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Elian Gonzalez is Reunited With His Father

Aired April 22, 2000 - 9:59 a.m. ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Months of failed talks lead to a flashpoint of decisive action: Federal agents move in and whisk away Elian Gonzalez.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Haunting images capture the moment. Outraged relatives seize the initiative.


MARISLEYSIS GONZALEZ, COUSIN OF ELIAN: It's a shame that they came to this house with violence, guns and especially point a gun in Elian's face.

JANET RENO, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Unfortunately, the Miami relatives rejected our efforts, leaving us no other option but the enforcement action. Elian Gonzalez is a child who needs to be cherished, who needs to have quiet time and private time and to be with his father. And that is what this case is still all about, the bond between a father and a son. Juan Gonzalez, wants to be with his son.


PHILLIPS: Welcome to our continuing coverage of this dramatic development in the Elian Gonzalez case. At CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips.

O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

Let's bring you up to date. It's been a very busy night and early morning with some dramatic turns.

PHILLIPS: And there is anger among those who have fought to keep the boy in Miami. In case you're just joining us, here's the latest.

A little more than 30 minutes ago, a jet carrying the six-year old Cuban boy arrived at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. His father arrived there under police escort less than two and a half hours ago. That after immigration agents made a lightning raid. It came shortly after 5:00 a.m. Eastern on the Little Havana neighborhood where the boy has been living since his Thanksgiving Day rescue at sea. He was whisked away to a government jet and flown to Andrews Air Force Base. O'BRIEN: From Havana to Little Havana to Washington, CNN has its source all over -- resources all over this story. And we are bringing you up to date at every location as events warrants, at the Justice Department and also in Bethesda, Maryland, where the boy's father had been staying.

We turn now first, though, to the streets of Little Havana.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has been covering this for the full five months and now brings us the latest, as the crowd continues its chanting, carrying placards and flags -- Susan.


When all this started a little after 5:00 this morning, there were only probably at most about 50 demonstrators here who had been maintaining an all-night vigil. That's been the general number and usually far less than that at that particular hour of the day. Now ever since, the number of people here has been growing. For the most part, they have been very well behaved. They are milling about. They are comparing notes. Some of the people here were here at the time when the boy was seized and others were not.

Now all of them, however, are angry at U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for seizing the boy. Of course, that occurred after negotiations broke down at about 4:00 this morning. One of the people involved in these negotiations for the past two days is the University of Miami President Tad Foot. Now he was involved in those negotiation even last night. He is joining us now live, and I hope that you'll be able to hear him.

Mr. Foot, can you tell us about what was occurring last night? What were you aware of as to what was on the table when you were involved in negotiations?

TAD FOOT, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: Well, I was a member of a small group of people who tried to help. I've know Attorney General Reno for 19 years, I consider her a friend. And we thought at the end of yesterday afternoon that we had an agreement. The agreement, at essence, was move both families plus the child to a safe, neutral house, someplace in South Florida, that there would be a facilitator in that house, and they would stay in that house with security for the balance of the time for the judicial process to be completed.

The other part, the essential part was this family here agreed that custody could remain with the father. That was a big concession but they agreed to that. There was agreement in principle, as we understood it, at about 5:00 yesterday afternoon. We faxed the agreement in writing to the attorney general, and then I left because my children are in town for Easter. And during the night it fell apart somehow, and I don't know the details of that. And then the marshals came in and took the child, and it's not a good day for Miami, Florida. It's a terrible day for Miami, Florida.

CANDIOTTI: Why is that? FOOTE: Because we thought we were within an inch of negotiating a peaceful, careful, thoughtful way to get this child on to the next stage of his life without violence and without injury to the child. And for whatever reason, that did not happen. And that's not good for the child, and it's not good for this community.

CANDIOTTI: Mr. Foote, what is your understanding about whether there were any strings at all attached to the transfer of the child? For example, when they would move to a neutral site, was it a demand by the family that it had to be in Miami, for example?

FOOTE: I think that everything was negotiable by this family, as far as I could tell from my many hours with the lawyers and with the parties. Many hours they were trying to figure out a way that would be peaceful and good for the interests of this child.

CANDIOTTI: And do you feel that the family was in the driver's seat or Ms. Reno was?

FOOTE: Miss Reno has the power of the federal government. Of course she was in the drivers's seat. But the family was well represented, well represented by excellent lawyers. And there was what we thought was a good-faith negotiation going on for several days that had reached an agreement in principal. And I must say that I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed that we find ourselves here this way this morning.

CANDIOTTI: Mr. Foote, Miss Reno has said that every time the government would make an offer and accede, rather, accede to the wishes of the family, that they kept moving the goalposts back, kept adding more or more -- one more demand and one more demand to the point where it couldn't go on any longer.

FOOTE: I was not here last night so I can't speak to that, but as far as I know from what I've learned this morning and from what I saw for many days before this, this was a family that was willing to negotiate, that was willing to be flexible, that was willing to do anything with within any reason at all to do what was right for that child.

CANDIOTTI: Mr. Tad Foote, president of the University of Miami.

People here continue to gather around this home, listen to each other, share their feelings and their frustrations. And so far, the Miami Police Department is allowing them to do so for the foreseeable future.

Back to you.

PHILLIPS: All right, Susan Candiotti live in Miami, in front of the home of the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez.

We're now going to take you to Havana, where Martin Savidge is live and joins us.

What's happening in Havana? We haven't heard much from you this morning, Marty. What can you tell us?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, the Cuban government by way of the Cuban radio or Radio Rebelde as it's urged to here, is urging calm from the people on the island. It is saying that any images of people going out into the streets celebrating or showing any signs of jubilation over what has transpired could have a negative impact if they were transmitted back to the United States, a negative impact implying on the proceedings that they believe are yet to come in the case of Elian Gonzalez.

So right now, the message coming from the government is for people to remain calm. By Cuban standards, though, the information, the news, was transmitted to the Cuban people at a very, very quick pace. The first report came on Cuban radio at 6:30 this morning. It was a very brief, very simple statement, simply pertaining or outlining the events that had transpired at the home in Miami.

About an hour later, there was a follow-up statement in which it was announced that the boy was safe and then it was urging calm for the people.

Cubans may have heard this news. They haven't necessarily seen the images that the rest of the world has seen. Cuban television has not been showing those dramatic images as the officers moved in on the house. Most of Cubans here do not have access to any sort of international media here. They rely predominately on the government- provided information. Only the tourist hotels here are outfitted with access to international news media. And we noted this morning in the breakfast area in this hotel where we operate out of, they had CNN's sister network on, CNN en Espanol. The volume was turned up quite loud on the television set. It was far too early in the morning for the tourists. That was for benefit of the staff, many of whom are watching and are among the few Cubans who have seen those pictures.

We talked to some of them about what they think of the news.


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 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 suffers.


SAVIDGE: Now from the outside on the streets here, from all appearances it is a normal day. One thing to keep in mind, the protest that we have been showing you, from Havana here and from Cuba -- those protests taking place almost on a daily basis -- they have not been people demanding for a father and son reunion. Instead, what the crowds and what the demonstration meetings have been asking for is for the boy to return to Cuba.

So in most cases, many Cubans believe that the real cause for celebration will not come until the boy and the father are once more back on Cuban soil.

Reporting live, Martin Savidge, CNN, Havana.

O'BRIEN: So far, the highest-ranking Clinton administration official we have heard from is Attorney General Janet Reno, who to the very last moment was engaged in negotiation with the Miami family of Elian Gonzalez. She indicated that she negotiated to the last but was unable to come to any sort of conclusion. And that in the course of ordering the raid which ultimately put Elian Gonzalez in the hands of federal officials she consulted directly with the president of the United States.

We are expecting to hear from President' Clinton in little more than five minutes time. We, of course, plan to carry that live. President Clinton addressing the nation live on the matter of Elian Gonzalez.

Elian Gonzalez, as we've been telling you, now in the hands of federal authorities at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

And, as a matter of fact, that is exactly where we find CNN's Patty Davis, who unlike the move of a president, in this case we are kept outside of the gates of Andrews Air Force Base -- Patty.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Elian Gonzalez did arrive here just about an hour ago at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington. His father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, was here to greet him. His father had arrived about an hour or so earlier in a white van flanked by police cars, sirens blaring here to meet his son.

Now that same motorcade whisked Elian Gonzalez into his fathers's arms as he got -- arrived in here at Andrews Air Force Base. This video shot from a news helicopter hovering over the Air Force base. And Elian then led into a building on the base where he will spend several days, we are told, with his father here getting reacquainted. It's been some time since they've seen one another.

Now we're being kept, as you said, some distance away from the base. The entrance, the main entrance, is here behind me, and there's a police car there. The Air Force personnel won't let us in. They don't want the glaring spotlight of news media in to witness this reunion. And, in fact, we were not able to witness that reunion.

There are two dozen members of the news media standing outside here with me, along with one lone protester -- quite a change from what you see in Miami, only one protester.

Now Elian Gonzalez's father's attorney, Greg Craig, had this to say about the federal government's action this morning.


GREG CRAIG, ATTORNEY FOR JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ: We commend the INS for accomplishing this objective without serious injury to anyone. We are grateful to the attorney general and the Department of Justice for upholding the rule of law with utmost concern for the safety and well being of Elian. And we thank the millions of Americans who supported this young fathers's effort to be reunited with the his most wonderful son.


DAVIS: INS Commissioner Doris Meissner at a press conference with Janet Reno earlier today said that the boy and his father and his father's new wife and new child will be here at Andrews Air Force Base for a couple of days and then be taken to an undisclosed location here in the Washington area, not necessarily back to the home of that Cuban diplomat in Bethesda -- Kyra and Miles.

PHILLIPS: OK, Patty Davis, thank you very much.

And it has been confirmed, Elian and his father have been reunited. This comes from Joan Brown Campbell with the Chotaqua (ph) Institute. She has been very close to this case. Once again, it is confirmed, Elian and his father have been reunited.

We're going take a turn back to Miami now, where Mark Potter is standing by on the streets of Miami, where evidently things are getting heated up -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kyra. Tension have been boiling over, particularly at this intersection. We are at the corner of 27th avenue and west Flagler, about five blocks away from the house where Elian had been staying with the Gonzalez family.

Fifteen minutes ago this area was very quiet. Police had it under control. But then a woman stopped her car in the intersection. Police moved in to try to get her to move. She refused. They swarmed the car. Apparently an arrest was made, and then the crowd began to form and to surge through the intersection, and a number of officers came flying in here in their cars and in riot gear to try to bring this situation under control.

The crowd surged down the street a little bit to the east. The police moved in, and we saw some arrests being made. Trash was thrown into the streets. A man was seen running up the street with police in pursuit on foot. They chased him in a car.

This is an incident that we have seen repeated at a couple of intersections so far this morning in Miami. Just to the north, seven blocks up, on the avenue that are you looking at now, 27th Avenue, some tires were burned, furniture thrown into the street, bus benches tipped over, newspaper stands tipped over. The police moved in, disbursed the crowd. That situation was under control. The crowd came back to the area where I am. Police brought that under control and thought they had it under control until, as I said, about 15 minutes ago.

I must say that, once again, order seems to be -- is being restored now by the police, but their concern, of course, is that as the news spreads throughout the day, that this is the sort of thing that they're going to see repeated over and over at these intersection.

We are not seeing any real violence, and that's a point I want to stress. There's passionate protesting, there is civil disobedience, people stopping their cars, burning tires. We have not seen any violent actions, except some scuffling at the time of arrests being made by the Miami Police Department.

This situation now is one where they've got the traffic moving again through this intersection after it was blocked a moment ago. The police say they want to keep traffic flowing to the degree that they can, because that offers some measure of crowd control. It's another buffer that the police use to keep the crowds back on the sidewalk. But passions are very high here, people extremely angry about what has happened.

And we're looking at a fire department vehicle coming in, people going by beeping their horns, waving flags. And this is a situation that I said has been repeated at several intersection throughout Miami so far this morning.

Kyra and Miles, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, CNN's Mark Potter, who is monitoring the situation there in the streets of Miami. So far, things a bit on the raucous side, a bit on the emotional side, but thus far we have no serious incidents to report to you, and it is the hope of Miami authorities that that is the way that story will stand.

For those of you who have been watching, we were expecting to here from the president of the United States about a minute ago. We are, of course, standing by waiting for that statement from President Clinton. We will bring it to you live the moment that it happens.

Now we turn to Bill Press, our co-host of CROSSFIRE, who by some coincidence happened to have dinner last night with Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

Bill, fill us in.


It was a coincidence that it happened last night. I had asked for a meeting with Juan Miguel Gonzalez. It was last night in an apartment in nearby Chevy Chase. We started -- he arrived for dinner, we started dinner. His cell phone rang. He immediately was summoned to the office of Greg Craig, his attorney in downtown Washington. I thought that he was on his way to Miami to be reunited with his son, perhaps so did he. He came back two hours later, a very angry -- in fact, three hours later, a very angry, a very frustrated man.

He told us that he'd been summoned down there for one last round of -- or one more round of negotiation with the family, one more proposal. This proposal was the family wanted to get this compound, as you've reported, outside of Miami where Juan Miguel -- Juan Miguel and his wife and little son could live with the other family, and Elian could share the two families. He thought that was a ludicrous proposal. His wife even said, you know, who would want to live with them? He was angry. He felt he'd been taken advantage of.

I left him at midnight last night. He had tears in his eyes, and he was a very angry and a very frustrated man.

O'BRIEN: Well, Bill, so what you lead us to believe is that he had no indication whatsoever that this INS raid was in the works?

PRESS: To my knowledge, he had no idea that the INS raid was on its way. I've talked to the associates of his attorney this morning who told me the same thing. I talked to people who talked to Juan Miguel last night after I left him, after he left that apartment and went back to his residence, that at that time, which was 1:00 in the morning, they still did not know what was happening, what was coming down.

He was so frustrated when I left, he told me -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- that here I've been here for 15 days, I have the law on my side, I have the attorney general on my side, the president of the United States says the law has to be obeyed, I have the U.S. government on my side, and they still can't reunite me with my son. He said, it is unbelievable.

And then he said that he had told Janet Reno that he was so frustrated that he had decided he was going to get on a plane, he was willing to go to Miami, he was willing to walk down that street, go up to that house with his wife on one side carrying his baby, and just knock on the door and say, I'm here to get my son Elian. He said, if the government can't do it then I'm going to do it myself.

O'BRIEN: Bill, let me ask you this, a question that's been raised several times this morning, and of course, we're not in a position to have an adequate answer. This came up in our discussion with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren in particular. Did you get any sense, either before or after Juan Miguel Gonzalez went off to be a part of that phone call, did you get any sense as to what his intention would be should he be reunited with his son? Will he stay in U.S., as best you can tell?

PRESS: Oh, I got every intention. He said categorically that he intended to and he had promised to stay here in the United States. It was no -- there was no doubt about that. He left doubt in any mind at least that that was his full intention, and he said he had told everybody that and he meant it.

I should also add, Miles, that I know for a fact when he left that apartment he left by himself. There were no members of the Cuban Interests Section with him. He left by himself with marshals who were provided by the U.S. Justice Department, traveled down there on his own as he has many times around Washington on his own to the U.S. -- to the Justice Department, also to his attorney's office. He has met with members of Congress who are very much anti-Castro on his own, with no interpreter except an interpreter provided by Congress, not by the Cuban Interests Section.

So as he told me last night, he's had hundreds of opportunities if he wanted to flee any Cuban control over him, to ask for asylum in the United States. And he said, people just don't believe me. All I want to do is get my son and go back to Cuba.

O'BRIEN: All right, but is there a shelf life on his patience for staying here in the United States? In our conversations earlier with the same legal analysts, I believe the comment was, it's possible, given the way the appeals process works, that we could be -- Juan Miguel and Elian might be spending Christmas here in the U.S. Now that might have been a bit of hyperbole, but nevertheless at a certain point his patience will be put to the test, will it not?

PRESS: Well, I guess I've been guilty of greater hyperbole, because I said at one point that I thought Juan Miguel -- I mean, little Elian Gonzalez might celebrate his 16th birthday in the United States before this thing is resolved. My sense again in talking with Juan Miguel last night was he had one thing in mind -- he kept repeating it. He only wanted one thing: He wanted to be with his son. He kept saying, he's my son. I want to be with him. You know, we want to be together. He had a phone call with him a couple of days ago that he felt very, very good about. It was a long phone call. And I got -- I got absolutely no sense that he, again, he had any intention of leaving the United States. As long as he was with his son, he led me to believe he's happy, he's willing to stay here as long as it takes to resolve this thing.

O'BRIEN: All right. And, Bill, just a final note here. You spent some time with him and you've had an opportunity to size him up face-to-face. Is he a man of genuine intentions in your opinion?

PRESS: In my opinion, he is. I was very impressed with how strong he was, how articulate he was, how passionate he was, and that he really was speaking from the heart. He really was speaking his own intentions, and there was no gun to his head, there was no pressure on what he was saying. As I pointed out, he told me he had many opportunities to flee if he wanted to. He genuinely was happy if he could get his son and go back to Cuba. I do believe he is a man of integrity. I think he's a father who wants to be with his son and now he is.

O'BRIEN: Bill Press, our host of "CROSSFIRE," who had an opportunity to break bread with Juan Miguel Gonzalez last night by coincidence, thanks for shedding some light on him.

PRESS: Miles, good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: All right, we are still awaiting the president of the United States who is expected to be making a statement very shortly, imminently, on the Elian Gonzalez case and the dramatic events we have witnessed this morning.

Let's take a look at a live picture outside the White House. We are -- that is the scene, but the president has yet to give us an indication as to when this will happen. We will of course bring it to you live the moment it does.

For now, a brief break.

Stay with us.




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