I was looking for was the kids that were in the house. Donato picked up Elian and raced him to the room and tried to hide him. And this little boy's fear and everything that he went through, not only him but the other 5-year-old cousin, who came on a boat too, and is being treated by a psychiatrist because he has his problems as well of everything he's seen at sea, had also a gun pointed to him. Why is there a need to have a 5-year-old, a 6-year-old, and an 11-year-old pointed with a gun, Don't move or I'm going to shoot you? There was no guns in that house. And thank the Lord, there was no guns in that house. This family didn't know they were coming. There was no guns in that house, but there were men in that house.
And think about it, if you have your house trashed and people coming inside with guns, and you don't even know who they are, because they didn't even tell us who they are, all they say is, "Give me the damn boy, give me the damn boy." And all I said was, "Please, I'll give you the boy, please," I begged them, I stood in front of all those machine guns, and I begged. "I beg you," I said, "please, don't do this to this boy. There's kids in this house. Don't do this. I'll give you the boy, but please, don't let them see this."
They didn't care. They all -- the put guns on my cousin's head right there. "You move, and I'm going to blow your brains out." They kicked the cameraman from the press. They banged the other one with a machine gun in the head, it was still broken. They threw my uncle against the floor. They threw my cousin against the floor. They trashed my house, but they didn't have to do that, because I was begging them that I would give the boy, but not to let the boy see this.
And they took it to such an extreme of going in the room, breaking the door, and having this to Elian's face. That right there ain't a smile. That right there ain't a criminal. We are not criminals. My family aren't criminals. Not even criminals -- sometimes they don't have what it takes to go in a house, and they did it because they knew that this family was not going to let a tragedy go on. They knew that my father is a man, and they knew that -- everybody knows in the house there were men were not going to go against them, because we didn't want bloodshed. We didn't want Elian to see more than what he's seen already.
And I tell the American people, this could happen to your kid too if you were in a situation. You're being lied to. We're not liars, we have proof. I do swear, I will swear to all I swear (ph), his mom died, and this kid (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for five months, and I've taken care of him to the extreme. And every camera that is here today must have their crew in front of my house, and they know how this kid is with me. And I don't want people out there to talk about what they don't know.
Open up your eyes and see the truth, don't let them lie to you. There wasn't bloodshed in that house because my family, my family is a very decent family and stood back and let the justice be done like this, as child abuse?
There is another picture that shows this man and another man in the back pointing another gun. That was the other gun that was pointed to a 5-year-old that is being treated by a psychologist as well, of everything he saw at sea too, which is Elian's cousin that also came on a boat.
I have been where the father hasn't been, and it's plain to see, and I want everybody to know, I have gone where the father hasn't gone. And I will go where the father won't go. And what I promise this kid, I'll take it wherever I have to take it, but justice has to be done. There was no need for this. There was no need for my family to have guns against them.
There was no need for Elian to fear. I've always thought if a kid has fear, or anybody in the world has fear, you can't take them. I want every American to know out there, because all the Cubans know, because there was a lot of Cubans outside my house who saw what they did. The cameras couldn't get it, because they beat the cameramen, because they didn't want for anybody to see what did happen in that house.
And you know what, Janet Reno? Even though if it would have been three minutes or 30 seconds, it happened. And the harm was done, and it was done to a kid that's been through a lot. And you still don't know what being a mother is.
And I am ashamed that the president allowed something like this, because he has a family. And I -- and every time I hear the news, it's about how there's guns and kids with guns at school, and kids shooting themselves at school, and he stands up, very proud, and says how to eliminate this stuff. But then he gives an order to have a kid, a gun in his face.
And yes, I've also heard that we've given Elian a lot of toys. People have given him toys because people feel what this kid has gone through. And Janet Reno said he had a little baggie of toys. Was this the first toy you gave him? Was this the first toy you taught Elian?
And I blame this country, whatever harm psychologically this kid is going through right now. And I demand to see Elian, and I will not leave until I see this boy. His father could have done this in a very peaceful way. We've always wanted to see him. My doors have always been open to everybody. Thousands of press have been up there, and the reason they've been there is not to publicate this kid, because we knew that this country would do this. And it did happen.
And every camera person that was up there saw this. They couldn't see what was inside the house, because they were trashing everybody outside, because they didn't want to see the abuse.
And I stand here today to ask every American, don't let the president or Reno stand on TV and lie to you. They've lied to my family. In a way I trusted that the word that she once said, that this boy was not going to be forced out of the house, and that was a lie. They never knocked on my door to say who they were, because the cameras that were out there saw how quick everything was done.
And they saw how this kid was taken out screaming that he didn't want to leave. And there's no words that could express to the community and to the whole world what that family went through, running inside the house, because we didn't know who was coming inside the house, having people with guns right in front of you, and you didn't even know who they were. But just think about this, they lied. We were not armed. All we had was God on our side, God on our side, because we've always had Him on our side. And my father and my brother, my cousins, men, men, they were in that house, opened their arms like this, just for Elian not to see no blood or the rest of the kids that were in that house.
Because there would have been others that would have gone against that, and would have gone on top of those people, and there would have been bloodshed in my house. What I ask is for Janet Reno and Clinton to give me, give me an explanation. What would they have done if my father or my cousin or my brother would have not allowed this? Or if I in that moment, God wouldn't have been on my side, if I wouldn't have allowed that? I wouldn't have been standing here today.
And neither would have my (UNINTELLIGIBLE) been standing here today, because they would have shoot us. But thanks God that we stand here today, so we could prove to America and to everybody that this government, the only thing they've done since day one is lie.
And the truth always comes upon (ph), and with my truth, I'm going to get somewhere, and I am going to get to every heart and to every mind, just with the truth. So I ask everybody to please open up your hearts and see from day one who went to pick up this boy, who holds this boy's hand when he had an IV in his arm, who taught this kid to walk again? Because a lot of people stand out there and say, Give him to the father. But a lot of people didn't know what Elian went through when he went to my house, that he couldn't walk, because he was so dehydrated that he would fall.
Where was the father? He's still here, and where is he that he couldn't prevent this, and that he hasn't said anything about this? Is this a father that cares for the best interests of the child? People, please, this kid has been through too much already, support us. We need everybody's support for justice to be done. They broke the law. We've never broken the law. We've always tried to negotiate for something like this not to happen.
Get this face really good (ph), don't get the one they show on TV, get this face really good. This is the face of fear. I'm 21 years old, and I was feared to have both guns in my -- right here. I couldn't even go to kiss Elian. I couldn't even go to tell him, Don't worry, they won't harm you.
And I am afraid that what Elian is going through right now, because I live with the boy, and I know that he couldn't be without me. And before this happened, he was laying on the sofa, because he couldn't fall asleep that night. And his words to me were, "I love you a lot." I said, "I love you too." And the other words he said to my father was, "I am very scared something's going to happen."
And the day when I heard it from him, when he told him in English, "Help me," he talks a little bit of English, he's a very bright boy. And then he tells my mom, "Que pasa?" There was no need for this. I want an answer. I want face to face in front of cameras, Janet Reno and Bill Clinton to stand in front of me and talk and tell me why did this have to be done like this? Not to stand in front of other people and try to eat (ph) their brains with lies. In front of me, so we both could discuss this.
So everybody could see the damn lie they've done, and the injustice they've done, and they did not only abuse Elian but they abused the other kids that were in my house. And I begged that there were more kids in that house.
What if somebody that was standing outside would have ran in the door and done something, and there would have been shots in my house? And he could have paid for it. And the way that they took this boy out, as you all see, the woman had him holding, he was almost falling. Anybody could have thrown something or a gunshot could have gone, and this boy would have been harmed.
And what were they going to stand up and say, I'm sorry? What they said for the mother that gave her life to bring him here, I'm sorry? And everything was going to stay like that, like they've killed thousands of kids here, and there's thousands of families that they've lost their kids because of machine guns. And what have this country done? Only say I'm sorry? But the kid is gone.
We need to stop this, and we need the government to stop doing things like this. Because it's not only the criminals and people outside with guns, no, it's the government too.
All I ask is, I need to see Elian, and the condition that they took this boy out of my house, I know he's not OK. And the pictures that they show with the father, that is not Elian. That hair is not Elian's, because I had, me, myself and I, I cut hair, and that's what I do. That's my hobby. And I will prove my license if I have to. I'm the one that cuts Elian's hair.
And three days before, I had given him a haircut, because he begged me for a haircut. "I look ugly, I need a haircut." Look how short his hair is here. Look how short the hair looks when he was taken out of the house. And look how long the hair is in the picture that they showed today.
That is not Elian smiling, because if Elian would have wanted to be with his father, I would have taken him to his father. And this, this didn't have to happen.
And I demand, and I think I have the right, to see this boy, because I've taken care of this boy for five months when the father wasn't here for him. I have the right to see this child, and I beg everybody who's listening to me to call whoever they have to call and to stand up next to me and let me see this boy. And I know this boy needs to see me too, and I am going to go wherever I have to go, and I will be wherever I have to be, where the father hasn't gone and where the father hasn't been.
And I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here, because I still believe that his mom didn't die for nothing. And people have forgotten that. We all came from a mother, and we all came from a woman that God made. And this boy was brought on Thanksgiving Day, and this boy was taken on a such (ph) day. And all I ask is, please, don't let this country lie to you like they've lied to my family. You've never seen aggression in our side. You've never seen aggression in our side, but you've seen aggression in the father's side, when he stood up on TV and said he would come here with machine guns, and he would try to kill whoever was in his way. Even his child?
There's a lot of things behind this, there are a lot of things behind this that they don't want to bring upon, and those are the things that I want to bring out, and I will bring them out. And I beg everybody, like I begged those people with the machine guns that didn't listen, please, don't let them lie to you. Listen both sides. What happened in my house was not the best interests of this child, and I not only speak for him, but I speak for any child.
This didn't had to be like that. If they wanted to pick up this boy, they could have sent a letter, We will pick him up at 3:00, have him ready, and they knew the family was going to do that. And if we wouldn't have done that, then do what you needed to do. But you didn't have to do this. You didn't have to go to the extreme, and you didn't have no right to break inside my house when we didn't know who were these people.
And justice needs to be done, and they need to give a lot of explanations about this. And I am going to go wherever I have to go, even if I have to go see Clinton and ask him, Would you have like your daughter to have a gun in her head -- in her face like that? Then why do it to another kid? Why stand up on TV and say, We need to make better about the crimes that are being done in school, when you're the first one to give an order to bring inside a house a kid with a gun in his face?
Then you don't deserve to stand where you stand today, and you don't deserve to deserve -- dishonor my family have you dishonor yours. And I want you in front of me, and I want Janet Reno in front of me, and in front of all of you, to explain why they did this, because they know when I sat with her that we're not an aggressive family, and that we weren't armed. They knew this since day one that we weren't armed.
And I -- and she knows when I sat in Sister Jean's house in front of Sister Jean, when I begged her not to do something like this, and she went where she didn't have to go. And I want an explanation about this. And I don't only want an explanation for my family, but I want an explanation to the American people that live in this country, where I thought that things like this wouldn't happen.
This could be done to your child too if it's been taken to this. We were negotiating, for God's sakes. We were set up, that's what we were being done, we were being set up, and we were set up by a 6-year- old that could have lost his life, if anything could have gone wrong. And then who was going to pay for him? Sit back and cry? Whoever doesn't want to listen to this or is tired of listening to this, this could be your child, so don't get tired of listening to what I have to say. This could have been your child.
And by talking the truth, everything comes upon, and I will stand where I have to stand to save this boy.
DONATO DARLYMPLE, ELIAN'S RESCUER: Good morning. I don't have much of a voice. But I stand here heartbroken this morning. I've been only known as the fisherman. I did come to this city a week and a half ago, trying to mediate on my own initiative the two families, trying to put the politicians, the lawyers, and the governments out of the picture to put these lovely families together, the Gonzalez family.
And I can tell you, I'm heartbroken as an American to know that Greg Craig, the personal attorney for Bill Clinton, tried to deviate me from having the meeting with Juan Miguel. He reluctantly, because he had to show face (ph) to the American public as the only man to save this boy's life from the ocean, he had to save face because I came on a bended knee to want an interview or a meeting with Juan Miguel. So he reluctantly gave me that meeting in his office.
I can tell you that this all could have been avoided, but Greg Craig has been used by Bill Clinton administration and also the Fidel Castro regime to put together what we see now as this. I don't have words, I'm broken, my voice is gone. All's I ever did was pull the boy out of the ocean. I'm going to be very brief.
I pulled him out of the ocean, and I don't know why I was there the other night to be the only one Elian fell in my arms. I'm ashamed as an American, and I think everyone here in America should know that we brought him to these shores for freedom, but yet he was pulled out of my arms, an American, by foot soldiers with assault rifles.
They told me -- and this is not fabricated or exaggerated, you see the picture -- "Give us the boy or we'll shoot you," with the most foul language. Was this the best interests of Elian Gonzalez? Was this the best interest in the sensitivity of a 6-year-old boy that has suffered so much and has been away from his father for so long? Is this it?
I just come with my heart, people, saying the law has not worked in the proper fashion. It has been manipulated by a president that we voted in this office almost eight years ago. I have never spoken out against this government before, but you can see the picture. It stands today. What they did to this family -- I can tell you, I am an outsider of the family, and I am not a Cuban -- but this is the most honest, integrible (ph) family. They are standing up against a totalitarian regime down in Cuba. They are standing up for their rights with lawyers that have done everything to the letter of the law and our law has let them down.
I just say to the American people, please look at what our country has done. This country is made up of immigrants and don't ever forget that. My grandparents came two generations ago from Italy and others have come from Russia and China and around the world. Why can't this little boy, Elian Gonzalez, when his mother fled for her life, why cannot this boy be welcomed into this country? I just say it's a sad day in America. I love this country. I will continue to love this country and I will still wave the flag, but it's a sad day in America that this had to happen. I was on the sofa. I can tell you, I was abrupted (ph) by -- I thought I was in a dream. I heard Elian scream and I heard people, get down or we'll shoot you. My God, shoot who? This is a family where Gloria Estefan has come in, Andy Garcia, and the many other famous people have come by to see this boy and this family and just stand up for human rights, which we stand for in this country. There was no weapons. They knew there was no weapons.
Mr. President, you knew there was no weapons in this house. I tell you as an American citizen born in this country, my father fought in World War II and the Korean War, you, my friend, you fled, you burned the flag, but yet you defend this in the name of America. Please, sir, I'm asking for a transparent explanation before the country. Who am I? I'm nobody. I'm just an American man that found a boy in the ocean. I saved him, and you pulled him out of our arms with weapons. You've terrorized this boy. You've traumatized him.
This is the most loving, kind family. Somebody needed to go down there and meet with them. I tried to put it together. Greg Craig said it wasn't happening. Shame on you, Greg, for what you have done. Shame on you.
GONZALEZ: I just want to say something very brief and on behalf of all my family, and I want to address the American people. I want to address everybody that has been looking at this from far and don't know. We've never been violent. We've always tried to negotiate. We've always tried to be good. We've always tried to give love to Elian, and we've always tried to love our cousin and our family in Cuba.
All we have wanted is for this family to reunite and to do it in a peaceful manner. And what happened yesterday was violent, was criminal, and was very nasty, and I accuse Clinton, I accuse Reno, and I accuse them for being cruel, for being very, very cruel to this little boy, and I, as part of the family, think that this cannot be left like this. I think that people have to see that and people have to support us, and please, we are here.
We are Americans. We live in this country. Don't let any Cuban come to this country and say what we need to do. We are on your side. We are Americans. We need you, please.
ROGER BERNSTEIN, LAWYER FOR MIAMI RELATIVES: My name is Roger Bernstein. I'm one of the attorneys who have volunteered our time to defend the rights of Elian Gonzalez.
Elian Gonzalez has touched my life. Everyone before you loves him very much. That is why it is so troubling and horrific, the actions that the federal government took to remove this boy and not to permit a peaceful negotiated settlement to take place. What the government has done is rely on a psychological evaluation by a pediatrician in New York who made a diagnosis across the country without ever evaluating Elian, without ever looking to his best interest.
The INS -- we begged for five long months, please, understand this boy's psychological condition, understand what the psychologists who have carefully evaluated him, who have said he will suffer post- traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety disorder if you remove him from that house in a sudden manner. Look at the evidence that was presented to this government, and they closed their eyes and they put their fingers in their ears, and they relied on a sham from a psychologist -- I'm sorry -- from a pediatrician who's purported to know what was in the best interest of this boy.
It is absolutely outrageous. It is absolutely outrageous that they used this as a justification that this boy was being abused to come into that house with guns blazing, not contorting with the laws of this nation, not getting a search warrant to seize this boy, not announcing, not knocking, but just going in with guns blazing. They took a battering ram and knocked down the door of that house while two of my colleagues were on the phone negotiating.
And I want to step back for a moment and run through you a brief history of this case that will definitively show you that the government had no interest in settling this dispute peacefully, that there was a predetermined result which was this boy had to be returned to Fidel Castro -- had to. Fidel Castro will never permit a family reunion where he will not be able to exert control. We saw this specifically at Sister Jeanne's home when the grandmothers came. One of the sisters of the grandmothers was there. They were not even permitted to speak. They were in such absolute fear that the Cuban government would retaliate against them that they could not even speak to their family -- is horrific.
Let's step back and look at the reality of the situation. It never had to come to this. The government keeps saying, we had no other choice, but they had plenty of choices. All they had to do was follow the law, which they failed to do, and I'm going to get to that right now. Back in December, early December, the Clinton administration made an announcement that they would permit a state court -- a state court -- to decide what is in the best interest of the child.
That is what is traditionally done in this country when an unaccompanied minor comes to the United States, because they, of course, devolve from the 10th Amendment the right and they have the professionalism to determine what is in the best interest of the child. The INS has no such expertise. Unfortunately, the Castro government made a 72-hour ultimatum that said we have to -- that we will release -- and made a veiled threat to release another Mariel boatlift.
They -- the government was pressured by the State Department to switch from a state court to a federal court and they complied, they folded under political pressure, and that's all this case is about is Elian's interests being subservient to a political agenda to normalize relations with Cuba, and I believe that from the bottom of my heart. This boy's interests was never looked at. The proof is five months went by without any consideration for this boy's psychological well- being. It is a shame. After December, the -- we filed applications for asylum. The guidelines for asylum call for -- the regulations call for those applications to be accepted.
If the application is complete, the children's guidelines for refugee claims state specifically that a child may -- a child even of tender years may apply for asylum, particularly when he came from a country where human rights abuses are apparent such as Cuba. Instead of accepting the application as they should have, they rejected it. We then went to state court and we petitioned the state court to permit the family who was given lawful custody through INS to file that petition.
The state court granted that right and we filed a new application, that also was rejected by the federal government. We then went and visited Attorney General Reno personally. Because of that action, there was turbulence in Miami, a community we all love and want peace in. And we said to -- we pled to Janet Reno, please, please, let us hear this in the court.
Let our -- let the evidence come out. The asylum -- let us have either an asylum hearing or a family court hearing. It was not acceptable. It was not acceptable. What Janet Reno said is, fine, I will permit you to sue us in federal court, and we did. And right when we sued her, the attorney general, she made an argument that we had no jurisdiction to sue her, that this family had no standing to sue her, that we didn't have the right to file an application for asylum and that we did not have the right to be heard, that Elian's voice, who the government has never listened to, does not have the right to be heard. You can imagine the pain that the family was going through at this point in time and the frustration the lawyers who had spent hundreds of hours felt as well.
We then proceeded to federal court and we won on two very important issues on the jurisdiction standing and the federal district court rejected our claim that Elian has the right to file an asylum application. Then we went to federal -- we filed an appeal. I'm sorry, let me step back. We were asked by the government -- I'm sorry, we were not asked. We were threatened with the government to either expedite the appeal and give conditions that we will transfer the boy with no conditions attached, they would not assure us that he would not be immediately returned to Cuba, or we will transfer custody immediately. That was not much of an option. We agreed, however, to expedite this appeal.
We gave a written statement from Lazaro Gonzalez that he would obey the law, that he would stand back and allow the INS to execute its lawful functions, but he would not impede in any way the federal government, but that he would not assist in returning this boy to Cuba, which to his family is morally reprehensible. Then we filed an injunction in the federal appellate court and the federal appellate court reviewed the claim for -- that he had the right to apply for asylum and agreed with our position that the case was substantially justified, that it wasn't a frivolous appeal, as Greg Craig and the Clinton administration have purported and as the media has presented, but it is a substantial claim on the merits that a child does have the right to -- even if he cannot speak for himself -- to at least be heard, to at least have the objective facts presented that this boy will be returned to Cuba and forever be made a slave to the revolution.
How can the American public sit there and pretend, and the president pretend that they have this boy's best interests at heart? This is not simply about a father being reunited with his son. This is about a father being pressured and being -- and a Castro government that will exert control over this boy for the rest of his life. That is not the principles for which this country stands for. This country needs to fight for freedom and what is right.
We are now at the point where this family has been characterized by the media, by the Clinton administration and by the attorney general as law breakers, as hostage takers, and I tell you, I love this family and I cannot stand here and permit this slander. The only crime this family has committed is to love this child. The lawyers that have said are stalling for time, we're not negotiating today. That is ridiculous.
All we have sought to do is to defend this child's rights, to vigorously defend this child's rights. And shamelessly, the media has portrayed the community -- the Cuban community as zealots, as radicals, when all they are simply trying to do is protect this boy from going back to a repressive dictator. It is a shame and it is a sham. What I also would like to say is I worked for the Department of Justice for eight years as a lawyer. One of my responsibilities was to be in charge of the investigation unit -- I'm sorry -- that would be responsible to conduct such operations as this, and this unit that went into that house violated the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
They did not follow the set procedures by law. They did not obtain a warrant when they had an opportunity to obtain a warrant. They did not knock and announce, which is standard procedure. They used a rumor from Fidel Castro that there were guns in the house, or guns in the crowd, as the basis to storm that home. And the force that was used in that home was incredibly excessive.
What Marisleysis didn't tell you, because she is so unselfish, is that a man -- one of the men in the home pointed an automatic weapon at her with a guide at her chest and said, I'll let it loose, stand back. It was horrific. And what is more horrific is that while this was taking place -- just prior to this taking place, Kendall Coffey, who is a former U.S. attorney in the southern district of Florida, Aaron Pothurst (ph), Tad Foote (ph), the University of Miami president, and several other community leaders had for the past 18 hours been negotiating in good faith with the government.
I have a fax that was sent to the federal government, that was sent to Janet Reno at 5:00 on Friday evening -- 5:00. It set out six principles that were signed. It was signed by Lazaro, Marisleysis and Delfin. It agreed to a neutral site. It agreed to a facilitator to be named. It agreed that no other people besides the family would be present. This was at a mutual -- that would -- this would be at a compound where the family could spend time together until the appellate process took its course. This was presented, signed to the attorney general. She preapproved the plan. It had to be presented to Greg Craig, Greg Craig and Fidel Castro. Time went by at the home. They sat by the phone anxiously with Aaron Pothurst on the line mediating between she and Kendall Coffey and Manny Diaz.
At 4:00 in the morning, after not hearing -- after barely hearing anything from the attorney general, new conditions were set. We can't have the meeting for -- we can't have the meeting take place for a full month, maybe a week. We're not happy with the location. The only real issue, according to the attorney general, was the location. But what is unbelievable to me is she said, you have five minutes to respond. The family had gone through hell all week -- five minutes to respond. This wasn't -- Lazaro was sleeping. Marisleysis was sleeping. It was communicated to them, please -- they're sleeping, just give us a few hours so we can clear our heads. No, five minutes.
We woke them out of bed. They were awoken (ph) out of bed and told of the proposal, and then it came -- it's too late, it's too late. Aaron Pothurst said, we will get back -- wait, wait, what are you doing? What are you doing? This is Pearl Harbor. What are you doing? And unfortunately, while Kendall Coffey was on hold, waiting for Aaron Pothurst to respond, with Janet Reno on the other line, the lawyers in this family were tear gassed, and as you have heard testimonials, excessive force was used.
For a person who loves his country so much and who is formally so proud of the Department of Justice, I am deeply ashamed and deeply troubled. I call on the United States Congress to convene a formal investigation on the practices the Department of Justice has used in exploiting this family and treating them as criminals, and using excessive force when this child should never have been put through so much tragedy. Thank you very much, and God bless America.
ARMANDO GUTIERREZ, MIAMI RELATIVES' SPOKESMAN: Hi. I'll be brief. My name is Armando Gutierrez. I've been the spokesperson for this family.
I was part of the negotiations since early the day before. I have met with all the community leaders who were trying to get this thing done. The family -- the lawyers were forced to fax at 5:00 p.m. this agreement without the signatures of the family just to show goodwill. We rushed to the house and met in a little room with the family, with the lawyers explaining the agreement.
They signed the agreement knowing it was not in their best interests, but they wanted to show that they just wanted the little boy to get together with the father and the family as family unification. They added something that was very, very important because of this week, we further requested that our spiritual adviser be allowed to be on the premise.
All they wanted is family unification. At the same time they were faxing this agreement signed by them, Mr. Greg Craig was sending you guys a letter saying, we don't want you to show how the government forcefully removes this little boy. So ask yourself what was really going on. The family in good faith was signing an agreement and Mr. Greg Craig was trying to blind your eyes and close your eyes so you won't see what's really going on. They were taken for a ride.
LAZARO GONZALEZ, ELIAN GONZALEZ'S GREAT-UNCLE (through translator): Good morning.
The family of the Gonzalezes, we are here almost at the same time Elian got to Washington. We are here to denounce before this great nation, a great nation that's provided freedom and liberty to a Cuban family when they arrived. We live here just like everyone else and this entire situation has been basically and simply to protect a child whose mother brought him here in a country of freedom, and all we wanted to do is help him as a family, which is ours.
Immigration handed this child to us and they let him freely to go to Mr. Gonzalez's home. There we provided the child with everything that any child would need just like any other child that's raised in this country: happiness, freedom, schooling, love, friends, his family, his cousins, his first cousins that were raised with him in Cardenas that just been here just for four or five months. It's the result -- the conclusion of the family -- Gonzalez family that a force would attack a family, a home, where they were completely defenseless, simply their morality and the family. This was ordered by the president of the United States by Miss Reno of which we've had discussions for such a long time about this matter. In Mr. Gonzalez's home were the attorneys for the family.
We were awaiting a response from the government and this was the response, an attack on his home, where there was children other than Elian, cousins of Elian, pointing semi-automatic weapons at the family, taking the risk that a shot would be fired and would kill someone. This is the opportunity that they've wanted to give us and that is why we're here in Washington. Yesterday, when we got here, we were worried for Elian and they did not allow us in, because we saw him when they brought him off the plane covered. We didn't see his smile, that smile that everyone has seen for months on television and in newspapers. And we didn't see Elian's face because it was covered.
We want all of you to please cooperate on behalf of this child and find out why they don't allow us or you to see the child, so where they can now continue to take these photographs -- alleged photographs where the child is smiling, and we're going to prove to the world who has the truth. Mr. Craig, the attorney, has no right in front of all of us to say that this family never cared or worried for this child and very -- and less be able to say that his mother that Marisleysis is only his cousin. He should not make that mistake. That if Elian can consider Marisleysis his mother, that's not the same thing that Mr. Craig is saying about her.
We're a family. We're doing everything, because that mother of Elian gave her life for her son and we have to help that child as an orphan, and that he is raised in the best country free, not in a country where there are no human rights. And here, they violated my home. What's happening? It's time for everybody to be concerned. Or what are we, just wallpaper? It's too much what's happened to this family.
Excuse me, and thank you very much.
O'BRIEN: All right, in what amounts to nearly an hour and 20 minutes, we have heard from Elian Gonzalez's cousin, great-uncle, a lawyer representing the family, a spokesperson for the family. A news conference that could be described, I guess, as at times rambling, at times disjointed, but almost always emotional and passionate. Difficult to put a nutshell around all of it, but it's safe to say that much of this was a resuscitation of events according to the Miami faction of the Gonzalez family, the events leading up to the federal seizure of Elian Gonzalez in the predawn hours yesterday.
Couple of allegations in there, one which sticks out in my mind is the allegation by Marisleysis Gonzalez that the photograph shown, the father and son reunited at Andrews Air Force Base that, that photograph was in some way doctored, at least that is her allegation. And I don't know exactly what she meant by that except to say that the half-brother there appears to be of the right age for this picture to have occurred in the time frame it is said to have occurred. So we'll just leave that at that for now and the allegation left out there, and you can make your own conclusions on that.
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