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Supreme Court Rejects Miami Family's Petition; Elian Gonzalez Eligible to Leave U.S. Today

Aired June 28, 2000 - 12:59 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Welcome back. The Supreme Court has rejected the appeal, the petition by the family in Miami on behalf of the young Elian Gonzalez. This means that Elian Gonzalez is eligible to leave the United States at 4:00 p.m. when the injunction holding him here in the United States is dissolved by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

We are now going to take you to Atlanta, where we have Lou Waters and Natalie Allen -- Lou, Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you, Greta, Roger. We'll continue to cover this story today. A dramatic day of developments so far and more to come.

LOU WATERS CNN ANCHOR: We are watching a little 6-year-old boy and his family at the Rosedale Estates, where CNN's Bob Franken is right now. We will get to that in just a moment.

But to first bring you up to speed on the story, in case you are just tuning in: Juan Miguel Gonzalez is free to take his son, Elian, home to Cuba. The United States Supreme Court just a short while ago refused to hear an appeal from Elian's Florida relatives, ending a long custody battle that thrust the 6-year-old boy into the center of bitter international, political controversy. In the end, Elian's Florida relatives and the Cuban-American community were unsuccessful in their fight to keep the young refugee in the United States, and it's believed that Elian and his father will be returned to Cuba later today.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is in Washington where Elian and his father have been living.

And I was watching earlier, Bob, it looks like a few protesters even have showed up there now.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the operative word is a few, quite literally three or four, who have come sporadically here. Not really much of a factor. This area has been quite well-secured, certainly, since the Elian Gonzalez entourage, if I can call it that, has been sequestered in this Rosedale estate, which is located in a very, very wealthy section of Washington. It has the advantage of being close to his lawyer's home, his lawyer Greg Craig. His lawyer, by the way, just came to this estate. He left his law office and has come out here. We are told that final preparations are being made for the departure.

Now, that 4:00 Eastern Standard Time is when the stay that has kept them in the United States expires. We are told that they were hoping to leave the United States not too long after that. We have been told all along that Juan Miguel Gonzalez is expected to make a statement in which, among other things, he thanks the people of the United States and expresses his delight at finally being able to move his family back to Cuba.

Of course, his son has been in the U.S. for seven months and three days, the center of an international intrigue and saga and controversy that looks like it's just about to come to a halt -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Bob Franken.

When that process gets under way, we'll certainly get back to Bob.

Natalie, what's next?

ALLEN: Well, for Elian's Florida relatives, today marks the grim end of a long crusade.

CNN's Mark Potter is outside the Florida family's home in Little Havana -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, as you can expect, this is upsetting news here in Miami's Little Havana. When the news came, there was an uproar from the small group of protesters that were here. I would count now maybe two, three dozen people surrounded by cameras; probably as many journalist here as protesters. They are very upset by the news. Some have been yelling. We've seen some people weeping, people very upset.

There was a woman here a while ago who was tearing down these signs behind me, and the flags, in support of Elian once the news came. Members of the crowd asked her to stop doing that and she did. But it shows the depth of the emotion that we are seeing expressed here in this very small area of Little Havana.

For some seven months, this has been a very, very emotional issue in the community. In some ways, it has split Miami along cultural lines. Political leaders are talking about the need to try to bring the community together now.

You're seeing some pictures from about a half hour ago, a woman very hysterically reacting to the news from the Supreme Court. We have had a little bit of that here today.

A short while ago, I spoke to the family spokesman, the spokesman Elian's Miami relatives, Armando Gutierrez. He said that the family is not commenting right now but that it -- the lawyers would be holding a news conference at 5:00 p.m. He would not say whether the family would be there, but he said if they commented, that would be the place.

We are expecting -- we are not expecting to see the family here any more today. They left this morning. Only Delfin Gonzalez, the boy's great-uncle, spoke. He said he expected the Supreme Court to rule in their favor. It did not happen. They went to church. And coming out of the church, Lazaro Gonzalez, the other great-uncle, expressed his concern over the ruling. He showed some anger toward members of the media who were there to record the event. Obviously a very emotional day for this family, which has been carrying this event for seven months, caring so much about the boy.

It's been a bad couple of months for this family ever since the raid here two months ago. Since then, the courts have been ruling against them, and now this from the Supreme Court.

Political activists here are saying that they are not expecting any major demonstrations. Nothing was planned, but there will likely be some impromptu events, like this one here, which is expected to grow. Police say they're not expecting violence. There is a minimal police presence here today.

Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: All right, Mark Potter in Little Havana.

Now to Lou.

WATERS: The attorney general of the United States got personally involved in this custody battle over Elian Gonzalez, even making a special trip to Miami earlier on trying to settle things. It didn't work. There is a sense of relief at the Justice Department today.

CNN's Justice correspondent, Pierre Thomas, joins us now from there where I understand, Pierre, they have issued a statement on today's Supreme Court ruling.

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Lou, we have the first official word coming out of the Justice Department, a statement by the attorney general I'll read, if I may:

"I'm very pleased that the Supreme Court has declined to review the case or Elian Gonzalez. The law has provided a process and this little boy knows that he can remain with his father. All involved have had an opportunity to make their case all the way to the highest court in the land. I hope that everyone will except the Supreme Court's decision and join me in wishing this family and their special little boy well."

That from the attorney general of the United States. Again, word has spread throughout the Justice Department. They are relieved. We are not expecting any press conferences today. They want the family to be able to leave in dignity, as one source said -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Pierre Thomas over at the Justice Department.

After months of arguments and thousands of pages of legal filings, the final decision in this Elian case is two sentences long, 26 words. One of the first people to read them, CNN's Charles Bierbauer over at the Supreme Court today.

Charles, fill us in.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, two sentences, as you say. One denied any extension or new grant of a stay that would have kept Elian in this country, and the other denied the petition for an appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court. That was the petition that was filed by the Miami relatives with the court here. And the court turned both of those down, and that's what set the chain of events in motion that is leading to Elian Gonzalez's departure.

If you hear some noise behind me, there's some street theater going on, and that's because the Supreme Court had some other business to take care of today. They did allow that the Boy Scouts could exclude a gay Scout leader, and they also struck down a ban on what's known as the partial-birth abortion in the state of Nebraska and, by extension, to other states. But the focus very quickly shifted to the Elian Gonzalez story, and the court has said he's free to go -- Lou.

WATERS: Charles, can you give us a technical briefing on how this motion, or these motions, were denied? Was it Justice Kennedy or was it the full court considering and rejecting?

BIERBAUER: The application went to Justice Kennedy because he is the Justice who has the oversight responsibility for the 11th Circuit. Justice Kennedy then referred the petition for a stay to the entire court. There is no indication in this as to whether there were any dissenting votes. But clearly the court has ruled that there's no reason for a stay because they are not going to hear this appeal. That was the second petition and that was denied as well.

It's fairly straightforward. After the justices sat on the bench to give their opinions in those other cases, they retired to what's known as a conference. There they addressed the concerns of future cases -- this was just one of them -- and very quickly, just after noon, handed out this, as you indicated, 26 words that let Elian go.

WATERS: Our man at the Supreme Court, Charles Bierbauer -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, other decisions about Elian Gonzalez have sent people into the streets of Havana, Castro's Cuba.

We have John Zarrella there in Havana and he joins us now -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, it was shortly after Charles Bierbauer originally reported the Supreme Court announcement at 12:00 noon Eastern time that Cuban television broke into programming, and they, too, announced the decision.

What they said was that they would continue to release details and break into programming periodically throughout the day as details became available as to when Elian Gonzalez's father and the rest of the entourage would be returning here to Havana. They said that they did not think it would be before 4:00 Eastern time, but that might be their interpretation of what the law is in the United States, and the stay that is expected to run out at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time.

They told people to remain calm here and not to get excited and not to -- there would be no demonstrations. They are going to keep this very low-key. When the family does arrive back here, the plan right now is for a reception at the airport, a brief reception, perhaps lasting only about 10 minutes.

Unclear exactly who will be attending that airport arrival ceremony. The grandmothers, Elian's grandmothers who, of course, went to visit him back in January expected to be there. Whether President Fidel Castro shows up at that arrival is not been -- is not clear and not known. We are told that Cuban officials, when word was released of the Supreme Court decision, breathed a sigh of relief, that at long last this whole episode is coming to a close.

Once the boy and his family are back here, of course there had been some talk of going to a safe house, a halfway house just outside of Havana in a suburb. It's not clear if that's going to happen now. It may be that they go right back to Cardenas, the hometown in Cuba, where they can begin to be reassimilated into the normal life back in their hometown in Cuba.

A lot being played very, very close to vest by the Cuban government -- Jeanne.

ALLEN: It's Natalie. That's OK, John.

Any idea why the change on where Elian will be going when he returns to Cuba, why he might go back to his home?

ZARRELLA: I think that the thinking is perhaps that because he and his father and the family remained in the United States so long, in that secluded area where they were, that it gave them time to get back together as a family and to reunite as a family, and that it may no longer be necessary to go to that halfway house. But, again, it's not clear. They may still go there.

The Cuban government is really not saying. And they are really saying that once the family is back here, there will be no celebrations, no major parties, and the boy and his family will be kept away from the press, from the media. There will be no access to them, at least not initially -- Jeanne.

ALLEN: All right, John Zarrella in Cuba, thank you.

Now to Lou.

WATERS: Again, our story of the day: the United States Supreme Court clears the way for Elian Gonzalez to head back to Cuba with his father Juan Miguel Gonzalez. There are folks gathered outside the home where Elian stayed down in Miami while his Miami relatives were fighting for an asylum hearing and custody of the boy. That was before the Immigration raid down there, which was one of the big dramatic events in this long story, which dates back to Thanksgiving of last year, when Elian Gonzalez was rescued at sea after his mother and several others died while trying to reach the United States.

That human interest story mushroomed into an international incident. And that incident is about to come to an end today when Elian and his father and his stepmother and his half-brother board a charter flight at Dulles Airport outside Washington for a flight back to Cuba. They should all be back in Cuba this evening. We're watching closely these developments.

The stay is in effect keeping Elian and his family in this country, or keeping Elian in this country, until 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. Shortly after that, we expect the family will board a plane at Dulles and head back to Cuba.

So, that's where we are now. We're keeping watch on the story. We will take a break and we will continue on with it when we come back.


ALLEN: Again, our top story: Elian Gonzalez may be in the United States for only a few more hours after the Supreme Court failed to hear the appeal by the Miami relatives trying to keep Elian in this country. The injunction keeping him here expires today at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. We haven't heard yet from members of Elian's entourage, lawyers for his father at the Rosedale Estate, although Elian's father's attorney has gone to that estate now.

Now to Little Havana, where a crowd is gathering outside the home where Elian was kept in Miami with his relatives; some protesters, the numbers have grown somewhat in the past hour or so since we've heard this news.

WATERS: Mark Potter is down there in Little Havana.

Mark, what's it like at ground level?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, it's still noisy here. The crowd is slightly bigger than it was, a few dozen people. They are very upset about the news. When the news went through the crowd, there was an outcry. This has been a very emotional issue for months -- seven months to be exact -- here in Miami. And there is great concern about the prospect of Elian in just a few hours going back to Cuba. I have with me a guest we spoke with a short while ago, Jose Basulto, of Brothers to the Rescue.

For seven months, you've fought so hard to keep Elian Gonzalez in this country. And I just want to know your reaction to the news from the Supreme Court.

JOSE BASULTO, BROTHERS TO THE RESCUE: Well, I'm really not surprised, as nobody here really is. You see the demonstrations. It's just very few people. And you don't expect -- and I don't expect this to turn violent in any way at all. It's just a voicing of sentiments. It's anger. And we all feel the anger, but we all manifest it in different ways. We of course knew that this was going to happen, because the child has been negotiated, since the very beginning, by the Clinton administration with Castro.

He yielded -- that is, Mr. Clinton yielded to the blackmail of Cuba. And the child was doomed to go back. We fought this battle even though we knew that it was perhaps a losing battle, because we fight battles sometimes for principle only, even though the results are uncertain. And this was one of these cases. And I have the example of, you walk the streets with your wife, and a bigger, taller stronger man comes and starts insulting her, you have to act. And this is what we did in this case.

POTTER: Now, you were in this crowd a short while ago. What was the response that you heard when they first got the news?

BASULTO: The response, I heard it here. Actually, I was here when the news broke out. So I've seen the same things that you have. And as you can see here, in those faces, there are people who are demonstrating on behalf of Castro.

POTTER: Now, they are protesting also the fact that we are CNN. I mean, that's no secret.

BASULTO: That's no secret.

POTTER: Why are they so upset with us?

BASULTO: Well, CNN has the exclusive in Cuba. And being a monopoly in the market grants you certain privileges, but also certain limitations. And this is what people are so upset about CNN.

POTTER: OK, and where is this going to go next? This has split the community. What efforts will be made... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) What efforts will be made to try to bring the community back together?


POTTER: People are throwing things at us here. Let's see if we can continue the interview. That was just a piece of paper. That was no big deal.

This has split the community, this issue. Will efforts be made to try to bring the Miami community back together?

BASULTO: The Miami community is not split as anybody may think. We have our usual friends. We depend on them. We have many, many good friends in the Anglo community. And I expect them to remain the same way. We are a hurt community, the Cuban-American community, because our message has not been understood. It's been misconstrued. It's been made looked into a case of custody between a father and a family here that did not have the right to have the child. But really, it's a state -- the government of Cuba -- the one that has taken the custody of this child at this time. And this is the reason why we're so upset.

POTTER: How will you feel personally when the plane leaves Dulles and goes to Havana?

BASULTO: I'm going to be very sad, let me tell you. I'm telling you this... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)


BASULTO: It's going to be a very depressing moment. I know it. I expect it.

POTTER: And where does this go from here?

BASULTO: Right now, we're bringing about our efforts once again to focus in internal opposition in Cuba, in those that need our efforts there, our help in there, in order to consolidate an alternative to Castro from within.

POTTER: Why was it that you felt the rest of the country did not fully understand your point? The polls for so long showed that most of America thought the boy should go back to Cuba with his father.

BASULTO: The polls were based on a people that is very misinformed and sometimes even dis-informed by the repetition of semi- truth given out by the press that have created the impression among the American people that this child is being actually returned to father, which he is not. And this is the point we wanted to make in the courts. This is the opportunity that was not afforded Elian, yet it's given to criminals in this country. This is something for which Mr. Bill Clinton will have to be ashamed of for the years to come.

This is part of his legacy. And I hope that now the next step for Clinton is not trying to open relations with Castro, which is going to further alienate the Cuban-American people here. Because the reason we're here is because of Castro. While Castro is there, there is no solution to the problem of Cuba. There will continue to be refugees. There will continue to be Elian's. And by the way, Elian is just one case in hundreds of cases of a similar nature. Yet Castro focused on him because he knew he could make a cause which would be important or useful for him, and Clinton would play along. This is very unfortunate.

POTTER: Jose Basulto, Brothers to the Rescue. Thank you very much for your thoughts.

BASULTO: Thank you so much.

POTTER: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Well, the crowd has filtered away a little bit and so the we can hear ourselves a little better at this time. But the emotions have not softened, the crowd size remains the same, a few dozen people here, great sadness, great anger about this ruling from the Supreme Court.

Back to you.

WATERS: All right, Mark. Passions are high because of the Supreme Court ruling but also you were kind of drowned out there when you were trying to explain why the anger at CNN. Could you run through that again for us?

POTTER: There's very great concern about CNN. We have a bureau in Havana, Cuba, and we report regularly from Havana. And there's great anger about our coverage from there. If you recall the day of the raid, when Elian was taken from this house, that afternoon, members of the crowd turned on CNN, tore down our tent, knocked over some of our equipment. That dissipated and we typically do not have a lot of problems in this community. But we occasionally have some and its because of that feeling toward the bureau that we have in Havana.

I must tell you that I have done a number of interviews since then with political activists and we are treated kindly we are treated with respect. Every time that we come in, some people even joke about it: oh, you're CNN, and they smile but then they go on with the interview and we go on with our business.

But sometimes in crowd situations, with the emotions riding high on this issue, we do have some problems. Nothing more serious than knocking over our equipment and our tent and some yelling and screaming, at least so far. And really that's all that I anticipate, but that's what explains it.

WATERS: All right, Mark Potter, at his familiar post down in Little Havana, outside the home where Elian Gonzalez stayed with his Miami relatives before he was taken out of there by INS agents sometime back.

A more serene setting outside the home where Elian now lives with his father and stepmother and half-brother. That's where CNN's Bob Franken is keeping watch as the family, we presume, prepares to head home to Cuba.

FRANKEN: No presumption about it, the lawyer for the family, Greg Craig, is inside this Rosedale estate. And in contrast to what we heard about in Miami from Mark Potter, there are four, count them, four protesters here. Actually you can't count them because there are many, many more policemen who have just showed up, to say nothing about this truck which just absolutely blocked our view.

But the place right now is crawling with local policemen who are here to supplement the U.S. marshals as we get closer and closer to the expected departure of Elian Gonzalez from the location where he has spent the last several weeks; part of his seven months and three days in the United States. Soon to come to an end unless there is some total surprise, it looks like most of the surprises are out of the way.

The strongest emotions here probably come from the residents of this neighborhood who will be really delighted to see the media entourage pack up and go. This is after all a very privileged area in northwest Washington. It's main attribute seems to be that it's just around the corner from where attorney Craig lives. But soon Mr. Craig is going to be through with the family presumably, and the family is going to be, by all expectations, through with the United States, or at least through with its residence of the United States -- Lou.

WATERS: Bob, it's sort of a dichotomy, you count four protesters and there are police and federal marshals all over the place. Why the need for so much armed guards?

FRANKEN: This is Washington, Lou. There are about, I can't give you the exact number, but more than just a couple of police departments here. The fact of the matter is is that during the stay of family here, it's been a fairly heavy contingent of U.S. Marshals that have set up its headquarters, a command post on the property. But outside the gate you normally see just three or four at a time. And it would be otherwise a bucolic scene were it not for the satellite trucks and the like that have been here throughout.

Of course, this is such an interesting contrast, on the one hand, you have this international drama that's gone on for over seven months, on the other, you have such incidents as one of the marshals, a woman, every once in a while, would run up to the supermarket, just a couple of blocks away, and bring back grapes for the kids. They loved grapes and she loved the children. So on the one hand this was a story with all kinds of geopolitical overtones, on the other hand, it was a very human story.

WATERS: All right, Bob Franken is keeping watch at the Rosedale Estates in tony Washington, where Elian Gonzalez is staying with his family. And we'll be headed for Dulles Airport. We'll get back to you Bob -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And he could be headed for the airport in just a matter of hours, after spending seven months in this country. CNN's Susan Candiotti looks back now at the legal fight by the Miami relatives to try and keep Elian in the United States.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Since their legal battle began, no shortage of support for the boy's defiant relatives, but few legal victories to cheer about. In January, the INS decides the father of Elian Gonzalez in Cuba is the only one who can speak for his son. The 6-year-old's political asylum applications, all rejected.

In March, a federal judge in Miami turns aside the relatives' lawsuit and upholds the INS decision, no asylum hearing. Then a state judge throws out an attempt to sue for custody in family court.

As crowds grow bigger and bigger outside the Miami home, something for the relatives and their supporters to cheer about: A federal appeals court orders the child must remain in the U.S. until his case is decided. Days later, this: after challenging the Justice Department to take the boy by force, it does. Elian is reunited with his father, within hours, smiling in his fathers arms.

The Miami relatives fly to Washington, demanding, as the father had since arriving in the U.S. in April, to be with Elian. They're turned away. As legal maneuvers continue, Elian is rarely photographed any more. He's seen playing with classmates from Cuba, visiting tourist attractions.

On June 1 another legal blow to the Miami relatives: A federal three-judge panel denies their latest appeal. On June 15, attorneys ask for a rehearing, questioning the INS's decision to deny Elian and any other alien the right to a political asylum hearing. A hearing Elian's father says is unnecessary, all he wants to do is go back to Cuba with Elian and the rest of his family.

JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ, FATHER OF ELIAN: I want to thank the American people, thank you.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.


ALLEN: And in a moment we'll talk with John Zarrella in Havana. We'll be back.


ALLEN: Over the past few months we've seen large crowds gather in Cuba, protesting Elian Gonzalez remaining in this country, wanting him to come home. Those rallies are orchestrated by the government in Cuba, but now we're hearing you won't see the same when Elian returns to Cuba, possibly today.

For more on that, John Zarrella, who's at our bureau in Havana.

ZARRELLA: Natalie, that's exactly correct, so what the Cuban government has been saying right along is that they are going to keep this very low key. They will not politicize the events surrounding the return of Elian Gonzalez to his homeland.

President Fidel Castro has maintained, right along though, that this is the time when they actually have to ratchet up their attacks on U.S. policies, that even though Elian Gonzalez will be returning from the United States with his family, they are going to continue attacks on policies like the Cuban Adjustment Act, the embargo, and all other acts, that they say, of aggression against the communist island.

So they have used the Elian Gonzalez saga really as a platform, but they are not going to use his return. They are going to keep it extremely low-key. They are going to have an airport arrival which may last perhaps only ten minutes. We believe his grandparents, Elian Gonzalez's grandparents, will be there. Whether President Castro is there is unclear at this point. And then the family will be off. And where exactly they will be going is still also not completely clear. They may be going to a halfway house, a safe house outside Miramar, or perhaps back directly to Cardenas, which is the hometown. The Castro government has been playing that very close to the vest, not telling anyone exactly what will transpire. They've been saying right along today that they will keep the Cuban people up-to-date on the news.

I can tell you just from our view here from the 20th floor of our office building here in Havana, our offices here in Havana, that people are going about their business. There are no gatherings of crowds here in Havana. You don't hear cheering sounds. You hear the usual sounds of car horns and bus horns on the street, but no outpouring of any emotion yet about the impending and presumed very imminent return now of Elian Gonzalez and his family -- Natalie.

ALLEN: John, I'd like to ask you since you're the Miami bureau chief for CNN, I don't know if you were able to monitor Mark Potter's live report just a few moments ago when he had to bear the brunt of some anger on the behalf of some former Cubans now living in this country, many of them angry at CNN, as Mark put it, for our bureau there in Havana and the reporting that we do. Perhaps you can add some perspective to the story as the Miami bureau chief.

Our apologies. We weren't able to stay in touch with John Zarrella.



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