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Court Rules Against Asylum Hearing for Elian; Sanchez and Basulto Discuss Disappointment in Decision, Plans for Protest

Aired June 1, 2000 - 11:27 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Elian Gonzalez, along with his stepmother, half-brother, and father continue to wait in a residence in Washington, D.C. This after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has ruled, just about 27 minutes ago, that the asylum hearing has been refused.

The Miami relatives of Elian wanted Elian to have an asylum hearing to stay here in the U.S. That has been denied. Now the court giving attorneys for the Miami relatives up to 14 days to issue a response to today's ruling.

These live pictures now, outside the home where Elian had stayed for the first part of five months after coming here, and plucked from the waters back in November off the Florida Strait.

A couple key dates to keep in mind here: late November, Elian was pulled from the waters by two fishermen; it was April 22 when federal agents went inside that home that you're seeing now, and pulled Elian out, and reunited him with his father in Washington, D.C.; May 11, three weeks ago, appeals court heard the arguments from both sides, both the attorneys for Elian and the government lawyers; and today, June 1, we get the decision that the asylum hearing has been refused.

We're waiting to hear now, the attorneys for the Miami relatives in Miami. They're expected to issue a press conference. We'll get reaction from them as soon as that happens. Again, expected live from Miami sometime shortly. Stay tuned for that.

Here's now Daryn with more.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And as we continue to look at the pictures from Little Havana, we go to our Susan Candiotti, who knows this neighborhood very well, having covered this story from pretty much day one. And standing outside the house of the Miami relatives.

Susan, tell us more about the reaction today.


Well, this is a major blow to those in the Cuban exile community, who very much wanted to have Elian Gonzalez have a day in court, have his political asylum application at least heard by an INS asylum officer. Now it appears that will not be the case. Joining us now is one of the Cuban exile leaders in this community, two of them actually. The first is Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracy Movement.

What do you make of the judge's decision?

RAMON SAUL SANCHEZ, DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT: We are very disappointed. I think what they have said is that children don't have right to live in freedom because they don't have a voice. Although we know what it's like in Cuba; although we know that many, many thousands of children have escaped Cuba seeking freedom; we know that his mother died; any of these has been -- none of these have been taken into account, and it's very disappointing.

CANDIOTTI: You told me this morning that your gut feeling was that the judges would actually rule in your favor to grant this boy an asylum application hearing, an asylum hearing.

Why don't you think they did? What we know, thus far, is that they've left the discretion up to the Department of Justice, Immigration.

SANCHEZ: We live in an era in which Immigration has obtained such powers as a dictatorship, unfortunately, and, this is very scary. I don't know why it happened. But, we were kind of hopeful that, not only for Elian's sake, but for many other children that the court was going to at least recognize that there are cases in which the voice of a child should be heard.

I mean, we hear children, in cases such as, they want go to Disney World, and we plan our vacation, and we plan the whole year around the issue that this child expresses to go to Disney World. Why not, when he has expressed that he doesn't want to go back to a dictatorship, we are not willing to hear that, and to listen to that. I think that is a very disappointing situation

CANDIOTTI: Gregory Craig, the lawyer for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian's father, has said time and again that he believes this is an issue of parental rights and who speaks on behalf of a child, and in this case, he maintains the father. Why do you disagree?

SANCHEZ: He is so deeply into dealings with the Cuban government that he does not deserve credit on my side, I'm sorry to say that. Mr. Craig is involved in the case of Elian Gonzalez because there is much bigger agenda behind all this unfortunately. But what I tell you is America is about freedom, about giving people the opportunity to live in freedom, and we haven't done that, with Elian Gonzalez unfortunately.

CANDIOTTI: How do you intend this -- how do you suspect this community will react, largely under your direction quite frankly, because you have organized demonstrations in the past?

SANCHEZ: We will try to make this a process of people channeling their energies in a nonviolent way. We have already organized and are beginning to prepare for the flotilla of the return to demonstrate to the American people that we are a country divided, that our family is divided for 41 years, and it is time to bring down those barriers, and appeal to them to help us change that so that we can all go back and live in freedom, so we don't have any more cases like Elian Gonzalez's.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you, Mr. Ramon Saul Sanchez.

Now joining us, Jose Basulto with Brothers to the Rescue.

Was this decision unexpected by you or had you steeled yourself for this?

JOSE BASULTO, BROTHERS TO THE RESCUE: Actually, I was prepared for this. I think that this was forthcoming. I consider this another case of legal hypocrisy in the United States. We are calling our community now to focus themselves into something positive, the energies gathered here and the resentment, to be conveyed in a way of saying to the U.S. justice system: Why haven't you then convicted Fidel Castro for the murder of Armando, Carlos, Mario and Pablo, the Brothers to the Rescue pilots that were shot down on February 24, 1996, which four years have passed and no action has been taken on this.

So is it a case of murder has a less priority than a case of custody? I ask the justice system I ask, under the rule of law, that this case be taken, that Castro be convicted for murder, that proves are there. He was interviewed by Dan Rather. He admitted that he had given the order. This happened in front of a tourist vessel that had over a thousand people watching the incident, yet no action has been taken.

CANDIOTTI: Mr. Basulto, understood, that is, you know, something that is also still a matter of discussion to a great degree in the United States. I wanted to ask about this case, however. Do you -- because the appeals process is still available, do you have hope in that process?

BASULTO: I am awaiting to see what happens now, I am not going to jump into any conclusion at this point. I want to see if this is taken to the Supreme Court. And what is done then. And also there is another step that must be taken by this court, and I don't know anything about it, whether they are going to allow the man, that is Juan Miguel, to take the child back to Cuba at this time, after this ruling, or they going to hold the child here until this case goes to the Supreme Court? This is important, too.

CANDIOTTI: Do you anticipate demonstrations, do you anticipate participating in any? or do you think that the community, for the most part, will watch and see the appeals process take place? because the attorneys have said they would immediately file appeals.

BASULTO: I believe we will all be expecting to see what happens with the appeal process. I don't think a demonstration at this time is justified. We'll see what the legal process has to offer, and then we will make a decision. CANDIOTTI: What do you make of Elian's current living circumstances, the relatives here, have not seen him, have not met with, the government has suggested that they meet with psychologists and the like, just to have the parents talk among themselves, the adults?

BASULTO: I think the whole process has been un-American, that this is being forced by the Clinton administration. The child has been compelled to stay on his own, and completely secluded from public opinion or any scrutiny from the outside. And Castro has been given the opportunity to give indoctrination to the child in U.S. soil, and this is all disgusting. And I believe the Clinton administration and Mr. Al Gore will pay for this at election time, when conscious Americans that have seen the way this whole process has been forced upon us will make the decision at the ballots.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you, Mr. Basulto.

Again, everyone here trying to absorb precisely what has happened. But, in brief, there is an appeals process to be taken into consideration, and most likely, attorneys will be filing to extend that injunction if it hasn't already taken place to make sure that the boy remains in the United States, during the course of the appeals process.

Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: Susan, thank you. Once again, the U.S. Court of Appeals, the 11th circuit here in Atlanta, has upheld a lower court decision, ruling against a political asylum hearing for 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, We expect to hear more reaction out of Miami, Florida from at least the attorneys that represent the Miami relatives.

When that news conference begins shortly, you will see it live here on CNN. Our coverage continues, right now we take a quick break.



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