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Breaking News

Elian Custody Case: Miami Relatives Arrive in Washington in Hopes of Seeing Elian

Aired April 23, 2000 - 3:43 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A day when the contrast and emotions could not be starker: on the one hand joy, jubilation, the reunion of father and son; on the other hand anger, bitterness in Miami that this boy was taken from the home of his relatives to be reunited with his father.

We want to go now to the streets of Little Havana in Miami to CNN's Mark Potter who's been watching the action there.

Mark, I want to start out by asking you about this comment Gene Randall and I heard earlier in the hour from Lieutenant Bill Schwartz, a spokesman for the Miami Police he said, as of that moment -- excuse me -- they didn't plan to have a curfew tonight. But, I just want to ask you, based on what you're seeing there, is there any chance that that might change?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't know what they're going to about a curfew, but I know from past incidents things tend to blow up during the day, there is a respite and then there are some other events at night. So I'm not sure that that's the last word on that. We'll just have to see.

I can tell you that it's a little quieter now. Judy, when you and I spoke earlier, we were in front of the police lines. Now, as you can see, we're behind them. It's not that we moved, it's that the police moved up past us to chase away some protesters and some people who had been driving close to the intersection that they had been blocking.

Beyond the officers that you can see now, who actually are taking a break. We just saw them eating some fast food and drinking soft drinks. It looked like now they're standing much more relaxed than they were a while ago. And the reason for that is that the action has gone beyond them now.

Several blocks to the west us at about Flagler Street and 30th, 31st Avenue, there's been some activity. You can see -- sort of -- the gray smoke up there. I think that's mostly tear gas and maybe some fires that were set in that area.

We were told by people who were up there shooting pictures that a crowd had formed and was blocking traffic. There was also (off-mike) young people. They were also blocking fire trucks from getting to the areas that they needed to get to put the fires out. So the police rushed in and fired some tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd.

We've also seen street sweepers go in and garbage trucks. The police are trying to restore order and normalcy as fast as they can. They still have a hot situation on their hand, but not anything like we were seeing here several hours ago.

I'll review the numbers from the Miami Police Department. As of an hour and 15 minutes ago, they were staying that they had made about 80 arrests. I think the number, when it's all said and done, will be substantially higher than that. We've seen other arrests since then.

We're looking at a picture of what we have seen here repeatedly today, people being arrested for a number of things: not moving when the police told them to, breaking windows, throwing rocks, things like that. So the situation here, Judy, is quieter than it was earlier today. Back to you.

WOODRUFF: Mark, we're very much at the mercy of the technology there. And as our audience is seeing, as we're all seeing there's been a little breakup in the picture and in your voice we want to apologize to our audience about that. Mark has been down there with a hard-working crew literally all day long, and sometimes these things happen. But, fortunately, we were able to, I think, hear most of what, if not everything, he was trying to say -- Gene.

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: As this hour comes to a close, CNN's Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella looks back at the events that led up to this morning raid, all the way back to that day when a little boy named Elian arrived in the United States.

Before we go to that here is the American Airlines plane which is carrying Lazaro Gonzalez and Marisleysis Gonzalez on a flight from Miami. They say they would like to see Elian to make sure he is in good hands.

Of course, both of them were very bitter not only at the fact that Elian was removed from their home early in the pre-dawn hours, but the way it took place. They consider that to be, they say, "an armed raid and thoroughly inappropriate, that it would have a serious impact on the boy's mental well being."

Well, they're on that plane and they say they would like to see the boy. A Justice Department official said earlier today it would not stand in the way of a meeting between Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his son Elian and the Miami relatives, but the decision would be made by the boys father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

WOODRUFF: And, Gene, we might add that the attorney for the father, Gregory Craig, told us in an interview a few hours ago that it's his expectation that the father would want to spend several days with his son before the relatives would ask to join them.

I think there was an understandable desire on his part to get reacquainted with his son. He's been away from him for almost five months under very, very difficult circumstances. And again, this is the attorney for the father speaking, saying he would hope it would be several days.

The relatives, the great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, of course, hasn't waited. They immediately, as far as we can tell, asked for permission to not only to go to Washington, but to join with the father. In fact, it was part of the negotiations as best we can understand it.

The Miami relatives wanted there to be sort of a joint custody arrangement. They were not willing to have a clean break from the boy. They wanted to be sharing custody while this whole process was worked out in the courts.

But of course, it was the position of the Justice Department, of the Immigration and Naturalization Service that since the father had come to the United States, that he should be granted custody himself, and that any negotiations and appeals and so forth be carried out only after it was made clear that the father had custody free and clear.

RANDALL: Judy these pictures are being provided by our affiliate WTTG in Washington D.C. We should point out there is a lot of irony in this picture in that the negotiations between the government, along with intermediaries and the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez, would have provided for these same family members to travel to Washington to turn over custody of the boy to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and then to have a period of joint social company with the father and the son. They would share a compound in the Washington area.

That was the deal that was rejected by the Miami relatives. And far different circumstances today now give us this picture, where Marisleysis Gonzalez and Lazaro Gonzalez have indeed come to Washington, but without the boy. He was forcibly removed this morning in the pre-dawn hours by federal agents. And now they are making a petition to see the boy they had cared for for five months, but that now will be up to the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

WOODRUFF: We have been told that on this flight, not only the great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, who has had legal custody of the boy up until about 10 days ago, but another great-uncle, Delfin Gonzalez, is on this flight; also, the second cousin, we've been calling her -- loosely calling her cousin, she's actually his second cousin, because she is the daughter of his great-uncle, also on board the flight; one of the attorneys representing the Gonzalez family. Perhaps these are members of the Gonzalez family coming out.

We were told earlier by our Jim Hill, who's on board the plane with them that they were seated near the rear of the plan. So it's logical to assume that these people, even though we can't get a good look at their faces, that these individuals are members of the family. I think it's safe to say that's Ms. Gonzalez, Marisleysis Gonzalez, no doubt; the great-Uncle, Lazaro another great-uncle, Delfin. In addition, there is an attorney travelling with them as well as one of the fishermen who rescued Elian after the boat -- the shipwreck that killed his mother.

RANDALL: Now Judy this appears to be Lazaro Gonzalez now who is at the top of the screen. He is second in line here walking toward a vehicle. It seems for security purposes they were allowed off the plane on the tarmac without going through the regular procedure for disembarking an airplane. And once again, they would like to see Elian, they say. It was a very quick reaction on their part to come to Washington today after this morning's forceable removal of 6-year- old Elian from their home.

WOODRUFF: There -- at this point, though, Gene, as you've been pointing out, there's really no way to know when they're going to be able to see this boy. They were with him, as you point out, up until 5:00 this morning Eastern time. But he is now in the custody of his father. They've been reunited.

They're out at Andrews Air Force Base, which is not too far outside Washington, D.C. Elian is there with his father, with his stepmother, his father's second wife, and with his half-brother, little 6-month-old Hianny. And we've seen some pictures of the family reunited. Very different expressions on the boys face than, of course, what we saw much earlier this morning when the raid on the house took place.

RANDALL: We should apologize, I suppose, at this moment for not bringing you what we promised and that was the John Zarrella report on the chronology of Elian Gonzalez's stay in this country, but this, of course, is breaking news.

We'd like to go to the White House where kelly Wallace is standing by.

Kelly, is there an administration position on the visit of the relatives from Miami to Washington?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gene, reporters Whit House press secretary Joe Lockhart that very question. We asked Lockhart if the president would likely be meeting with Marisleysis or Lazaro Gonzalez or with Juan Miguel Gonzalez or Elian for that matter, and Joe Lockhart said no.

He said the president believes this is a legal matter and believes it should be handled through the Justice Department, through the INS, so any subsequent meetings, any developments, should be handled by those channels. So that's what we heard from Mr. Lockhart earlier today -- Gene.

RANDALL: Kelly, and on the question of whether the relatives will be allowed to visit Elian Gonzalez. A Justice Department official said earlier today that would be up to the father but it would not necessarily stand in the way of such a meeting. Are you hearing anything about that there?

WALLACE: Yes, we're not hearing anything. But, again, Lockhart is really deferring any of those kinds of questions to the Justice Department, saying they are the ones handling the legal aspects of the case. The White House is not taking any kind of position on any of that; again, deferring all those questions to justice and INS.

RANDALL: OK. And once again, the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez arriving at Reagan National Airport on a flight from Miami -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Gene, from that picture, in Washington -- or we should say in Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, we want to go back to Miami to our Miami bureau chief John Zarrella for a bit of a look back at what led to this morning's raid -- John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Judy, what you can you see here now, of course, as the car begins to pull away with the family -- you know, the irony in all this is that up until this time, the U.S. Government, Janet Reno, federal officials, have been tried trying to work a deal with the family in order to get them to bring the boy to Washington, to come to Washington with the boy or to some other location where a transfer could work or a halfway house could be set up where the families could interact, but that never worked out.

So the great irony here is now they have jumped on a plane and have been forced to fly to Washington, probably to appear before Congress, lobby before Congress, things that they have done in the past, leading up to this, when the offers were there before to bring the boy peacefully. And now they find themselves in this very strange, precarious situation -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, what is your understanding of just how far these relatives in Miami were willing to go to work out some deal, some arrangement with the government, with the Justice Department?

ZARRELLA: Well, our understanding has been right along that what they wanted was the father, obviously, Juan Miguel, to come to Miami, and to meet with the Miami relatives here in Miami. And at the very last read that we got before the 11th hour negotiations began last night and into the early morning hours today, they apparently were willing to have Juan Miguel meet with them but they were still not willing to turn the boy over.

So as Janet Reno had continued to say throughout last night and today, that they just continued to move back their line in the sand and it kept changing, at least that's what the Federal Government said. Which, of course, led to what happened today early this morning.

And what's the interesting part about that, of course is, that Janet Reno insisted all along that what she wanted to do is to do it peacefully, but that eventually she ran out of options. That they kept changing the playing field every time they would get to a point where it seemed a deal was worked out with the family.

And Lazaro Gonzalez, Elian's great-uncle, was adamant when he met with the psychiatrist and psychologists for 50 minutes a week and a half ago. That meeting, apparently, did not go very well. He was, according to those officials that represented the government, adamant. He wasn't going to turn the boy over. So right along, it seemed that there was one impasse after another or barricade, one after another that was being set up -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John we are told, and I don't know the source of this yet, we are told that these Miami tell relatives of Elian Gonzalez and their attorney are on their way to Andrews Air Force Base, which is of course where Elian has been reunited for some, oh, six hours now with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

And as we watch these pictures, John, I'll just say it before we come back to you, we're watching the van carrying the Miami relatives as it's leaving the Tarmac of the Washington National Airport -- Reagan National Airport, surrounded by a small knot of people who were there waiting for them.

It doesn't appear that they have any sort of police escort. It was -- the police did want to see them safely off the airport grounds. But -- well, no I take that back. Now we do see police cars both ahead of them and behind them. And if they are indeed on their way to Andrews Air Force Base the question, of course, in all our minds is: Has Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian's father, agreed to let him see him and his son right away?

ZARRELLA: Well, you know, Judy, that all along the psychiatrists and the psychologists had recommended that the best possible thing for Elian Gonzalez, the best thing that could happen to the boy what that he could be allowed to interact not only with his father but also with Marisleysis, who had, some people have said, become his surrogate mother in the last four and a half months, and with his great-uncle Lazaro.

And the irony, again, is this was all offered to the family if they would do it peacefully. And if indeed Juan Miguel has offered the olive branch, so to speak, and is willing to do this and allow them now to come to meet with him and his son, that they're doing it not apparently out of their own free will, they just have had -- they have no choice now -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. CNN's Miami bureau chief John Zarrella, as we look at pictures of a van -- a gray van, carrying the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez. They've just landed at Washington's Reagan National Airport. They are said to be on their way to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, just near Washington, to see or try to see Elian Gonzalez, who's just been reunited earlier today with his father, Juan Miguel, with his stepmother, and with his half-brother.

CNN's live coverage of this breaking story will continue. It's a story we've been following throughout the day. We will continue to follow it. And we will bring you information as soon as we learn it. For Gene Randall here and our Washington Bureau, I'm Judy Woodruff, thanks for joining us.

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