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INS Raids Home of Miami Relatives, Seizes Elian Gonzalez

Aired April 22, 2000 - 5:31 a.m. ET


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: You're back with "WORLD NEWS" with our breaking story on the seizure of Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives' home in Florida.

We now go to CNN's Brian Cabell, who's standing by in front of the house with the latest -- Brian.

Brian, can you hear me?

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can hear you. Can you hear me?

CHURCH: Yes, I can hear you. What's been happening there in the last couple minutes?

CABELL: Well, it's getting nasty out here, Rosemary. We have a number of young men along with some older men who are very angry at the media. They are blaming the media, some of them, for what happened here.

It happened about 20, 25 minutes ago. About four or five vans filled with federal officers, federal INS officers, raced into the neighborhood here, stopped in front of Elian Gonzalez's house, where he was staying, where presumably he was sleeping. They apparently broke down the door. I heard some banging hard on the door, and within about two or three minutes later, the boy was brought out, we believe in the arms of a federal -- a female federal officer. They whisked him into the car and then backed him out of this block and took him away.

Now there were about three or four other vans that tried to get out of here, had trouble getting out. Missiles, various pieces of garbage were thrown at them.

At the time. there were only about 50 people here standing watch, standing vigil, and it was a relatively quiet time. Nothing like this was expected at this particular hour, and perhaps that's why federal officers chose this particular time to do it.

In any case, the officers had a hard time extricating themselves from this particular area but managed to, and now for the last 10 or 15 minutes we have people wandering about, angry, screaming at the cameras, hitting the cameras and more or less just stunned. They are simply stunned because they did not expect this to happen. This was the worst possible sitaution for them, to have federal officers come in here and seize the child, apparently, while he was sleeping.

And now, as you can see, the media are being called communists. It is not a good scene at all. It's an angry scene, it's a potentially explosive scene, to be honest with you. There were only about 50 people out here at one point, but I would say at this point there are at least a couple of hundred, and there may be more in the next half hour or so, because word of this is going to spread fast -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Now, Brian, we're actually looking at two fellows dumping something on to the road there. Do we know what that is? Is that media equipment of some sort?

CABELL: That's a question I was asking myself when I was watching it. I frankly don't know what it was and what that represented.

CHURCH: Of course, this seizure of Elian comes at the end...


CHURCH: Sorry?

CABELL: Oh, yes, Rosemary, my producer just suggested in my ear that that was maybe what they knocked the door down with, but we don't know that for a fact. I will have to ask about that...

CHURCH: All right.

CABELL: ... But we do know there was some considerable banging on the door at about 10 minutes after 5:00 when the officers arrived. They screamed at all of the media to get back -- as you might expect, cameras clustered around them -- they screamed at the media to get back -- they were heavily armed -- they screamed at what few demonstrators there were to get back, and they got the boy into the van fairly quickly, fairly easily, backed out, and then the rest of the officers backed out as well. And right now we have no federal officers around here. And frankly there's not much of a police presence. I think they're trying not to crack down too hard at this point in hopes that perhaps this will quiet down on its own.

But at this point, it seems to have quieted down, frankly, in the last five minutes, but that by no means it will end. I think we're going to see something more later today, whether it's demonstrations, we don't know. But more people are waking up, more people have found out about this, and there is still a great deal of anger and certainly sadness about what happened and how it happened.

CHURCH: Now, Brian, the seizure of Elian comes at the end of a long night of negotiations. Let's go over what actually came up in those negotiations, what at least they were trying to do.

CABELL: Well, as we understood it, they were trying to work out an arrangement by which the family here in Miami and Elian's father would share custody of the boy for some period of time -- we're not certain how long. And the by would be taken to some neutral site. We were told there were a couple of sites up near Washington, D.C. Apparently, the site would not have been down here in the Miami area.

In any case, they were working on something like that, some sort of arrangement that would allow for that, but they could not work out the details. We're not sure what the stumbling blocks were, but they worked throughout the evening, on into the morning. Janet Reno at last word was in her office at 5:00 a.m. We were told the Justice Department, perhaps Reno herself would have a press conference at 5:00 a.m.

We waited for that, we waited for that, and then at 10 minutes after 5:00 we saw the police barricades suddenly come down and we saw these vans rush in along with the INS officers, heavily armed, screaming at the media, screaming at the demonstrators to get back. And the boy was taken into a car and taken out of this neighborhood within five minutes after that.

So apparently they were waiting for this settlement either to be worked out or to break down. Apparently it broke down, and as they had warned us, government sources had warned us, that if this settlement did not -- was not worked out, then the next step would be to take the boy.

Now the thought was the boy would not be taken tonight. The thought was perhaps during the day on Saturday, certainly not on Easter Sunday. Most likely, we were told it would happen early next week, but that was not the scenario that was laid out tonight. It happened actually at about 10 minutes after 5:00 in the morning, when there were very few people here, when the media, frankly, was half sleeping, and nobody really knew what was happening until it was right on top of us.

CHURCH: Now, Brian, from the pictures we were just seeing out in front of the house, it appears that people are moving away from that area. Can you give us a broader perspective on the pictures there, the scene?

CABELL: Well, it looks, as I mentioned earlier, that it has calmed down somewhat. We have some of the media out there talking to some people, but frankly the anger seems to have quieted somewhat. We don't know what's happening at this point. The family, we think is still around the house at this point. There are others around the house. But the anger we saw explode here so violently about 15 minutes ago has calmed down considerably, and they have moved away from the media.

But again, we take a look at this woman passing by here right now. You can see there's some genuine anger here, because these people -- some -- many of these are just arriving on the scene right now. But the explosive atmosphere that we had 10 to 15 minutes ago has calmed considerably, I would say, and from our vantage point we can't tell exactly what they are doing. Most of them are a good 30 to 40 yards away from us and some even beyond that. So perhaps they're talking among themselves, perhaps they're trying to figure out what to do next, but certainly the anger that we saw, the violence and -- the potential violence that we saw here just a short time ago has diminished considerably. CHURCH: Brian, you mentioned earlier that you thought Lazaro Gonzalez had come out of the house. Did you get a chance to confirm that?

CABELL: Yes, no I did not. I have not talked to anybody because I've been talking to you virtually the entire time. I don't see him anywhere on the grounds at this point. We hear some clapping in the background. Frankly, I don't know if he has come out.

We saw Delfin, the other great-uncle out here a while ago. We were not involved in that press conference, and I suspect it was given in Spanish, so we can't tell you what was said. But I think you will -- the common thread of all these interviews over the last 15 to 20 minutes is simple anger, absolute outrage that something like this could happen in this country.

Keep in mind, these are people who have left Cuba or have a tremendous -- shall we say even hate towards what Fidel Castro, they believe, has done in Cuba. And they -- I'm sure they look at this in much the same was as -- they look at this as a very oppressive, authoritarian thing to do, to come to a boy's house in the middle of the night -- well, at 5:00 in the morning -- and seize him and take him into a van and take him out of his neighborhood. So you can understand why the anger was so intense, because there was a feeling that this is not supposed to happen in a democratic land.

Of course, the background of this is for hours and hours and days and days and even months, they have tried to work out a settlement here that would be agreeable to both sides, and finally those settlement talks broke down tonight. Apparently the U.S. Justice Department said, no more, that's the end of it. And they decided to take action, and that's precisely what happened.

CHURCH: Now where does this leave the appellate court's decision on this matter?

CABELL: Boy, that's a good question. Let me catch my breath and think about this at this point.

Well, we presumably still will go to the appellate court on May 11th. We will still hear whether Elian will be granted asylum status, but that could take weeks, months. But what we see right now is presumably that the boy has been taken into custody by the INS and presumably will be reunited with his father within a relatively short time.

Again, we're simply speculating at this point, but that was the whole point of this. They were trying to figure out how they could reunite Elian Gonzalez with his father. And since they could not work it out in an amicable manner, they have done it by force. And, as I say, presumably, Elian Gonzalez will be meeting with his father in fairly short order -- at least that's our expectation.

And then the matters in court, well those will have to play out in the weeks and months ahead. CHURCH: Of course, some viewers might say that this may be quite a brutal way to reunite, and Elian would not be able to actually leave the country at this point, legally, is that right?

CABELL: Our understanding is that he's not going to be leaving the country any time soon. And that was not the point of tonight's assault on this house. The point of tonight's assault on this house was to take him away from his family here in Miami and reunite him with his father since they could not work out any agreement to do it amicably.

As you can see over here, once again we've got the media being attacked.

But again, this should not affect the court matters that we will see starting on May 11th. This is simply a matter of wresting him from the custody of his family and reuniting him with his father, who we believe is still in Washington, D.C., although frankly we do not know that he's still in Washington at this point. We don't know, frankly, where he is. We know that he spoke to his lawyer for about two hours last night, came back at around 12:30. And I think the assumption is that he's still at home, but at this point we simply don't know. We're going to have to check on that.

CHURCH: Now, Brian, it's difficult to tell from the pictures, but certainly from what we can see here of the house there appear to be no lights on. And what's your observation from your standpoint.

CABELL: We don't know. We don't know. We do know there were two attorneys over here and the spokesman at the time -- at the time this was occurring. In fact, the attorneys and the spokesman were kind of gathering for some conference about, oh, I would say a half hour or so before all of this took place. We don't know where they are. We don't know who's in the house, who's outside the house. We don't see any of the relatives at this point. I think I see the spokesperson for the family, but he is lost in the crowd over there, and I can't get to him at this point.

But again, I...

CHURCH: Brian, we're going to try and listen in now to -- no, apparently we don't have that. We thought we had a spokesperson there.

So what's happening there from the pictures that we're looking at now.

CABELL: What we're seeing is a woman was giving a press -- or an interview, rather, a little while ago. A number of cameras gathered around her. And we just have people out here angry at the media. There has been a constant anger toward the media, not real intense until this evening, and now we've seen repeatedly people yelling at the media, saying that the media are at least partially if not fully responsible for what happened, saying aren't you happy now? Are you happy now that this happened? And, of course, the media can do little. Well, let's talk to a lady...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's a psychiatrist.


CABELL: I don't thinks so.


CABELL: Can I have your name. please?

JOSEPHAGIA: My name is Dr. Lydia Josephagia.

CABELL: Were you here when all of this occurred?

JOSEPHAGIA: I certainly was.

CABELL: Give me an idea of what happened.

JOSEPHAGIA: Well, they all of a sudden started screaming that, you know, that it was happening. You know, and so I rushed -- I had wanted to be here to see how they would handle this, you know, for the benefit of everybody. And then so I ran in because they had told me if I got inside the house I'd be OK, that they wouldn't have to ask me to leave. Well, it was much worse than that. I was able to get to the side of the house -- not go inside the house but right outside...


JOSEPHAGIA: ... they made me get down on the floor. There were two other people that were relatives that were in the same situation. They made us get on the floor, they made us look down, they pointed rifles at us, and then they tear gassed us. And they started screaming, bingo, bingo, bingo, because they had gotten the child. They were very proud of themselves that they had managed to snatch the child and were putting him in this little white van. And they were yelling bingo, bingo, bingo. And that was, like, time to go.

CABELL: What...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a commando-like operation that you would never imagine in these United States that they would be done in this fashion.

CABELL: Was there any warning at all?

JOSEPHAGIA: None. Not only that, the attorneys were still negotiating as this happened. That's how distrustful the whole thing was. The attorneys were still negotiating as this whole thing happened.

CABELL: So what do you think now? What happens next? The boy is gone.

JOSEPHAGIA: Very sad for the boy, very sad. This is certainly not the way -- this is their idea of calm and orderly and in the child's best interests? Is that what their advisers recommended? Their consultants recommended?

CABELL: Did you...

JOSEPHAGIA: This is very poor.

CABELL: Did you see Elian as he was being taken out?

JOSEPHAGIA: Of course not. He was put -- he was sleeping...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw him as he was being taken out in a blanket by a woman.

JOSEPHAGIA: He had been sleeping.

CABELL: What did he look like when -- what did you see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I could see just the legs and arms dangling, and it all happened very fast. They just took him out of the house right away and into the van.

JOSEPHAGIA: That's not traumatic? that's the least traumatic best-interest way of doing anything for a child, right?

CABELL: What will that do for the child?

JOSEPHAGIA: What do you think?

CABELL: I don't know, you tell...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's a psychiatrist.

JOSEPHAGIA: Catastrophic, catastrophic to do that to a child, catastrophic. You know, isn't it bad enough that he almost dies in the ocean? For them to have to do this to him, they haven't listened to anybody at all. They've refused to listen to anybody, you know, any of the experts that have been involved in this case...

CABELL: He's going to be...

JOSEPHAGIA: ... except the three stooges they brought from New York.

CABELL: He's going to be reunited with his father. What is that going to do to the father relationship?

JOSEPHAGIA: Do you think the father -- that this is going to be very good for their relationship to do it in this manner?

CABELL: All right, thank you very much.

JOSEPHAGIA: You're welcome.

CABELL: Well, there you can hear it's a doctor who herself was virtually at the door when this occurred. And as you heard her, she said this is not the way to handle this situation.

Once again, this was the result of several hours of negotiations this evening, this morning, negotiations that apparently just finally broke down. And as a result, they took swift action, very swift action. It all happened within a matter of I'd say 10 minutes or so. The cars were in, the cars were out. Pepper gas was sprayed, demonstrators were pushed back, camera people were pushed back and the federal agents left. And what we are left with now is this scene, a lot of angry people.

Armando, can we talk to you for a second?

That was Armando Gutierrez, he's the spokesperson for the family. We talked to him probably no more than 20 minutes before this all took place. He had no hint of it. He simply said they were here waiting. When we asked him whether there were negotiations taking were taking place, he kind of hinted that there were negotiations taking place but they were somewhat stalemated throughout the evening, and finally at the very end they apparently they were indeed stalemated, because the federal officers came in at about 10 minutes after 5:00. By 20 minutes after 5:00, they were out of the neighborhood, and Elian Gonzalez was gone.

Where Elian Gonzalez is at this point, frankly we do not know at this point. He is in the custody of the INS, and where the INS has taken him, we don't know that either -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Brian, we have comments from one of the fishermen who rescued Elian. Let's quickly listen to what he had to say.


DONATO DALRYMPLE, FISHERMAN: I was in the house sleeping. And I heard Elian scream. He screamed for somebody. And I didn't know -- I heard banging, and I heard -- I thought I was dreaming. And I ram for the boy. And I went into the room, and I heard all kinds of banging and yelling. I didn't know. And then the next thing I know is the doors were being banged down, and there was officers with guns and pointing them at our heads and telling us, give me the boy or I'll shoot you.

QUESTION: That's what he told you? Give me the boy or I'll shoot you?

DALRYMPLE: Yes, yes. And there was -- Alan Diaz (ph) with the camera was taking the pictures from the Associated Press. And I said, my god, what's the matter? And they took the boy. And there was one woman that came in with a blanket, and she threw it over Elian. And I'm telling you, they took this kid like a hostage in the nighttime. I'm not saying that they shouldn't have resolved this, but they said they were going to do it in a sensitive way to Elian.

Janet Reno. I don't understand. I don't mean disrespect to your position, but what did you to this little boy in favor of his father and Fidel Castro? What have you done to this boy? They hurt the boy. The family's crushed, I'm crushed, but the boy -- they took him out like a hostage with a gun to his head.

QUESTION: Elian obviously did not know what was happening.

DALRYMPLE: Elian was -- I'll tell you, he lost his mother and now he's lost something greater than that, that's his dignity and his family here in Miami.

QUESTION: Donato Dalrymple...

DALRYMPLE: I didn't go with no violence. I'm holding this boy. They should have let us walk out with dignity with this boy.


CHURCH: And we're watching there, of course, reaction from one of the fishermen who was in the house. He was the fisherman who rescued Elian in November, late November.

Now let's go to Susan Candiotti. She's in Miami. She wasn't actually at the scene at the time.

But, Susan, if you can hear me, were you surprised with what's occurred this morning?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think anyone can be surprised at this because for at least the past 10 days the U.S. Justice Department and U.S, Immigration office have been working together on putting together an enforcement plan. They said at least 10 days ago that they would be in enforcement mode. That was because it was very clear that both sides were having trouble trying to work out some sort of an agreement without having to move in and forcibly surrender the child. But all of those efforts had been failing.

Now for the longest time, Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, had been saying that he would not voluntarily surrender the boy, that if authorities wanted this child, they would have to come and get him, that he would stand back and not resist. Well in fact, that's what appears to have occurred.

Now it's important to keep in mind that the family requested that a videotape camera and still camera be in the house for the past several nights, because the family was anticipating the possibility of some sort of law enforcement action. And so, in fact, there was a video camera inside the house. We don't know whether it effectively got any photographs of this. The family wanted to show, as it put it, the attitude and exactly what would happen if indeed federal law enforcement agents entered the home.

I can tell you that if this sort of action was to take place, sources within the U.S. government had said that the plan has been all along that if the child was indeed taken from the home, that he would be able to speak with his father almost immediately. How would that be done? Well, the idea was to at the very least make a cellular telephone available so the father would be a source of comfort to this child and be able to help calm him as soon as he was removed from the house. We do not know if that has happened, but indeed that was the plan, and then to transport the child as soon as possible to his father.

So indeed, if that is the case, if indeed they followed that game plan, then we may want to, say, assume, we can reasonably believe that the child may very well be on his way to being reunited with his father at this very hour.

CHURCH: Now, Susan, we've heard from witnesses the description of the operation being commando-like. Really, Janet Reno had said that this sort of action -- or she's more or less implied this sort of action would not be taken. Why would they actually choose this fairly brutal way of seizing the child?

CANDIOTTI: Well, I don't know that U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has ever said that she would not do this. She has always said, on the other hand, that this would be a matter of last resort.

Now in terms of brutality, I think that we have to be very clear when we use words like that. It was very clear that the family has said that it would stand aside and allow the agents to remove him from the home. Now obviously I also was able to view the action, and it will take some time to analyze precisely what has occurred. Now law enforcers, in putting together a plan like this, as they do in any -- in a similar situation when we have seen enforcement actions taking place like this -- would be moving into the house in a rapid manner to secure the scene and then remove the child to prevent any injuries to anyone. Normally, that's the procedure when someone is being rescued.

Now, U.S. authorities might want to say that, in fact, this child was being rescued, but we have not heard from them yet. We do expect a statement from U.S. officials about why they did what they did when they did it. We do know that negotiations were going on all night. We do know that there had been an attempt to use outside parties to try to bring about some sort of an agreement so that this type of action would not have to occur. So we'll have to see precisely where things broke down.

We do know that Elian's great-uncle had been holding his ground, that he was demanding a face-to-face meeting with Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, before agreeing to any kind of transfer of the child, when all along the U.S. government has said that at this point, after at least five months now, that there would have to be an immediate transfer of the child during the course of any negotiations.

And so we do expect to hear within the hour, I am told by U.S. government officials, we can expect a statement from the about what transpired overnight.

CHURCH: So, Susan, what would be the next stage of this?

CANDIOTTI: Well, of course the reunion will be the next stage. And that would be a moment where this is a father who has not seen his son in almost five months now. Undoubtedly, they will be getting together. The U.S. government has made a promise, and Juan Miguel Gonzalez has promised through his attorney, and has in fact put that promise in writing, that he intends, if he had custody of his son, to remain in the United States through a U.S. appeals process. Now that is slated to -- is already under way actually, and in fact both sides will be filing legal briefs in that regard, and there are oral arguments, a court appearance scheduled for early next month in that regard.

Now there is a lot of concern on the part of Cuban exiles that Juan Miguel Gonzalez will break his promise to remain the United States and might attempt to take his child back to Cuba immediately. Naturally, at this stage we don't know precisely what will happen, but the first thing will probably be undoubtedly a very emotional reunion between father and son in Washington, D.C.

CHURCH: So at this stage we have no information -- or do we have confirmation that Juan Miguel Gonzalez is still in Washington?

CANDIOTTI: No, I do not have confirmation of that. But part of the plan from U.S. government officials was to, along with having the child be able to speak with his father at the very least over the telephone on his way to a reunion was try to involve another family member, another great-uncle of the boy who lives in that very same Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, to get them together as soon as possible so that he might be able to accompany the child on a flight back to Washington, if indeed that's what's happening. So he may very well be on the flight as well. That is another uncle who's name is Manuel, and he all along has believed that the father should be reunited with his son. He was ostracized to a great degree by other members of the Miami family for holding that belief.

CHURCH: Susan Candiotti, who's been following this story in Miami.

Let's go back now to Brian Cabell, who's actually at the front of the Miami relatives' home.

Brian, what's been happening since we last talked to you?

CABELL: Rosemary, it's somewhat calmer than it was about a half hour ago, but I can tell you that the mayor of Miami, Joe Carollo, walked by here just about five minutes ago. We saw him disappear into the yard in front of the Gonzalez house. I don't see him right now, but he was not speaking as he walked past here. He had a rather somber look on his face as he walked in.

We've also seen a couple of gurneys -- you can see one of them over here to the left -- brought in here in the last five minutes. We don't know who the gurneys are for. One of them was brought over to the house where Elian was staying, but that one has since been wheeled out. So frankly we don't know who these gurneys are for or if they've just been brought here as a precaution.

We've been told there's a press conference coming up at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time. We have not had that confirmed yet, but a few people are passing that word around. Who exactly will be involved in that press conference we can't tell you, but as you can see tight now we have some emergency officers here with gurneys, but so far we have seen no one wheeled out of here. We can tell you that when the federal officers came in here at about 10 after 5:00, shortly afterwards, to get the demonstrators back, they started spraying them with pepper gas. In fact, we ourselves were sprayed. And for about four or five minutes, we had a little trouble speaking and breathing, but that has since dissipated. Whether the people who are here to be wheeled out are the result of that spraying, we don't know, or whether it's simply the anger, whatever you might wish to call it, is resulting in these people needing to be wheeled out of here, we don't know. But as I say, so far all we see is two empty gurneys, so perhaps they were brought in simply as a precaution.

But the crowd here is growing by the minute. As I say, the mayor of Miami came in here probably about 40 minutes after this attack on this house. And, frankly, you can't really call it much other than that. There was no violence, but they came in here, drove in about 30 miles an hour, screeched to a stop, stormed the door, banged on the door, opened the door, seized the child. A female officer took the child out -- there is a presumption here that the child was sleeping at the time -- seized the child, put him back in the car, backed the car out of here at a very high rate of speed, and then the other federal officers in other cars pushed back the demonstrators and the photographers immediately after that and began spraying them.

So it was quite a remarkable scene, to say the least, to put it euphemistically, frankly, because this kind of assault on this house, this attempt and this successful attempt to take the child was not what was expected by the people who were at -- around here at this hour, that is 5:00 a.m. There were no more than probably 50 people here quietly standing vigil, some of them holding signs. From time to time people would come over with water or with food to feed them, and they were simply standing there quietly waiting. And it wasn't until the cars actually arrived in front of the house that they realized what was happening. And by that time, the child was virtually in the arms of the officer and virtually out of the neighborhood.

So right now what we have is a number of interviews taking place. We have the mayor of Miami here talking to some folks and we have some people shedding tears because it has been a climactic, a traumatic morning here in Little Havana.

CHURCH: CNN's Brian Cabell updating us there from the house of the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez, who has been seized by U.S. federal agents.

And we'll take a break now. We'll leave you with pictures of the actually seizure of Elian, and then we'll be picked up by our sister station, CNN U.S.A.

So let's take a look now again at those pictures earlier. It took about -- it was about an hour, less than an hour ago where we see there U.S. federal officers going in and seizing Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives' home. We see him there now, wrapped in a blanket, being taken out to a vehicle and leaving the area for what we suppose will be a reunion with his father in Washington.

And we're still looking at live pictures there out the front -- we'll actually bring in Susan Candiotti who's in Miami -- Susan.

Susan, can you hear me?

All right, we'll take a break now on "WORLD NEWS." We'll have more after that. Stay with us.


CABELL: Can we go live? Can we go live?

They got the boy. They got the boy. They took the boy. They're getting the boy.




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