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Protesters Vent Anger in Miami's Little Havana

Aired April 22, 2000 - 1:00 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: A dramatic turn in the custody battle over Elian Gonzalez. He is with his father after federal agents this morning stormed his great-uncle's house and took the boy away.

Tensions are high in Miami's Cuban-American neighborhood, where protesters are venting their anger over this day's events.

The president of is backing up the Justice Department decision and its handling of the Gonzalez case.

Welcome to our international viewers. From Washington, I am Gene Randall.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Judy Woodruff. Our continuing coverage of the Elian Gonzalez handover continues.

First the very latest in the Elian Gonzalez case. Miami authorities are trying to keep the peace, as angry crowds react to this morning's seizure of Elian Gonzalez from Miami. Six-year old Elian has been reunited with the his Cuban father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez in Maryland. Federal authorities flew the boy from Miami to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington this morning.

It was just before dawn when authorities forcibly took Elian from the Miami home where he had been staying the past almost five months with Florida relatives. Many in Miami's Little Havana district expressed anger over the seizure. There were some street protests that erupted, but President Clinton defended this morning's action.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that it was the right thing to. She made the decision, she managed this, but I fully support what she did. And it was clear to me from our long conversations that were in agreement about this.


WOODRUFF: Although Elian Gonzalez is no longer in Miami, that city remains the ground zero of our focus as we begin our coverage for this hour,

RANDALL: Some eight hours after Elian's dramatic removal from Miami, local authorities are trying to keep peace in the streets. And Mark Potter is in Miami -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gene, there have been a number of confrontations here in Miami's Little Havana between the police officers and protesters. Here on Flagler Street, over my shoulder, you can see that there;s something going on right now. A couple of fires were set -- I would guess that's 29th Avenue and Flagler. Some tires were set on fire and a dumpster was set on fire.

Now the police had gone up in that area a while ago to push the crowd back, but then the police withdrew. The crowd came back this way again, and now just as were you introducing us several police cars went up into that area and a fire truck has arrived to try to put that fire out -- it looks like a couple of fires.

There has been a number of confrontation here where the police have taken and then lost and then retaken this intersection of 27th Avenue and Flager, where we are standing. Several times the police came forward and fired tear gas into the crowd, disbursing the crowd, but every time the police move back the crowd seems to come forward again.

The streets here are littered with rocks and tear gas canisters. Several people in the crowd were throwing rocks at the officers. One officer we saw got hit, one of the rocks hit our camera as well.

A police car is going by us right now, speeding up into that area where the fires have been set. I cannot see what that is. It appears that it is not a structural fire, it's something up in the street. It's probably tires or a dumpster.

A number of arrests have been made. We've also -- of protesters. We've seen a couple of journalists, cameramen who have also been arrested by the officers. Most of this area is populated by businesses. We do not see very much damage to them. One gas station had a window knocked out, and a man was arrested in the connection with that.

Passions are running very high here obviously, the people extremely angry about the Justice Department's handling of this case. We have talked to a number of the protesters who say that they feel betrayed. They are very angry, and this response in the streets at this relatively small area of Little Havana is not a surprise to public officials and certainly not a surprise to long-term residents. This anger has been building for five months, and it certainly flowed forward today, as we are looking at the fires that officials are trying to put out now in a situation they're trying to bring back under control -- Gene.

RANDALL: Mark, the timing might have been a surprise, but anyone who has listened to President Clinton or his attorney general, Janet Reno, over the past few days should not have been stunned that federal agents moved in to take this boy and it happened this morning in Littler Havana. Were Miami police ready for this? Ready for the reaction?

POTTER: I think they were. They will assess that afterward. There were certainly a lot of police officers here on the scene. This police department and the county police department, both of them have been through this before. I was talking to an officer who is heading the details trying to keep control of 27th Avenue and Flagler Street, that intersection. He said that he first came on duty and his first big event was the riot here May 17, 1980, and there have been a number of incidents since then.

So the -- I think the police were ready. They were certainly on scene early today, and the numbers built as the crowd built. So I guess they will assess that -- they always do -- after the event, but we certainly saw a lot of officers here today.

RANDALL: Finally, I think a clarification that has to be made, while some of the pictures we have seen have been dramatic, I think we should point out that this is clearly not the entire city of Miami. This is a small segment of the population.

POTTER: Yes, that's a point that does need to be made. This is a -- I'm going to say, maybe, 10-block stretch on Flager extending up and down 27th Avenue, a very small area within Little Havana. This is not the totality of Little Havana, let alone the city of Miami. And then of course in comparison to Miami-Dade County, it's, again, a relatively small area, a number of intersections.

Also, it must be clarified that this crowd here does not represent the totality of the Cuban-American community, which is sizable, and most members are not here, obviously. There are 700,000 that 800,000 members of the Cuban-American community in this county and the few thousand people out here today represents a very small percentage.

RANDALL: But a challenge for police nonetheless. Mark Potter, thanks very much -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: The epicenter for today's disturbances on the streets of Miami was that house in Little Havana where young Elian was forcibly removed by federal authorities just before dawn down.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is there, where she has been, and she joins us live -- Susan.


To add to the discussion about the difficulties now facing the Miami Police Department in some confined areas of the city of Miami, we can tell you that the police chief here has said time and again leading up to this day that they were prepared to assist federal authorities in crowd control when this happened. But there's also been acknowledgment by members of the Miami Police Department, in fact even their spokespeople, many of whom are of Cuban descent, that this would be a difficult day for them if it ever came to this, if it ever came to the boy being forcibly removed from this home, because many of those police officers openly believe that the boy should be able to remain in the United States.

And in fact last week, when the family here, the relatives here, won a legal victory, we observed a number of police officers who were congratulating supporters of the family and members of their legal team as they would pass through police barricades.

So now that this situation has arisen, undoubtedly they are having emotional difficulty, as they projected that they might. However, they are -- they do appear to be acting very professionally and trying to calm down these disturbance and move in as best as possible, according to the reports filed by my colleague Mark Potter.

Now throughout the day here, there have been a certain -- there's been a certain ebb and flow to the mood of demonstrators. There are long periods of quiet, and then anger erupts. There are chants going on and the like. We've seen -- there were punches thrown at a Miami police officer who was not injured. But we've even seen a mother here who came, arrived on the scene, with her little boy's face painted in red and the little boy's -- with the words written on it "Elian" on his face.

We've also seen a number of teenagers here in the crowd, some of whom appear to be treating this as a social event, in that we here them on their telephones laughing as they are describing the situation to the people on the other end of the telephone.

Now not long ago, members of the immediate family here who live here, 21-year-old Marisleysis Gonzalez, that is Elian's cousin who has been helping to care for him, along with other members of the family, left the home -- there is Lazaro, the great-uncle as well. He's in the lead, barely out of camera range right there. The crowd parted for these relatives as they made their way to some vehicles to head to Miami International Airport.

These relatives say that it is their intention, according to a family spokesperson, to fly to Washington, D.C. in an attempt to see Elian, to convince themselves that he is all right. Now in the words of some of the representatives, they are demanding to see him. And Gregory Craig has said that he would discuss that matter in a few days after father and son have some time to spent together.

Now Miami's mayor accuses the government of being swept up in politics involving all of this.


MAYOR JOE CAROLLO, MIAMI, FLORIDA: It's not young Elian, it's not Miami, it's not America. The only one any will be Fidel Castro, because he would have accomplished the ultimate goal that he wanted: to create disturbance in Miami. So I plead, I plead with all of Miami, to protest within law, to protest peacefully, to keep Miami nonviolent.


CANDIOTTI: Unfortunately, not everyone has been nonpeaceful, and there are more demonstrations planned for next Tuesday, nonviolent ones Cuban exiles promise.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, reporting live in Miami.

RANDALL: For Cuban reaction to this day's dramatic development in the Elian Gonzalez case, we go to CNN's Martin Savidge, who is in Havana -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gene, so far there has been no formal announcement coming from the Cuban government here in Havana pertaining to the events that transpired in Miami this morning. The Cuban people have been made aware of it. In fact, they've been kept up on the story throughout much of the early morning hours and into the afternoon.

The story first broke on Cuban radio around 6:30 this morning. Since that time, it has also been told on Cuban television in the form of a communique, and video of the operation conducted on the home in Little Havana was shown as well as some of the demonstration and some of the violence that has taken place in the Miami area.

When you talk to people out on the street today, they will tell you that they are pleased that Juan Gonzalez has now been reunited with his son, but they are not necessarily jubilant over how it was handled.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think the people are happy. I expect the boy will be brought home soon with his father to our country, which is his real homeland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It was abusive what they were doing with that child, and this action should have been taken a long time ago.


SAVIDGE: Now as you look out on the streets of Havana today, it is pretty much a typical Saturday. Now we should point out that the Cuban government has been urging people to remain calm. They've been announcing that both on television and on radio. The radio version stated that one of the concerns was if there was some sort of spontaneous demonstration of celebration, that those images would get back to the United States and could somehow harm the legal proceedings that are yet to come in this case.

We anticipate that a formal statement will be forthcoming shortly, perhaps later this afternoon or it may come at 5:00 this evening, the typical time of the broadcast protests that occur. The one that will happen today actually takes place in a city that's located about two hours to the east of Havana here. And Cuban President Fidel Castro is expected to be there. He had expected to be there even before today's events.

Reporting live, Martin Savidge, CNN, Havana.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Martin. As soon as U.S. Immigration agents seized Elian, the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, was informed. He left the home in Bethesda, Maryland. where he has been living and waiting, and he went to the airport at Andrews Air Force Base.

CNN's Patty Davis joins us from just outside of the base with the latest from there -- Patty.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Six-year old Elian Gonzalez arrived here at Andrews Air Force Base about 9:20 Eastern time this morning. His father, as you said, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, met him here, the first time that father and son have seen one another in around five months.

Now as you can see from these aerial pictures, Elian's father taking him into one of Andrews Air Force Base's buildings after his plane arrived here, presumably, a place where they could get to know one another after being apart for so very long. We were told that they will spend several days here at Andrews Air Force Base, which is private. It's very secure. No onlookers, no media, no protesters allowed inside, no peering eyes as they get to know one another again.

After that, they will go to a location in the Washington, D.C. area as yet not disclosed, where they will stay pending the court action surrounding the case.

Now only about 12 protesters have gathered here, a much different scene here outside of Andrews Air Force Base compared to what's happening in Miami. Twelve protesters, they are carrying placards basically decrying the fact that Elian was seized by federal government today, but they are really not much of a factor here. In fact, I have to say that the news media by far outnumber the number of protesters who are here protesting Elian's seizure.

Now Juan Miguel Gonzalez's attorney, Greg Craig, applauded the government's action in seizing Elian today. He said that every avenue was pursued to try to resolve this case by negotiation.


GREG CRAIG, ATTORNEY FOR JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ: We agreed to virtually all the demands contained in the attorney general's proposal. But we would not compromise on the most critical issue of custody. The relatives in Miami, however, were intransigent on that issue and many others. To the very end, Lazaro Gonzalez placed road blocks in the path of an ordinarily transfer of custody. He gave the attorney general no alternative.


DAVIS: An Andrews Air Force Base spokesman says that there are guest suites here -- this is an active Air Force base -- guest suites where presumably the boy and his father and his new wife and their baby are staying. Beyond that, the spokesman said that the Air Force is not involved in this. This is completely a Department of Justice operation at this point -- Judy. WOODRUFF: All right, Patty Davis from her post just outside of Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, close to Washington.

We're going to take a break, and at this moment we want to say goodbye, farewell, at least for a while, to our international viewers. We're going to turn you over to CNN International.

Meanwhile, Gene Randall and I will be back in just a moment with more ongoing coverage of the breaking story involving young Elian Gonzalez.



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