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Elian Seized from Miami Home and Reunited With His Father

Aired April 22, 2000 - 3:03 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Father and son reunited, but this photograph of serenity in sharp contrast to this morning's early morning removal of Elian Gonzalez from Miami.

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: Before the sun came up, Federal agents spirited the boy to awaiting van and a long awaited reunion.

WOODRUFF: An outraged siege, and smolders in the Cuban-American community that had embraced the boy.

Welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of today's dramatic developments in Elian Gonzalez case. In Washington, I'm Judy Woodruff.

RANDALL: And I'm Gene Randall. As tensions flare in the Little Havana area of Miami, a contrasting image is emerging in the Elian Gonzalez drama, one government officials would say makes the day's picture complete.

About 90 minutes ago, we got photos of Elian being reunited with his father, step-mother, and half brother. The reunion came about four hours dramatic pre-dawn raid on the Miami home, where the boy has spent the last five months.

CNN's Brian Cabell was there.


BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Federal agents arrived, 130 strong, under the cover of darkness shortly after 5:00 a.m. They pushed down a fence in front of the home where Elian had been living for the past five months. The Justice Department says the agents knocked, then used a battering ram to break down door.

The six-year-old was found in a bedroom closet with one of the fishermen who had rescued the boy off the coast of Florida last November.

MARISLEYSIS GONZALEZ, ELIAN'S COUSIN: When they came in, I stood in front of everybody and all of my family was behind me; and I begged them, I beg you please don't let the boy see the guns. Please I'll give him to you. I told the lady that came in with a bag to stick him into the bag. Please, I looked at her eyes, please, he saw his mother's death. Because she's a mother and she should know how that feels -- don't let him see this, I'll give you the boy.

CABELL: Elian was whisked out the house by a female agent into a waiting van, which then quickly backed away from the house. The raid came after negotiations to turn Elian over to his Cuban father broke down hours before.

JANET RENO, 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 son. Juan Miguel Gonzalez wants to be with his son.

CABELL: Attorney General Janet Reno had warned agents would seize the child if an amicable settlement could not be reached. As federal agents withdrew from the neighborhood, they were pelted with debris from demonstrators who until then, had conducted a peaceful vigil outside of the home. Agents retaliated by firing pepper gas into the crowd.

Afterwards, when Elian was well outside the neighborhood, the crowd grew to several hundred and some Cuban-Americans turned their anger towards the media. Cameraman, sound technicians, and reporters were jostled, but none were seriously hurt. An hour after he was seized from his Miami home, Elian Gonzalez was aboard an aircraft on his way to a long delayed reunion with his father.

Brian Cabell, CNN, Miami.


WOODRUFF: And that reunion was conducted in private in the cloistered seclusion of Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Just about 90 minutes ago, we received these photographs of the reunion of Elian with his family: his father, his step-mother, and his young half brother.

Gregory Craig, the attorney for the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, supplied the photos. He says that while he was not there for the actual moment of reuniting, he did see them just minutes later and that Elian was -- quote -- "totally as ease."

The Gonzalez family is not expected to return to the Bethesda, Maryland, home where Juan Miguel Gonzalez has spent the last two weeks. Instead, they are looking for a place with more space, and more privacy.

Gregory Craig, the attorney, spoke to us by phone earlier this afternoon.


GREGORY CRAIG, ATTORNEY FOR JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ: I saw absolutely no evidence of that kind of trauma or that kind of fear or that kind of uncertainty or, you know, being scared of where he was or who he was with. He was totally at ease. He was laughing with his little brother, Hianny. He was hugging his father. I saw no evidence that this person had gone through a traumatic experience.

Now, I don't doubt that for those of us watching this, it looked shocking and scary. I have a feeling that it happened very, very quickly in the reality of the moment. But I would hope and I think that the earlier evidence is that Elian's in good shape, he's a strong boy and that connection between his father and him is so powerful and so strong, the magnitude of what has been done to him over the last five months comes through even more powerfully than when you...


WOODRUFF: We're sorry about that breakup on the audio tape there. We were speaking a little bit earlier today with Gregory Craig, the attorney for Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Greg also -- Craig also stressed that Juan Miguel Gonzalez has given his word that he will abide by the orders of the court and that he will not try to return to Cuba with Elian until the appeals process is exhausted -- Gene.

RANDALL: Two Miami relative Elian Gonzalez are on their way to Washington. The boy's great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, Lazaro's daughter Marisleysis, and several other people boarded a plane in Miami bound for Washington, and are scheduled to arrive later this hour. This morning, they said they wanted to visit Elian.

CNN's Jim Hill is on the plane.


JIM HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The party heading for Washington, the plane I'm on right now, departed at about 1:30. Lazaro Gonzalez, Marisleysis Gonzalez, the great-uncle, of course, and the great-second cousin, who have been caring for Elian these past weeks and months.

They are on this aircraft. They were rushed on at the last moment along with the family attorney Roger Bernstein. One member of the Cuban activist community as well as another great-uncle of Elian, Delfin, they're all on the aircraft.

I approached them for a comment. Lazaro took my card, but said -- -- shook his head, would not give any comment. They waved me away very quickly. Another person along the -- on the ride here in the aircraft, is Donato Dalrymple, he is the fisherman who has also been staying with the household where Elian was in the Little Havana area of Miami.

They're all headed to Washington. They will not comment on what they are going to do. The Cuban activist and Roger Bernstein did express their dismay at what they called the inappropriate tactics used to snatch Elian, to pick him into custody, as they put it. They're very upset by this, but they're commenting on exactly they are going to do once they reach Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

RANDALL: A Justice Department official says the department will not stand in the way of a meeting between Elian and his father and the Miami relatives, but the official says the decision would be made by Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

WOODRUFF: Rage and anger described the reaction among some members of the Miami's Cuban-American community. Throughout this day, emotions have, if anything, intensified. Police in riot gear are in the streets of Little Havana, Miami, where fires and road blocks have been met with tear gas and arrests.

CNN's Mark Potter, can you tell us what's happening now, Mark?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you are seeing the scene here in Miami's Little Havana. People are driving through the streets, they come upon the police officers who are blocking the avenue, 27th Ave., and then they turn around. The police officers waving them away.

When we talked earlier, Judy, there was a fire burning down the street. That's seems to have been put out about 10 minutes ago. Police secured that scene and then some firefighters went in there and doused the fire, which appeared to be a dumpster fire or some tires like that on the side of the road.

I want to tell you some numbers that we have from the police department. It appears that more than 80 people have been arrested. They're still tallying the numbers, so we don't have an exact number. They are also clarifying the number that we gave you earlier before about the number of officers on scene.

The police department -- the Miami Police Department, is on what they call the Alpha-Bravo shift, dividing the department in half, meaning that of the 800 officers who are available to go out in street, 400 of them are here now.

You are looking at that area down there where the fire was burning earlier when we spoke 20 minutes ago or so. It looks like that scene is not completely cleared out. The police are there and we still see smoke. But it's nothing like what we saw before. The fire department indeed did go in there.

Now there have been a number of confrontations today since early this morning between the police department and protesters here in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. The police have used tear gas. They have, as I said, made a number of arrests.

Most of this has been loud and boisterous, but not really violent. There was some rock throwing. We saw window get broken. There has been some scuffling when people get arrested. We saw one man under arrest who looked like he had been hit in the head and it was bleeding fairly seriously. But beyond that, this has been a political protest as opposed to a riot. This also has been confined to a relatively small area of the Miami community, Miami's Little Havana area. Mostly centered on Flagler Street and some of the cross avenues. Twenty-seventh Avenue is where we're standing. We're looking back up that way at 29th up to 32nd. And behind me, to the east, we've seen activities in the -- down towards 22nd Avenue heading towards the house where Elian was staying with his relatives. That house is about five blocks from here.

Right now, it's loud, but it's relatively quiet compared to what we saw earlier today. The police spokesman, Bill Schwartz, told us that the officers think that maybe the community has seen the worst of the disturbance, although there is concern that things could blow up again tonight. This is certainly not a stable situation. There are still problems. But relatively speaking, it's a little quieter than what we saw before.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: Mark , believe it or not, we are able to hear you despite all of the horns blaring right next to you. What would you expect the attitude of these police is Mark? Obviously, they're there as professionals to do their jobs. But I would expect that many of them agree with the reason these people have been protesting.

POTTER: I can tell you that that's true categorically. There are a number officers here who are Cuban-American who I have talked to today, who are very upset about what happened. They have very strong personal feelings about the situation with Elian. But they have also said they're here to do their job and their job is to stand here and keep intersections clear and keep people away.

And it doesn't seem that anybody is pulling punches. In fact, the police have been very aggressive in targeting people who are not doing what they tell them to do. They have been very aggressive in making arrests. We have had, if I had to guess, seven -- eight instances where tear gas has been used.

And as you can see, the police are now continuing to be active. Two police cars; a bus that's used hold prisoners; a third police car, all heading up into that area that I described a second ago as seeming to me, from this vantage point, a couple of blocks away, as not being fully under control. I suspect the bus going up there means that arrests have been made, and people will be put in there to be taken away for processing.

Also coming up behind us now is a City of Miami Fire Department Rescue Unit. You'll see it coming into the frame right now. We don't know if there has been an injury or not. Why that's up there. But the situation a couple of blocks from us seems a little more out of control or unstable at the very least than the one where we are, which was where all the -- I am being told that -- we can't -- I can't see it well, but that protesters are out there blocking the emergency vehicles, the fire trucks, from getting to that scene. So that's still a pretty hot area. And I would guess that that's west Flagler Street at the intersection of about 29th Avenue, still in the Little Havana area -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Mark, before we let you go, is it possible for you to get -- to safely get any closer to what's going on?

POTTER: It's not a matter of fearing for our safety. That really has not been a major concern. It's just that with the technology of television, we're tethered to a cable and a big old truck. This has been high-tech by the seat of your pants and we're doing our best. But we're tethered at this location right now. And if we move up there and get closer, we might miss what's going on here. We could also put our truck and ourselves in a situation that we might not be able to get out of if we wanted to do that later on.

WOODRUFF: By all means, you want to be where you can cover the story from as many angles as you can. And you've been doing a truly professional -- an excellent job -- you and your producers and crews. And we want to say thank you to all of you because I know you've been there throughout some very tense moments this morning and this afternoon, Mark Potter. And you're going to be staying there for a while -- Gene.

RANDALL: We're going now to Susan Candiotti outside of the Miami home of Elian Gonzalez's relatives -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Gene. There has been somewhat of a transition of emotions since the day began when Elian was seized from this area, a little after 5:00 in the morning. Very few people were here at that time, and those who were more or less in state of shock. And others were stunned by pepper spray that was used to hold back the people that were here when Elian was driven away in the van.

There were very -- there were many crying phases among the demonstrators after that. Then the protesters grew to a few hundred. There was much chanting and urgency in the aftermath and the realization of what happened finally settled in.

And then eventually Marisleysis, Elian's cousin, addressed her supporters. After that, there was pushing and shoving in the crowd and a police lieutenant wound up having to be escorted from here after someone tried to pull his gun out of his holster, he said. But then things calmed down.

And we can tell you that from the time I arrived on the scene shortly after this happened through now, we've virtually no police officers on site, aside from the time when the police lieutenant had to be escorted from here. And so the police tell us that they are allowing people to vent their frustrations.

One of the people that was here when Elian was seized is Ramon Saul Sanchez. He leads the Democracy Movement.

I'm going ask you to step back just a little bit there. We see that you're wearing bandage on your head. How did you receive that injury? RAMON SAUL SANCHEZ, DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT: I was by the door when the INS agents came in and they utilized the assault weapon to hit me in the head and I lost consciousness for a few minutes. And that was the time when they took the child.

CANDIOTTI: You were inside the house or outside of the house?

SANCHEZ: Outside of the house, right in front of the door, when that happened.

CANDIOTTI: And then there was the -- did you see the child come out of the house?

SANCHEZ: I wasn't conscious when that happened, so I didn't see it. They told me, they just took Elian.

CANDIOTTI: And your reaction?

SANCHEZ: We feel very, very sad. We never thought that the government was going to break into this house and point a gun like that to Elian and to Donato. We thought that if they had to come with violence -- to come here to get it -- they would not use violence that they would ask the relatives to surrender the child to the authorities and that the relatives would have done so like they had said repeatedly. And we would have abided by what the family wanted to do. Unfortunately, they didn't do that.

CANDIOTTI: You've heard law enforcers talk about for the past several days, starting 10 days ago, that they were moving into enforcement mode and you knew this was an option. You have been telling people to remain calm. But you at the same time were talking about attempting to form a human chain if in fact the authorities came. It appears as though there wasn't time to try that.

SANCHEZ: Right. I think that a human chain is a way to channel the energy so that people -- in a constructive way, in a traditional way here, in nonviolent way. But, again, the government brought the violence to this site, to this house here. And it was very unfortunate because it has sparked what we have seen today.

CANDIOTTI: Are you stunned or did you sense that this was a real possibility? They have been talking about it after all.

SANCHEZ: I thought that this was only possible in Hitler's Germany and Cuba's -- in Castro's Cuba. But now I am seeing that INS has become a dictatorship within a democracy and has unlimited powers.

CANDIOTTI: Mr. Sanchez, have you had an opportunity to see some of the photographs that have been taken, one by the U.S. Marshalls and one by Juan Miguel Gonzalez and released to the news media that show a smiling youngster with his father and with his half-brother that were taken after the reunion.

SANCHEZ: I was very glad to see that smile and I hope that he is happy with the father. Because we have never wanted to have a child away from the father. What we are concerned about is a child being sent back to a police state that has just been condemned by the international community for being in violation of civil and human rights.

CANDIOTTI: Is it possible that this father and son reunion will allow this child -- can you see him getting over the trauma or do you think he is indelibly damaged? Is it possible for him to be happy with his family in Cuba.

SANCHEZ: I think that the Cuban dictatorship is going to utilize this child when he goes back. And if this child, when he grows up -- this child has a potential to embarrass Castro when he grows up three or four years from now. Castro will have to brainwash him to have him express the views of the regime wants or cause him psychological -- irreversible psychological damage and -- or even physical disappearance.

CANDIOTTI: Finally, tell us about your plans. You have called for nonviolence. On the other hand, you've also called for acts of civil disobedience. You've seen some of the fires that erupted about five blocks from here. There have been at least 80 arrest, from what we understand. What are you planning for future demonstrations, and starting with tonight and in the coming days?

SANCHEZ: What we are asking for the people to do is to demonstrate, but in a nonviolent way. To not cause any of those things that we are seeing. That is very unfortunate. Fortunately, they are not too many. Most people are demonstrating, but in a nonviolent way. And there is also a work-stoppage schedule for Tuesday, I believe, that I think it will allow people also to bring out frustrations a little bit.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you for joining us. And we wish you a speedy recovery.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you very much, Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracy Movement. Again, police officials say here that they will allow people to remain here outside of house. We're talking about roughly a two-block area and there are virtually no police officers around. We will see whether that changes as the day goes on.

Judy, back to you.

RANDALL: Susan, thanks very much -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Gene. There are some still pictures of this morning's removal of Elian Gonzalez. It happened in the pre-dawn hours. An Associated Press photographer followed the agents into the home where Elian was found in a closet in the arms of the fisherman who rescued him from the Atlantic Ocean last Thanksgiving Day.

Agents took custody amid protest of the Miami relatives who had cared for Elian for the last almost five months. And within three minutes of entering the house, the agents whisked Elian, wrapped in a blanket, to a van waiting outside. This picture you're looking of now is of his cousin, or second cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, obviously emotional over what has happened. But it was just a matter of minutes. They said less than three minutes before, as you can see here, a female agent carrying Elian brought him out of the house wrapped in a blanket and to a waiting van. The female agent carrying the boy said to have reassured him in Spanish that he would soon be with his father.

It was much different scene when he was back with his father. A few hours later, there are photographs taken at Andrews Air Force Base. They show Elian smiling, in his father's arms, with his father, his step-mother, and his young half-brother, Hianny.

More coverage of this breaking story when we come back.



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