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Elian Gonzalez Returns to Cuba

Aired June 28, 2000 - 4:06 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're watching Dulles Airport where the Gonzalez family is about to board a plane for Cuba. They've been inside people mover 637 there. That's one of those -- if you've ever been to Dulles Airport -- those huge people movers that take passengers between terminals. The Gonzalezes have been inside there ready, willing and eager, we understand, to head back to Cuba as Kate Snow told us a just short while ago.

Kate's alongside those planes. We see a pile of luggage. We see the planes. We see Kate Snow. But don't see the Gonzalezes yet -- Kate?

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. We're expecting him to come out maybe about four minutes from now. We heard five minutes about a minute ago. So, we expect that Juan Miguel Gonzalez will come out and address the cameras, have some sort of statement for us here.

But meantime, yes, you're taking a look at the rest of the entourage, if you will. There are 14 people headed that are back to Cuba today. It's not just Elian Gonzalez. It's his family. It's his classmates and their parents. Also his teacher who you might remember has been here for weeks now home schooling the boy and the other children here, along with Elian's favorite cousin who he had invited to be with him here in America.

So they are boarding the plane now, some of that group. We had understood that the family would be on one plane along with the teacher and the cousin, and that the other children would be on the other plane. So if that holds true -- I'm not sure if that will hold true -- but the family may be getting on the plane closest to the people mover there.

After we hear from Juan Miguel Gonzalez, these folks will be taking off straight for Havana. They, as you know, were -- well, Elian Gonzalez was released from his obligation to stay in this country about five minutes ago. So we had expected that they might take off, Lou, any time between 5:00 and 5:30. It looks like we're right on track.

WATERS: Let's back up just a little bit, Kate, to late this morning for those folks just getting home from work or just checking in with the news for the first time today. The United States Supreme Court denied two petitions from the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez: One to extend the injunction or stay which was lifted about eight minutes ago. The other was to grant the asylum hearing.

Both petitions were denied. That cleared the way for the Gonzalezes to pack up from the Rosedale Estates where they've been staying in the tonier part of Washington and head for Dulles Airport where they are now. They have been inside that people mover filling out official immigration papers which will allow them to leave the United States.

John Zarrella is in Havana, Cuba where they -- the family is expected to be greeted by other family members in just an hour, hour and a half from now -- John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Lou. And what we are being told here is that once they arrive it will be pretty much just a family-only reunion. Just members of the family, Elian's grandmothers, more than likely, probably definitely will be there, along with other family members from the hometown of Cardenas.

What the Cuban government, by saying that it will be only family members may mean that President Fidel Castro will not be there at the airport reunion. And that would play right along with what the Cuban government has been saying right along, that they do not want to politicize this return to Cuba. They have stressed to the people in Havana, to the people around the countryside, to remain calm, to remain quiet, not to get overly excited and enthusiastic about this. And that's apparently what the plan is.

Now, we don't even have any idea whether Juan Miguel Gonzalez will make a statement when he arrives in Havana. The 10-minute arrival ceremony is expected to be broadcast on national television here and the family will be whisked away. At one point talking about taking them to a half-way house which is just in the neighborhood of Miramar, just outside of the city of Havana, but that apparently has changed. The latest word is they would be returning directly to Cardenas, the hometown of Elian Gonzalez, where today when the announcement was made of the return, there were cheers. and screams and shouts from the people there that the family was finally coming back home to Cardenas, Cuba.

WATERS: All right, John.

ZARRELLA: So again, Lou, that's about where we are here in Havana.

WATERS: OK, and I misspoke it's about a three-hour trip from Washington. The flight to leave in about an hour or an hour and a half.

Kate Snow, what have you got out there in Dulles?

SNOW: Well, Lou, we just had some folks move over here from the people mover behind my shoulder here. It's Joan Brown Campbell, who's a longtime adviser to Juan Miguel Gonzalez, along with Ambassador Fernando Ramirez, who's the highest-ranking Cuban diplomat here in the U.S., in Washington D.C. It looks like they are awaiting for Juan Miguel Gonzalez to come out of that people mover and come over and make some sort of statement. We expected he would come out, and address the group of reporters, probably in Spanish, but we understand with some translation. He does speak a little bit of English. The last time he spoke he said one sentence in English at the very end of his speech. So we may hear a little English as well -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, and we see a number of people. Great security at Dulles as we await the appearance. There you see, as we watch the people mover 637, we see some little people watching us, as they have been throughout the day. The children have been fascinated by the fact that a helicopter was circling overhead at the Rosedale Estates, where the family had been staying as attention increased in intensity after the ruling by the Supreme Court denial of the petitions for a stay. Inside there is Elian. That's his little half- brother there, the wife, and Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

John Zarrella, I interrupted you.

ZARRELLA: Lou, all along, you know, the last several weeks here in Havana, as the government has been downplaying the return of Elian Gonzalez, they have been saying right along using it as a platform to really expound upon the evils of the United States in condemning the embargo and condemning the other U.S. laws that have put a stranglehold on the Cuban economy and the Cuban government for the past 40 years. So Elian has really become a symbol back in the United States of that long struggle for the Cuban people and, of course, they have also -- he's become a symbol here.

You see the wide shot there. That is Juan Miguel Gonzalez walking up to the microphone, accompanied by police entourage, and I believe Gregory Craig, his attorney also.

WATERS: Yes, it is.

ZARRELLA: A brief statement expected here now. And again, we don't know what to expect, Lou, when he arrives in Havana, if he will have words for the Cuban people -- Lou.

WATERS: Let's listen.

JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ, ELIAN'S FATHER (through translator): I would like to thank the North American people for the support they have given us, and to the U.S. government.

I think that this has allowed me to meet very beautiful and intelligent people in this country. And I hope that in the future, this same friendship and this same impression that I have of the U.S. people, that the same thing can become true between both our countries, Cuba and the U.S. I am very grateful for the support I have received. I am extremely happy of being able to go back to my homeland, and I don't have words, really, to express what I feel.

Thank you.

WATERS: Perhaps the most effusive public statement we've heard from Mr. Gonzalez, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

John, did you hear that?

ZARRELLA: All right, I have some technical difficulties going on up here in my ear, so we will go to Mark Potter while we're waiting to get that cleared up. And Mark has been at the home where Elian used to live down there in Little Havana and has been experiencing the upset down there today.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I -- we heard the statement a moment ago, and you may be surprised to know that the protesters here, the relative few, the several dozen, also heard the statement, and they made sure they could hear the statement. There are television stats outside the camera range, they gathered around and they were shooshing each other and saying Juan Miguel is talking, Juan Miguel is talking, so that they could listen to it, and they were curious to what he had to say.

They've been gathering around the set for about an hour now since the coverage of the motorcade going to the airport, watching it very closely. The protests, the demonstrations that we've seen here earlier have all quieted down. There is nothing going on except the group sitting around the TV, watching with great curiosity the scene in Washington. That's pretty much the case throughout the whole Miami community. There are no big demonstrations. It's very quiet. The police tell us that they have had no reports of violence, no arrests. It's just a very quiet response to a ruling from the Supreme Court that was anticipated. It's certainly not the ruling that the Cuban- American community wanted, but it did not come as a surprise. It's still a disappointment. There is great sadness here. But it was not unexpected.

We did have a flurry of activity here a few hours ago when the word of the Supreme Court ruling first came out. There was an outpouring of anger from the demonstrators here. There were probably only two dozen here at that time. There was some shouting matches, some screaming back and forth, a little bit of a scuffle, nothing much more than that, and again, a very small crowd, One of the smallest groups we've ever seen here at this house in Little Havana where Elian stayed with his relatives. The police say that they're sort of surprised by the group, and the crowd now is watching the pictures of the boy walking to the plane, and I'm looking over to the crowd now, and they're moving in closer to get a glimpse of young Elian walking to the plane. So there is very great interest here, so much interest that it has quieted down the demonstrations -- Lou.

WATERS: It's only been 17 minutes now since the expiration of the injunction keeping Elian Gonzalez in the United States; 17 minute ago, that injunction was lifted, and now we see the final wave goodbye to the United States of America by Juan Miguel who is taking his son back to Cuba aboard one of the two chartered jets which is expected to lift off here from Dulles Airport just outside Washington for the three-hour flight to Havana, Cuba.

Mark, if you're still there, Juan Miguel's wish of friendship between the peoples of the United States and of Cuba, how is an expression like that to be met by the Cuban-American community? POTTER: It probably resonates in other parts of the country much better than here. There is great concern with what Juan Miguel has done in this community. There is great concern that he is taking the boy back to Cuba. I just spoke with someone inside the group, again, that we cannot see. It's just outside camera range, where the crowd has been gathering around the TV set, and as Elian was walking to the plane, as the family was waving goodbye, there were tears, people making the sign of the cross, saying that they thought that someday this country would be sorry, that we would all be sorry for what happened. They're very quietly watching the TV, but with great concern and great emotion at this moment.

WATERS: So Juan Miguel Gonzalez making his statement about the wonderful people he's met in the United States, the "beautiful and intelligent people," he called them, the friendship that he's experienced. His impression of the U.S. people leads him to hope that there will be a spirit of friendship between the Cuban and American people. He says he's extremely happy to go back. He has his son at his side. He has his wife. He has Elian's half-brother. They're aboard that chartered jet at Dulles Airport and are about to take off for Havana, Cuba.

Back in Miami, CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman is watching reaction to this from the legal team of Lazaro Gonzalez. He is the uncle who became quite prominent, taking Elian under his wing at his home down there in Little Havana, where Mark Potter spent much of the day.

Gary Tuchman, what are we expecting to hear from you?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, we've heard a lot from the attorneys for the Miami relatives over the last seven months, and today may be one of the last times we hear from them. We're standing right now inside a restaurant here in Miami, where that legal team will have a news conference about 40 minutes from now to talk about their feelings and the Miami relatives' feelings as to what you're watching right now. It's been a very bad legal month for the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez. It was June 1st that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issued the decision that Elian was not entitled to an asylum hearing.

That's what the family wanted. The family wanted Elian to be able to go into a court of law and talk about why he wanted to stay in the United States. At least, that's what the family members here had been saying for a long time, that Elian had always told them he wanted to stay in the United States. And they wanted Elian to be able to say that to a court. But the 11th Circuit Court said that would not happen. However, the court also said that Elian must stay in the United States for the time being while the family gets a chance to file an appeal for a rehearing.

They gave the family two weeks to do that. Exactly 14 days later, that rehearing appeal was filed. And then on June 23rd, last Friday, that same court said there will be no rehearing. And the court also said, if you want to ask for an extension for him to stay in the United States -- Elian -- don't ask us, take it to the Supreme Court. So the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals washed its hands of the case. Everyone was waiting for what the Supreme Court would say. And today, the Supreme Court said this is over. There is no more legal work to be done in the United States.

Elian Gonzalez will be free to leave at 4:00 Eastern time, 21 minutes ago. And as you see, he is now on that plane, getting ready to go to Cuba. The family released a statement today. The family spokesman said -- quote -- "according to Lazaro Gonzalez," that's the great-uncle, "the fight for Elian is not over." Now you may be wondering: What does that mean? The Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, has said it's not doing anything.

But another part of that quote that was released may answer that question. And that was -- quote -- "man has decided, but God will have the final ruling." So the family here has no more chances in the American court of law. They're hoping perhaps for other things to happen. But Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old, who arrived here on Thanksgiving day, 1999, is about to leave the United States of America and head back to Cuba with his father -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Gary Tuchman down there in Miami. We'll be getting back to you because we're interested in what that legal team for Lazaro Gonzalez has to say in reaction to this flight we're about to see take off from Dulles airport. Down in Little Havana, we note -- the focus of much of CNN's coverage over the past several months at the home where Elian stayed for a considerable amount of time before that now infamous Immigration and Naturalization Service raid -- the folks there are gathered around a television screen watching CNN as events unfold far away in this aircraft, just outside Washington, about to depart -- with the center of their attention onboard: Elian Gonzalez and his family.

And it's only been about 23 minutes since the injunction has been lifted. And if you thought that the story would end here, we've also been told that the flight of the two chartered jets from Dulles to Havana will be kept track of on the Internet. The Web site for that if you are continuing to follow along here is will track the plane's flights from just outside Washington for the three-hour ride into Havana, Cuba.

And now John Zarrella, who's in Havana, Cuba -- John.

ZARRELLA: Lou, you know, one thing that is very striking in all of this is that Juan Miguel Gonzalez has really become the spokesman for the conciliatory gestures towards the United States with the remarks he has made today about the bond between American and Cuban people. Whereas on this side of the Florida Straits, you know, the talk has been anything but conciliatory, with the Cuban government continuing, at weekly rallies, gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people, to condemn U.S. policies towards Cuba.

So Juan Miguel has become this figure of -- a conciliatory figure with the United States -- probably out of design, but certainly genuine feelings on his part as well. And, you know, history may be writing this chapter too early in what all of this means, because there are many, many experts who have said that legislation that was just passed the other day on food and medicine to Cuba probably only was passed because Cuba-U.S. relations were brought into such focus and into such a spotlight because of the Elian Gonzalez situation.

And that may well have contributed to the ability of the legislators who were for those food and medicine -- easing of sanctions to be passed -- to get that bill passed. So how history writes the chapter of Elian Gonzalez may be a long, long way off as to what it ultimately leads to in U.S.-Cuba relations. When he gets back here to Cuba tonight, what we understand, Lou, is that there will be a very brief ceremony, reception at the airport met by family members. It will be a family reception.

The Cuban government may be purposely saying that to indicate that President Fidel Castro will not be at that ceremony, although they have not said for sure one way or the other. That will be wait and see. It will last about 10 minutes. And then from there, we believe that they will probably go straight to Cardenas, Cuba to the family's home town where there will probably be a joyous reception there.

Although the Cuban government is saying, once they leave the airport, that will be it: no more cameras, no more pictures. The family will be left to just -- to get itself back acclimated into living in Cuba and away from the glare and the spotlight of the television cameras -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, and we will have the full story of course, because we have John Zarrella keeping watch in Havana, Cuba as Juan Gonzalez and his family are about to embark on a three-hour flight to Havana from Dulles Airport. That's the airplane we are watching there.

And at the Justice Department, a sense of relief that this has ended.

Pierre Thomas, our Justice correspondent, on reaction there, including from the attorney general.

Pierre, I would imagine some relief from her personal and professional life being dedicated to getting this thing over with?


I just spoke with a number of her top aides. They are very happy. But they also decided today that this would be about the family, to let them leave in the way they saw fit. The Justice Department, as you can see, held no press conference. Reno will make some remarks about this, probably at her morning press briefing.

Ironically, Reno was out of the city today. She is due back right about now. But her aides and she put out a statement. They are very happy about this, in terms of the father making the final decision -- not that they are necessarily enamored with the Castro administration down there -- but that they felt that, in the end, this was a decision for the father. A couple weeks ago, actually, I had an interesting conversation with an INS, Immigration and Naturalization Service official, who said: You know, government attorneys are not often accused of using common sense. But in this particular case, they used common sense. That, in the end, you had to look at: Could the Justice Department decide that Juan Miguel Gonzalez could not make a decision about his own son?

WATERS: The plane begins to taxi, Pierre. And I'm wondering -- we have never seen anything quite like an attorney general of the United States going down to meet with a family in order to settle a dispute, even offering her professional expertise in arranging things for the two families to get together. She had a lot at stake in this, didn't she?

THOMAS: Absolutely, in part because Miami is her home community. She knew many of the players down there. She had a personal feeling about this child. She spoke many times about, you know, what a special young man this was. So this for Reno was both professional and personal. And even some of her top aides are talking about the fact that when she returns to Miami, there is still going to be very difficult feelings surfacing for her.

WATERS: Have any lessons been learned by the Department of Justice and INS over this whole affair?

THOMAS: Well, one of the things that they talked about -- they continue to go back to the raid, April 22nd raid. That is an episode they would not like to have had to take place over this particular issue. But the point of the matter is, they felt that the family gave them no other choice than to do what they did. But that image of the fireman and Elian I think is seared in many people's minds.

WATERS: All right, Pierre Thomas in Washington at the Department of Justice.

Juan Miguel Gonzalez, as promised, made a statement before his departure, shortly before his departure.

In case you missed it, let's run that for you again.


GONZALEZ (through translator): I would like to thank the North American people for the support they have given us, and to the U.S. government.

I think that this has allowed me to meet very beautiful and intelligent people in this country. And I hope that in the future, this same friendship and this same impression that I have of the U.S. people, that the same thing can become true between both our countries, Cuba and the U.S. I am very grateful for the support I have received. I am extremely happy of being able to go back to my homeland, and I don't have words, really, to express what I feel.

Thank you. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: That was 12 minutes ago, Juan Miguel Gonzalez saying he is extremely happy to be going home. He grabbed his son by the hand and walked to the door of this jet, which is prepared to take off.

Roger Cossack, CNN legal analyst, is in Washington.

Roger, I heard you say earlier today that the Supreme Court denial of these two petitions could have gone either way.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there was -- it certainly could have made an argument that the Supreme Court could have heard this case. There is some dissension between the circuits, as you know, there are several circuits in our country geographically located, and there are -- there is some dissension between some of the circuits and the decision that came from the 11th Circuit.

But I don't think that really any of us were surprised in this particular case. It was fact-driven. Really, the decision of the 11th Circuit was that the INS did not overstep its boundaries, did not act unreasonably in coming to its decision of not allowing the young Elian to have a political asylum hearing.

And it would have been very, very surprising, I think, for the Supreme Court therefore to step in and grant a hearing in this case, because they would have really been saying that we believe that there is a reason to think that perhaps the INS has acted unreasonably. I just didn't think that was going to happen, and particularly when you have the government coming in on the side of Elian Gonzalez and saying to the Supreme Court that you don't really need to get involved in this case. Oftentimes, the Supreme Court does give a little deference to the government.

So while I believe that yes, legally there could have been another chance, I am not surprised that it went the way it did, Lou.

WATERS: So were any precedents set? In the future, are we expecting to see immigration law handled in a different way?

COSSACK: I don't really think so. You know, historically, or at least certainly in the Supreme Court, this Supreme Court, the Supreme Court before it, they are -- have been giving more and more power to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to make these kinds of decisions and the review of them has been this notion of, have they acted unreasonably, has due process been denied, is there a constitutional issue.

In this case, the Supreme Court found that, you know, there wasn't a constitutional issue and that due process, the notion of the hearing and fairness, wasn't violated by not giving a 6-year-old a chance to come in and ask for political asylum.

Well, I don't think there's too much precedent that we can point to. I think this is really a fact-driven case. I think if anything this is a case that perhaps the facts really were more political than they were legal.

WATERS: I heard a immigration lawyer, Dale Schwartz, say earlier he was unhappy that it turned out this way, that Elian Gonzalez is returning to Cuba, but was happy that he was back with his father.

How important an element was it that the father came to this country to argue the case?

COSSACK: Well, I think that was very, very important. I think that it was a key part of this case that the father came here to act as the father to replace Lazaro Gonzalez as the -- the uncle, as the actual parent. And I think that once Juan Miguel took over as the parent, then he -- and became the actual person to speak for the child, I think things really from that point on were pretty well written.

WATERS: All right, Roger Cossack in Washington.

The Gonzalezes apparently have gotten clearance at Dulles Airport. We are seeing the taxiing begun on this flight for Elian Gonzalez, and his father, and his stepmother, and half-brother, back to Havana, Cuba. It's a three-hour flight.

We expect also to hear from the legal team representing Lazaro Gonzalez. He's the uncle of Elian. There's going to be a news conference in about 25 minutes in Miami, and we're keeping track of that and other things.

Mark Potter is in Little Havana at the home where Lazaro used to live with Elian Gonzalez -- Mark.

POTTER: Yes, Lou, the demonstrators -- the relative few that are here, several dozen, are still crowded around a TV set watching that plane taxi. An elderly man in the crowd spoke out a moment ago. He said: "I am too old, I have no tears left, but I ache deeply in my heart."

And that's pretty much the sentiment among the crowd that we have seen here. They've quieted down. They're a very somber group watching the TV. They were reacting to the boy and his father walking to the plane, boarding the plane. There were people who were crying, making the sign of the cross, expressing grave concerns about what was happening, saying this was very wrong.

It has certainly quieted down, the demonstrations and the noise that we heard earlier, everybody just paying very, very close attention to what is happening at this historic moment in this community, seven months into this event, which has been such an emotional matter in the Miami community, in the Cuban-American community and throughout this area.

We have joining us Ramon Saul Sanchez, who has been here throughout the day and has actually been involved in this case for seven months, working hard to bring -- to keep Elian in this country. You've been seeing the pictures of the father and the boy going on the plane, and the plane taxiing down the runway. What goes through your heart as you see that?

RAMON SAUL SANCHEZ, DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT: A lot of sadness and a lot of disillusion, but also a lot of commitment to try to change the conditions in our island that has caused tragedies like the one in which Elian Gonzalez's mother died.

And unfortunately, he's being sent back to a dictatorship, and nobody understands -- us, unfortunately, because there is a lot of need for us to make the people aware of the realities of the Cuban plight.

POTTER: You've been the group over there that's been watching the TV. You've joined them. What's been the reaction among the people there that you've been able to see?

SANCHEZ: Frustration, sadness, tears. People can't believe that people who enjoyed freedom would send back a child to a -- send a child to a dictatorship. I think that is what it's in their hearts now.

POTTER: Was there one thing that you saw in that group that stands out in your mind or that affected you more than anything else?

SANCHEZ: I think the effort that everybody did to have Elian have his day in court has the people very disappointed. We think -- we see that even the worst criminals, somebody who just killed somebody in the middle of a street in front of a police officer, gets to have his day in court. And this child, who is going to be sent back to Cuba, who hasn't done anything, didn't -- was not afforded a family court, a day in court in a family court so that the substance of his case was able to be determined by a judge. And that, I think, is very sad.

POTTER: The outpouring of emotion in this community, at least publicly, has been much less than we've seen in the past. What explains that, and does that suggest that there's less concern or just less manifestation of that concern?

SANCHEZ: No. I assure you that in -- in each home in this city today there are a lot of tears, a lot of suffering, a lot of frustration, everywhere. I assure you that. And the reason you don't see them here is because people have been already preparing themselves and basically because they expected something like this.

I mean, they probably had some hope last minute, but as we see, he's being taken back to Cuba. And so I know that for a few days this city will be very sad.

POTTER: And how will the city heal?

SANCHEZ: It's important for us to refocus back to Cuba, back to the dissident movement in Cuba that has been crushed by Castro after we had been looking outside to the Elian Gonzalez case. Back to the issue that we are a divided -- a divided nation, that our families have been torn apart by this regime of hatred. And we must bring down those barriers.

And the way to heal is if people can perceive that there will be -- there is light at the end of the tunnel, that people will care about that human plight and will do something to try to change it. And we are going to work very hard at that.

POTTER: Well, thank you very much for your time. Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracy Movement here in Miami, a man who's been struggling in the Elian Gonzalez case for all seven months of that event here in Miami.

The plane's still taxiing down the runway and group still gathered very quietly around the TV set, watching very quietly, and as Ramon Saul Sanchez, with immense sadness in their hearts -- this group that fought so hard to keep Elian in the United States. That, of course, did not happen, and now they are watching a day come that that hoped would never arrive in Miami.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: All right, Mark Potter, in Little Havana.

Kate Snow is out there at Dulles, not far from where this plane is taxiing -- Kate.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, that's right. And the contrast between what Mark Potter's been telling you in Miami and here is incredible. Here the mood, extremely excited. The folks who sent off Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his family have been standing around, watching the sky, smiles on their faces. Thumbs up from a lot of folks, people waving up at the sky.

And Juan Miguel Gonzalez himself, when he got on the plane, turned around as the door was about to close, turned around with his son Elian in his arms, gave a big wave to the crowd, and also made symbol of a fist before getting on the plane -- a symbol representing victory for him.

He has been waiting for this days for three months, nearly three months now that he's been in the United States. The boy has been in the U.S. for about seven months.

It has been an ordeal for the family and they are anxious to get home to their home in Cuba. We understand it will take about three hours for them to fly back, and they they'll be headed to their hometown of Cardenas -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Kate Snow at Dulles International Airport, number one for takeoff. Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and his son and the rest of the family bound for Cuba, and America says farewell to the young man who's been the center of our attention, and in the hearts of many people over this long ordeal, which began the day that then 5- year-old Elian Gonzalez was rescued at sea see after his mother and several others have drowned in a futile attempt to reach the shores of the United States. Form there, it turned into a story, an international custody battle, and the political and legal ramifications which we all know about now. The planes is wheels up, and there it is.

Gary Tuchman is in Miami, where the legal representatives are to meet with the press shortly, the legal representatives of Lazaro Gonzalez, who lost the legal battle at every turn -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: That's right, Lou, Elian spent nearly 10 percent of his short life in the United States, and now after 217 days, at 4:41 p.m. Eastern Time, his airplane has taken off to the Southeast heading right away in the general direction of Cuba on his way back to where he was born and raised by his mother and father. His mother perishing in the sea on Thanksgiving Day, or shortly before Thanksgiving Day, he ending up hear for seven months.

They're now on their way back, and now his Miami relative's attorneys are planning to speak to reporters about the day's events, about the seven month's events, all in a restaurant here in Miami at 5:00 Eastern Time. We will be asking them lots of questions. One of them perhaps, should you have changed your strategy in order to allow the Miami relatives to have visited Elian in the last two months since the raid that occurred here in Miami. Elian Gonzalez' father had sent a letter to the relatives saying if you drop legal action, we can arrange a visit before we go back to Cuba. The Miami relatives here did not agree to that, and that visit never happened, and now Elian is on his way back to Cuba.

One of the things we've noticed here -- and we were in Little Havana earlier today, certainly it's not a huge surprise that the Supreme Court this decision today not to review this case. However, there is still enormous anger and frustrations. Men Cuban-Americans I've talked to believe that most Americans just don't get it. They point out the fact that Elian Gonzalez's father did not come here right away. They said what parent would not come immediately for their child, no matter what the dangers, no matter what the situation. Most of them believe that Fidel Castro prevented him from coming immediately. They weren't saying he wasn't a good father, they were just saying he wasn't allowed, and they're saying that points out what kind of government Elian is going back to.

And they point out another thing. We've been hearing from CNN's John Zarrella how the Cuban government is saying this boy will not be paraded in front of the cameras. As soon as you first hear that, that sounds like a good thing, and many people, many Cuban-Americans think that's a good thing. But they point out, could you imagine if the White House said your child cannot appear on television. They're saying that's the type of government it is, that the government has the power to say something like that. So they're very suspicious of Fidel Castro. There's intense hatred of Fidel Castro. And the tears we've seen today are very comparable to the tears we saw the day of the raid, April 22.

Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old who turned 7 on December 6, is now going back to Cuba.

WATERS: This is the second plane here, containing the school chums and a tutor for the children, while they were all at the estates in Washington, during the legal battle here. The second plane has taken off, and the pictures that we were showing you while Gary was talking were pictures of winning legal team, the fellow in the dark blue suit who appeared extremely happy, was Greg Craig, the lead attorney.

And Kate Snow is at Dulles Airport, where things are winding up apparently -- Kate..

SNOW: Winding down, as it were, Lou. They have been hugging each other. It's interesting that the folks hugging each other were the folks from the Cuban Interests Section. That's the group that represents Fidel Castro and the Cuban government, hugging the folks from Greg Craig's office, the staff members that have been working on this case, the legal team that has been working with Juan Miguel Gonzalez for all of these months. It has been a hard, long process for all of these folks, people working extremely long hours, dedicated to this one boy, this one case. So I think they're all very relieved to see that it's over. There have been a lot of handshakes, a lot of smiles, certainly exuberance here at Dulles Airport, and wrapping things up now, getting ready to proceed with life as usual, go back to life as usual -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Kate Snow, out there at Dulles Airport. In the Midwest, Kate, we say winding up -- things are winding up. And we are joined now by Elana Freyre. She's executive director of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, who joins us now to comment on what we're seeing here. I understand that you think that it was inevitable that we would be seeing this plane take off and headed back to Cuba today with Elian on board.

ELANA FREYRE, CUBAN COMMITTEE FOR DEMOCRACY: Absolutely. From the very beginning, this was a fight that could not be won. There is no way. You know, I am hearing a lot from the rest of the Cuban- American community about the fact that we are not understood. I think we were understood very well. I think the American people -- and if you look at the polls, they will are you out, understood from the beginning that this was not about saving a little boy; this was about fighting Castro. And you were keeping a child away from a surviving parent or trying to force that parent to leave his own country and live in another country in order to have his child. This is just not reasonable.

WATERS: Would the Cuban-American community agree with you just said?

FREYRE: Absolutely not -- 20 percent would, 80 percent would not, but that doesn't make it wrong. Just because the majority believes in something does not mean that the minority is wrong. There are minorities that have been very right about what they've been saying. And I think also you have to take into account that there's an intimidation factor working here. I think that some people really in their hearts believe that it wasn't right, some Cuban-Americans, to keep the child away from his father, they would have been terrified to say it.

WATERS: I heard someone say from the Cuban-American community earlier today after the denial of the two petitions by the U.S. Supreme Court that they wish Elian had had his day in court. Did Elian not have his day in court?

FREYRE: Elian, went all the way up to the Supreme Court. This is just, you know -- I mean, your a newsman, you know what spin looks like. This is just the way they're spinning it now. A 6-year-old was never going to stand up there and give testimony. It isn't done. If he had been older, that would have been a different story. If his mom would have survived -- she tragically die, it would have been a different, but you don't ask a 6-year-old whether he wants to go back to his father or not. That's outrageous

WATERS: What has been accomplished here? Has any good come of this?

FREYRE: Food and medicine is going to be sold to Cuba. That's the good that's come out of this. The focus on Cuba has been so intense, whereas before, it was sort of peripheral, that I think that you are going to see some and see thing happen that would not have happened otherwise, so I think it had the -- it's been unintended consequences for the people who started this fight for Elian.

WATERS: What about Elian? There's a wire story I'm holding here. The headline which is "Elian's Return to Cuba: Paradise Lost or Regained." The essence of the article is that Elian has had his taste of the United States, and when he goes back to Cuba, he will not be able to drink milk, for instance.

FREYRE: You know, I am glad you brought that mile issue. Let me point out two things to you regarding the milk issue. Number one, I would like these people who talk about the milk explain to me what other country in the world guarantees milk to their children until they're 7-year-olds. I don't know of any other country. Secondly, Juan Miguel's father works in tourism. He has access to dollars. He can buy all the milk that Elian needs. I think that children are incredibly resilient. I think this child is happy to be back with his father, and he had a period of adjustment in the United States. He had sort of a small period, the two months with the dad, to bond back with his father, to get reacquainted with his little brother, and he's had two months to be told that he would he's going back home to Cardenas. I think he's incredibly resilient, and I think he's going to be just fine.

WATERS: You do think he's going to be just fine.

FREYRE: Absolutely.

WATERS: A lot of folks in America are taking to heart what the Cuban-American community has been saying about how hard life is going to be for the boy.

FREYRE: Well, I want to explain something to you. Most of the Cuban-Americans that are talking about the horrors that await Elian have never been back to Cuba in 40 years. They don't know what the reality of Cuban life is. It's very easy to spin this propaganda when you have never been back. I have been to Cuba four times. Cuban children are just as happy as any other children in the world.

Did you hear Juan Miguel Gonzalez's statement before he left?


WATERS: Expressing warmth for the American people and expressing a hope for a spirit of friendship between Cubans and Americans on down the line. It's already been suggested those words were put in his mouth.

FREYRE: Well, you know, there are people you can't please. and even if -- you know, let me tell you something, this man has had ample opportunity to speak his mind since he's gotten the United States on numerous occasions. He was at an Air Force base surrounded by marines, for crying out loud. You're not going to -- these people are never going to believe that he's speaking from the heart. I personally believe that he is speaking from the heart. And I thought it was very -- they were very reconciling types of words. I thought it was very sweet of him to do that right before he left.

WATERS: What do you think about his expression, or his hope of future ties of friendship between the Cuban and American people. Is that -- what do you see happening here now?

FREYRE: Well, my hope is that this will be the beginning of a process, that maybe there -- this is one instance in which the U.S. government and the Cuban government were able to see eye to eye on an issue. Maybe there are some more issues where the Cuban government and the United States government can also see eye to eye.

WATERS: All right. Fascinating. I could talk to you all day, Elana Freyre.

FREYRE: I don't think I have the time to talk to you.

WATERS: I know. I know.

FREYRE: Thank you for having me, though.

WATERS: Time is always a problem. Thank you so much, for the Cuban Committee for Democracy, Elana Freyre.

John Zarrella down there in Cuba has reaction from there already, I understand, John, to the plane taking off from Dulles Airport.

ZARRELLA: Well, I guess. Lou, it's -- the reaction is that there was really no reaction, that business as usual in Havana. People continuing to go about their daily lives. Cuban television is on the air now, and, of course, reporting the developments as they are unfolding, that the plane has left and is now on the way back to Cuba.

But it falls in line with everything that has been said right along by the Cuban Communist Party here that they wanted this to remain extremely low-key. They did not want to politicize the return of Elian Gonzalez. They wanted to keep it a family matter. And when they do arrive here in about three hours back on the ground in Havana, it will be a family reunion at the airport, which may be the Cuban government's way of telling everyone that President Castro will not be there at the airport, although they have not actually said that one way or the other.

So, again, a lot of people here over the last several days, Lou, have expressed the opinion that, you know, it's time for this to be over. They're tired of the whole saga. They wanted it to be over. And, of course, they have said to us it should have been over a long time ago. So in many ways, it is not surprising the reaction here in Havana.

Although in Cardenas, Cuba, which is the hometown of the family. there were reports that as soon as word was reached to the -- reached them of the Supreme Court action, they immediately began jumping for joy. People came out of the streets. And when the family does return to Cardenas, there will probably be a reunion there for them as well. Although, again, the Cuban government is not saying exactly when the family will back there -- Lou.

WATERS: And then what's your understanding? Juan Miguel will go back to the tourist job he held and they'll try to get their life off hold and back to normal?

ZARRELLA: Well, off hold and back to normal certainly because the family has been under such spotlight. And Juan Miguel has apparently expressed the desire that no cameras, no reporters. He wants his son kept out of the spotlight. He wants to be out of the spotlight. They want to return to a normal life.

But I think it's also quite clear that Juan Miguel has become somewhat of a diplomat himself, with the statement at the airport today, the way he's carried himself in the last two-and-a-half plus months in Washington D.C. And he has been that voice of reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba, whereas Cuban officials on this side of Florida straights have been anything but reconciliatory toward the U.S. and continue to expound, you know, their desire for the end of the embargo and all of those frustrations of 40 years that they have of the tightening of the noose, the economic sanctions, et cetera, et cetera.

So he has become that force out there who is calling for the bond between the two peoples, et cetera, et cetera. So it may be impossible to keep Juan Miguel out of the spotlight. But that is the plan right now, that they will be completely out of the spotlight once that airport arrival is over this evening in Havana -- Lou?

WATERS: Well, we'll have to wait and see how it all plays out. And we're fortunate enough to have John Zarrella on the scene and crew in Havana reporting that aspect of the story.

If you're following the trip from Dulles to Havana of Juan Miguel and his son, Elian, is your Internet access to that. So the story never stops for some. And is your spot if you're one of those.

5:00 p.m. Eastern, just a few minutes from now, the attorneys for Lazaro Gonzalez, the Miami uncle of Elian, will meet in a restaurant in Miami with reporters and give their reaction to the Supreme Court ruling today and answer many other questions.

CNN will take a break. We'll be right back.


WATERS: And so it's over. At 4:00 Eastern time, the stay was lifted preventing Elian Gonzalez from leaving the United States. Seventeen minutes later, he and his father and the rest of family were aboard a jet ready to take off for Cuba. The plane left just a short while ago.

Kate Snow is at Dulles Airport where the plane left from. And Kate, the Elian Gonzalez story is coming to an end. What do we do now?

SNOW: It is coming to an end here at Dulles International Airport, Lou. About 40 minutes after the court order that had been holding Elian Gonzalez here in the United States expired. Forty minutes later, those two planes took off carrying Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his son Elian, his other son and also his wife. And along with them some Cuban classmates of Elian, their parents and a teacher, all of whom had been here in the Washington D.C. area for some time keeping Elian company. They have all taken off at this point.

There were smiles all around a small crowd here at the airport to see them off. A crowd of the legal team that's been helping the Gonzalez family from this end. Also, some of the members of the Cuban interest section, that's the diplomatic mission of Cuba here in Washington D.C., and some friends that have surrounded Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his family over the last several weeks.

Now, Juan Miguel Gonzalez as he came out to the airport here did come up to the podium and addressed the cameras one last time. He said in a very brief statement that he was very happy with the decision, that he was happy to be going home. He would take a favorable impression of the United States along with him. He did that speech without any notes, but it was a very brief speech. He then got on the plane, turned around with his son and waved goodbye -- Lou.

WATERS: All right. Kate Snow at Dulles Airport.

I'm Lou Waters at CNN Center. Elian Gonzalez is gone, but the story isn't over. Our coverage continues.

Here's Jeanne Meserve in Washington.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, thanks. Yes, a saga we've been following for seven months and continues today. Elian, as we know, in the air now on his way back to Havana.

The lawyers for Elian Gonzalez' Miami relatives are due to hold a news conference at this hour. We will carry it live. Right now, six- year-old Elian is on a chartered plane heading to Cuba, along with his father, step-mother, half-brother and some others.

The jet took off from Dulles Airport outside of Washington about 20 minutes ago after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an emergency appeal by Elian's Miami relatives. That cleared the way for the boy to leave the United States this afternoon, when a lower court injunction barring Elian's return to Cuba expired.

Elian's father appeared thrilled that the custody battle finally is over, seven months after the boy survived a shipwreck that killed his mother while they were escaping their homeland.


GONZALEZ (through translator): I want to thank the North American people for the support they have given us and to the U.S. government.

I think that this has allowed me to meet very beautiful and intelligent people in this country, and I hope that in the future this same friendship and this same impression that I have of the U.S. people, that the same thing can become true between both our countries, Cuba and the U.S.

I am very grateful for the support I have received. I am extremely happy of being able to go back to my homeland, and I don't have words really to express what I feel.

Thank you.


MESERVE: Elian's Miami relatives released a statement saying "Now it is time to pray for the boy." They had argued he was better off in the United States than in communist Cuba. As we said, their lawyers have scheduled a news conference, which is due to begin shortly.

Now to our correspondents following this story: John Zarrella, at the Havana, Cuba airport, where the Gonzalez family is heading, Kate Snow at Dulles Airport, and Mark Potter, outside the home of Elian's Miami relatives.

John Zarrella, to you first, when do we expect Elian to arrive there, and what do we expect to happen when he does?

ZARRELLA: Jeanne, it should be around 7:30, 8:00 p.m. this evening Eastern Time when the plane lands here in Havana. There will be a brief reunion, perhaps only 10 minutes, a family reunion here in Havana. The Cuban government has been stressing all day today that it will be a family reunion. That may be their way of telling everyone that President Fidel Castro will not be on the tarmac when the plane lands, although they have not confirmed that one way or the other.

Once that is over, the family will be whisked away, presumably back to Cardenas, Cuba, which is the family's hometown, although that hasn't been confirmed either. There was talk initially of going to a safe house outside of Havana in the suburb of Miramar and spending some time there. But more recently, the talk has been of going back to Cardenas, Cuba. We also...

MESERVE: John, excuse me. I have to interrupt you.


MESERVE: The Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez have begun their press conference, their lawyers have. Let's listen in.


ARMANDO GUTIERREZ, MIAMI FAMILY SPOKESMAN: I was touched by how sweet and humble the family was, just the typical Cuban-American family. Yet they were suddenly faced with the responsibility of caring for a little boy whose mom and so many others had died during their journey to a life of freedom.

Of course, Lazaro and his family were delighted to care for Elian, and they were relieved when Juan Miguel himself called to ask them to take care of his son.

Lazaro and his family welcomed Elian into their home and their lives, and in the process they welcomed the media in their lives as well.

Now, we are devastated. At this very moment, Elian is going back to live in a country where he will never be free, to a country where his father will simply not be allowed to give him the freedom that his mother, Elizabet Brotons, wanted so desperately and died for to a country of tyranny and dictatorship. But we must obey the law.

I want to thank the lawyers, the lawyers who so generously volunteered their time and energy to this noble cause. I want to thank Spencer Eig. I want to remember when I called him and told him that I had good news and bad news for him, the good news was that he was going to do God's work to help a little boy. The bad news was that he was not going to be paid.

Thanks to also to Linda Braun and Roger Bernstein, to Jose Garcia Pedrosa, who has always been available for us. Not only did -- did the Gonzalezes see to it that Elian was cared for and loved: They embarked on a mission on his behalf to fight for his liberty, fulfillment and wishes of his mother.

I want to thank Laura Fabar, Eddy Rasco, Barbara Lagoa, who so often worked into the wee hours of the morning preparing briefs. And to Brett Cavanaugh (ph), Jeff Clark (ph) and many other lawyers who worked for us behind the scenes.

I'd especially like to thank two very special people who poured out so much time and love and hope: Manny Diaz and Kendall Coffey. Not only did all these lawyers work for us pro bono, free: They lost a great deal of paid business as a result of the time involving their efforts to help us.

I wish to thank the people in Miami and around the world who offered their love and support for Elian, and I especially thank my family for their love and support.

I would also like to acknowledge those members of the media who graciously respected the family's wishes for privacy during these very difficult times.

It's a very rough time for us, but we must obey the law and the rule of law.

Elian's arrival and the subsequent fight for his rights was like a wake-up call for the Cubans of Miami. Many had become complacent with our lives in the United States of America. Young and old, rich and poor, so many have forgotten the crisis in our country that brought us to this country.

Elian's arrival also focused attention around the world on the human rights violation to which the Cuban people are subjected to every day, just 90 miles away from the United States of America. How many more women and children must die before the world hears the cries of the Cuban people?

Elian's mother brought him to this great country seeking the promise of our Statute of Liberty. She and her son were among the huddled masses yearning to be free. How tragic that unlike the immigration stories of so many Americans, myself included, Elian Gonzalez cannot yet be free.

Lazaro Gonzalez wants everyone to know that the family will still fight for Elian to be free, regardless of where he's at.

I'll turn it over to Kendall Coffey.

ROGER BERNSTEIN: ATTORNEY FOR ELIAN'S MIAMI RELATIVES: The fight for the rights of a young boy, there is no more noble cause, and I want to extend my appreciation to the courageous support that the Gonzalez family has given us, the lawyers, and the community in their struggle to support Elian and his independence from a totalitarian regime.

I have never seen a family go through so much in such a short period of time, and yet still come away with their dignity intact, and they should be commended.

I also want to thank my colleagues, who have worked so diligently on this case and poured their hearts and souls into it.

In our line of work, in immigration law, you have the misfortune to see families who are separated over and over again. But unfortunately, this is the first time that a child is going to be returned to a totalitarian regime. Usually family reunification takes place here in the United States.

In this case, unfortunately, the Clinton administration's goal in achieving improved relations with Cuba was more significant than a child's independence and freedom for which his mother gave her life.

So I think it's unfortunate. I want to leave with a message of hope for a free Cuba. And one day I hope Elian will come back to the United States as a free man, and hopefully not on a raft with his father.

But thank you very much.

SPENCER EIG, ATTORNEY FOR ELIAN'S MIAMI RELATIVES: Today is a sad day, but our sadness is tempered with faith. We know that the world is an extremely narrow bridge, but the important thing is never to have any fear, never to have any fear at all. And I am confident that someday soon as it came to Europe freedom will come to Cuba and Elian will grow up a free man -- in Cuba, a free country, or here. And that we know and we are sure that God runs the world, that God protected Elian in the bitter sea, and he will protect Elian wherever he goes.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to thank numerous unsung and unmentioned heroes that gave a great deal of their time. I would like to thank first Dr. Lopez Gotarte (ph), who was Elian's therapist. She canceled many of her appointment, found that many of her clients didn't even return their calls or appointments. Things were always canceled. She always found the time to be at Elian's side and at the family's side. Dr. Usategui, who also, at any call, at any time of the night, came and supported the family with whatever they needed. Dr. Garredo (ph), Mothers Against Repression, all the people that gave of their time to protect this child.

Often we forgot to mention them. And so today we would like, on behalf of the family, to thank all these people that took their time.

KENDALL COFFEY, ATTORNEY FOR ELIAN'S MIAMI RELATIVES: We are truly heart-broken at this moment, with a sense of sadness that an injustice has occurred, and especially a sense of sadness in our concern for this child. But the spirit and the commitment that brought us to this moment remain unbroken and undiminished. The family that heard the dying wish of Elizabet Brotons -- that her son would have a life of freedom and an opportunity to be in this country -- is a family that is extraordinary and heroic.

With heart, with courage, with passionate commitment to their beliefs, it's an inspiration to anyone. And in so many ways, that family reflects this community. I think to really understand this community is to understand people that are not afraid of long odds, that are not afraid of long hours, that are not afraid to challenge injustice, because so many people in our community are here because they have already faced very, very long odds, and endured great hardship.

And so, when you see the battle of this family against two different governments, against so many skeptics, against so many that said that this child would be back within 72 hours, you see the kind of heroism and passionate belief in ideals that really defines not just this family, but this entire community. It is a family and a community that respect the law. It is a family and a community that is not afraid to face very, difficult challenges. It is a family and a community that deserves the greatest respect and inspiration of us all.

I've never been more proud in any setting, in any context than I have been to represent Lazaro Gonzalez, the family, to stand with the colleagues who are here. And despite the adversity and the difficulties, I have never been more proud of this community, because so many have rallied to the cause of a helpless child against great odds, against two different governments, for one reason only: because they care about the child, and they care about what is right.

As we look forward -- and our hearts are very heavy at this hour -- I can assure you of one thing: We remain as committed as ever to the cause of this child, to the cause of other refugee children like him, whose legal rights are more in peril than ever, and more committed than ever to the cause of justice for the Cuban people, here and in the island.

Thank you.

JOSE GARCIA PEDROSA, ATTORNEY FOR ELIAN'S MIAMI RELATIVES: When the history of this case is written, I hope it will record the courage and the integrity of a lot of people who tried to help this little boy, the one that almost got away. And in doing so, I hope particularly that history takes note of the sacrifices of the Gonzalez family, whom we all have had the privilege to represent, because a measure of their value and of their worth and integrity is a statement that they made this afternoon to our community that, notwithstanding the utter unfairness of this result, they call upon the community to do as they have done, to accept the legal ruling and to remain calm.

I wish for you to know that they are not here because, as we do, they feel pain at this moment, perhaps even more so than we can even imagine. In their hearts and in their souls is the thought that possibly, somehow, a miracle can yet occur so that the death of Elizabet Brotons, Elian's mother, will not have been in vain.

MANNY DIAZ, ATTORNEY FOR ELIAN'S MIAMI RELATIVES: I know that many of you are used to my, more often than not, doing this in Spanish. But today, I'd like my message to reach out to the English- speaking only community of this country. In its ruling, the 11th Circuit was compelled to defer to the government's actions because of foreign policy implications. What are the foreign policy implications of this case? As we found out yesterday, in order to appease some American business interests, our foreign policy implications dictate that selling some rice and a few chickens is more important than the freedom of a 6-year-old boy.

How did we abandon our sense of morality and compassion? I believe the responsibility lies squarely with the current administration. Our leaders today choose to distract the American people by suggesting that our main focus in life should be the economy. Focus on our paychecks and forget those silly debates regarding the meaning of words such as "is" and "sex." Regrettably, this is the example. This is the legacy that this administration proposes to leave for future generations of Americans.

One person who still cares is Lazaro Gonzalez. Having lived in a system without morals, where morals are relative to the daily whims of a dictator, he appreciates the moral strength of this country and the strength of its people. Lazaro does not believe that morals and integrity are relative terms. Having lived under a system that fails to recognize the most basic human freedoms, he understands, perhaps better than any one of us, what it truly means to be free. Having lived under a system that has destroyed hundreds of thousands of families and fails to recognize any sense of family values, he truly understands the meaning of family.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to have locked arms with Lazaro, Delfin, Mati (ph), and the rest of the Gonzalez family in this noble struggle. The strength of their convictions has helped to remind me that there is more to life than a paycheck. They have reminded me that if our lives are supposed to mean anything, then we must necessarily be judged by the decency and commitment of our actions to stand for principle, even in the face of overwhelming odds.

For I am today reminded of Dante's words, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. During times of great moral crisis, our forefathers did not remain neutral. They stood and they fought for what they believed in. This is the spirit that helped build our nation and helped make it the greatest country in the history of the world. I am proud of this flame. I am proud that the struggle is alive and well today in our country in the person of Lazaro Gonzalez.

May God bless Lazaro and his family. Finally, I ask, I pray, that God continue to look after Elian, that God continue to protect him. During his short stay with us, he had a profound and lasting impact on the lives of so many people. It is a shame that, Elian, we hardly knew ye. Elian, we will not quit, for our work must go on, our cause must endure, and our hopes must live forever.

Thank you.

MESERVE: You've been listening to a press conference from Miami. Armando Gutierrez, who's been a spokesman for the Miami relatives, said: This is a very tough time for us. He's devastated that Elian is going back to a country where he will never be free, the freedom that his mother died to bring him. But we must obey the law, he said. He also said, however: that we will continue to fight for Elian. We then heard from many of the lawyers who fought for the family in this case. Several of them offered prayer for a free Cuba, in the hope that Elian would return to the U.S. someday as a free man, rather than on a raft with his father.

There was praise for the Miami relatives in the Cuban-American community in Miami. They were praised for their heroism, for their passionate beliefs. Manny Diaz, one of the lawyers, suggested that foreign-policy considerations were the reasons this case was lost, that the rights of this boy were overwhelmed by the desire of the Clinton administration to improve relations with Cuba.

Right now we're going to go to Mark Potter who's down in Miami.

Mark, is this reflective of the general sentiment down there? POTTER: That's exactly what I was thinking. What the lawyers and the spokesman said is what we have been hearing here for months and been trying to convey. There is a very strong feeling in the Cuban-American community and among some others outside the community who support them about the very strong emotions that surround this case. And they were reflected in those statements today.

There was great pain in the voices of the lawyers and the spokesman representing the family. And that is what we have been seeing throughout the community, and seeing here at this location in Miami's Little Havana outside the home where Elian stayed with his Miami relatives for several months.

A short while ago, we witnessed several moments of very intense emotion here in Little Havana. It was a very emotional scene, the feelings ranging from intense anger to sadness. The crowd that had been watching the television very quietly suddenly came back to life again after seeing the plane take off from Dulles Airport heading to Havana with Elian aboard. Some of the people began crying. Others expressed great anger and started shouting to the crowd. Some people ran to that fence -- if you can see behind me -- and began hugging the fence, weeping on the fence, collapsing over it. Most of that has now ended in terms of the outright expression of emotion, but for a while...

MESERVE: I'm sorry. We appear to have lost our picture from Miami. We will try to establish that.

Right now we'll go to Kate Snow. She's out at Dulles Airport where we saw the departure less than an hour ago. Kate, describe to us that scene.

SNOW: Right, Jeanne. About 40 minutes after the court order expired -- that order that was keeping Elian Gonzalez here in this country -- expired. Forty minutes later, two planes took off from this airport. One of them carrying the family of Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his wife and his two sons, one of them being Elian Gonzalez. The other plane carrying a number of school children who have been visiting Elian Gonzalez, have been taught by a teacher that came along with them.

They all took off, two different planes, commercial -- rather, private jets that had been rented, chartered for this occasion. A small crowd here on the Tarmac to see them off including the legal team for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his attorney, Gregory Craig, along with the some of the members of the Cuban interest section. That is a diplomatic mission of the Cuban government here in Washington, D.C. And some friends and people who have been counseling Juan Miguel Gonzalez throughout this whole ordeal.

Now Juan Miguel Gonzalez did approach the cameras. He did make a very brief statement, mostly in Spanish. He said that he's gotten to know beautiful and intelligent people here in the United States, that he was glad to have known them, that he would take a favorable impression with him home to Cuba. And he said that -- in English -- that he was very happy, and thank you very much to the American people.

He then turned around and walked toward the plane with his family. At one point, as they walked up the steps, then picked up his son Elian, turned around to the crowd of cameras and to his friends here on the ground and waved goodbye, also raising his fist in a symbol that, to me, read a symbol of victory -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Kate, I know you were kept at a distance, but did you get a sense of the emotional state of the family?

SNOW: Absolutely exuberant. They were smiling. They were shaking hands. They were giving hugs. Just absolutely ecstatic to be headed back to Cuba. This is what Juan Miguel Gonzalez said on the same Tarmac about three months ago when he arrived here in the United States, that his entire goal in coming to the U.S. was to have his son back and take him back to Cuba.

MESERVE: Kate, you were at Dulles when Elian arrived in Washington. Can you compare these two events?

SNOW: Yes. When Juan Miguel Gonzalez arrived I was here. And it was very similar to what happened today, only in reverse. A very formal setting, but a small group of people here, a lot of security. I might mention that the security was even tighter this time around, I think because probably there were more people involved, the contingent of about 14 people traveling with the Gonzalez family.

And quite a different scene from when Elian Gonzalez arrived here in the Washington area. Of course, at that point, he was -- when he was seized from the home in Miami he was brought on a private plane with the U.S. Marshall's Service. Very little media coverage at that point when he was brought here to Andrews Air Force Base and they stayed there for a while. And then you'll recall they went out to a location the countryside, the Wye River Plantation in Maryland and then finally moving to a location where they were this morning in Washington, D.C. in the northwest corner, a very nice neighborhood of Washington. And that, their last stop before leaving for Cuba -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Kate Snow, thanks for joining us from Dulles Airport.

And finally, if you are interested in tracking Elian's journey back to Cuba, click onto to see the progress of his flight.

And our coverage will continue in just a moment. Stay with us.


MESERVE: A picture from about an hour ago, Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his son Elian waving to America for the last time. They are there boarding a flight which is now en route to Havana.

CNN's John Zarrella is in Havana and has gathered some new details about what's going to happen when they arrive there -- John.

ZARRELLA: That's correct, Jeanne. What we have been told now is once they land, there will be that brief ceremony. Only the closest of family members, the six grandparents and one great-grandmother will be at the airport. President Fidel Castro will not be at the airport. The government will be represented by Ricardo Alarcon who is the president of the Cuban assembly.

From there, the family will be whisked away to another undisclosed location where they will meet up with the people who were traveling on the second plane. They will spend a little bit of time there, and then they will not be going to Cardenas, Cuba. But instead, they will be going to that half-way house in Miramar. Initially the speculation was they would go there, then it changed. Now it's back to Cardenas. We are told that they will spend two to three weeks in Cardenas.

And then once they finish the two or three week stay here in -- outside of Havana, then they will go to Cardenas and then the family will go on a one-to-two-week vacation at an undisclosed location.

So, again, the latest word is that President Fidel Castro will not be at the airport and that the family will spend two or three weeks outside of Havana, just a short distance outside of Havana, in the suburb of Miramar -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John, do we know with why the government has decided to be so subdued in its arrival ceremony tonight?

ZARRELLA: Well, all along the government has been saying that when the boy returns, when his father and the family return, they do not want to politicize this. They do believe this is a victory, no question about it. But they have been maintaining right along that this is not a time for them to be cheering and standing and screaming.

And what they have been saying is that this is a time for the Cuban government, the Cuban people, to becoming even stronger and more committed in their efforts against the tyranny of the United States, as they call it, and to continue pressing for some relief from the legislation that has been passed that's tightened the strangle-hold on Cuba, the economic sanctions, the embargo.

So they believe that this is just the beginning of a long fight, but that Elian Gonzalez and his family will be out of the picture from now on and no longer in front of the cameras or the spotlights. So it has been right in line with what the Cuban government has been saying right long, that this is not a time to celebrate because their work is only beginning, is the way they put it -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John Zarrella, thank you for joining us by the phone. And we'll be back to you throughout the evening.

The Clinton administration has been advocating Elian's return to Cuba for months. Our John King is at the White House where the president held a news conference earlier today.

And John, he had plenty to say about the today's developments and the future. KING: He certainly did, Jeanne. This is a controversy that not only turned the spotlight on U.S. immigration law and U.S. relations with Cuba, but also became quite a domestic political controversy largely because of the political influence of the Cuban-American community, especially in the very important presidential political state of Florida. President Clinton asked about this today. He said he realized this was a controversy. He hoped now as the young boy headed home the domestic political side of it would calm down here in the United States.

For all the complications, though, the president said he believed the administration had handled this case just about as well as it could have. And he said in the end he believed that it came out just like he thought that it should, that a young boy should be with his father.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If he and his father had decided they wanted to stay here, it would be fine with me. But I think that the most important thing is that his father was adjudged by people who made an honest effort to determine that he was a good father, a loving father, committed to the son's welfare. And we upheld here what I think is a quite important principle, as well as what is clearly the law of the United States.


KING: Now looking ahead at the future of U.S.-Cuba relations, the president said he would look at legislation gaining steam in the Congress that would ease some of the economic sanctions. The legislation would allow the sale of food from the United States in Cuba, also would allow the sale of U.S. medicines. The president said he needed to look at the fine print to make sure the legislation in no way restricted his authority as the president, but that he was open to easing those specific sanctions.

However, he turned a bit angry when asked if he thought was time in the United States to drop the 40-year-old policy against the Castro government, and move to normalize relations. The president said that steps were being made in that direction at the beginning of his administration. But he said all that ended when Fidel Castro and the Cuban air force ordered planes carrying American citizens shot down four years ago.


CLINTON: The deliberate decision to murder those people changed everything. And it made me wonder whether Mr. Castro was hoping we never would normalize relations so then he could use us as an excuse for the failures of his regime.


KING: Obviously, the vice president, Al Gore, was caught up in the political controversy here at home about this. He broke from the president, said that he believed this should have been handled in the state court system in Florida, not in the federal courts. Aides to the vice president hoping this all quiets down. Spoke to a senior Gore campaign official a short time ago who said, if asked the vice president would stand by his position, which is clearly contrary to the president. But in the words of this official -- quote -- "We're hoping this one just goes away" -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John King at the White House, thank you.

And Elian Gonzalez now en route to Cuba. And we will bring you more on the day's events and what they mean when our coverage continues. Stay with us.


MESERVE: And welcome back to our coverage over the return of Elian Gonzalez to Havana. He is in the air right now.

The political wrangling over the Gonzalez case escalated as the legal battle over the boy's custody wore one.

CNN's Bruce Morton takes a look back.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They found him on an inner tube last Thanksgiving. His mother and 10 others drowned. The next day, authorities turned Elian over to his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. The day after that, his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez demanded his son's return to Cuba and 6-year-old Elian became world's most famous political foot kid.

December 10th: Lazaro Gonzalez applies for political asylum for Elian. January 5th: the INS decides he belongs with his father and must be returned. The Miami relatives head for the courts.

January 6th: Al Gore, "This should be determined not in the political process, but by due process." But by the 10th, he is questioning whether the Immigration Service should make the decision. January 17th: a debate in Iowa. If the father cannot come here --


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Then the matter should be addressed in our domestic-relations courts.


MORTON: March 29th: two Republican senators, Graham of Florida and Smith of New Hampshire, introduce a bill to give permanent resident status to Elian.

The next day, Gore announces his support: "I am urging Congress to immediately pass legislation...which would grant permanent resident status to Elian..."

This is a break with President Clinton.


JAKE SIEWART, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The vice president made a judgment that he thinks there should be a change in the law. We disagree with that.


MORTON: April 6th: Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father, flies to the U.S. Gore calls for negotiations.


GORE: Because that's the ideal solution. Let the entire family, including the Florida relatives, talk with one another.


MORTON: That same day, Bush noted Gore's changing position on the matter.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The vice president seems to have had several positions on this issue. I believe, and have said all along, that if the Congress were to pass a citizenship, I would support that -- a citizenship for Elian.


MORTON: The Miami relatives refused to hand Elian over. So April 22nd, federal agents storm the house and take Elian to Washington. He is reunited with his father.

Gore is ambivalent. After that, the family lost in the courts, finally, in the Supreme Court. Critics roasted Gore for seeming to pander to the Miami Cuban community. And Elian goes home.

Will he be able to take all the toys? And what will he make of the strange world he's seen -- lawyers and relatives and cops and Barney, all muddled up somehow? And what will home seem like after all the circuses he's seen here?

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


MESERVE: And now to CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider who's in Los Angeles.

Bill, now that Elian is going home, what are the political implications? Were there any winners in this matter?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in a word, Jeanne, no. This was a real hot-button issue, and everyone who touched this issue politically got burned. Certainly, the Cuban-American community were badly burned on this issue. They have never been so politically isolated since they came to this country, many of them starting in the late 1950s, and now one of their worst nightmares seems to be coming true. We're seeing the beginning of some diplomatic openings to Cuba, some breaks in the embargo allowing American farmers to sell food to Cuba. This is a nightmare for Cuban-Americans. Republicans and conservatives, many of them sympathize with Cuban-Americans, were outraged by administration policy, but when they started to take this up in Congress and had hearings, they saw how explosive it was, and they had to back down.

Al Gore, as we just heard, from Bruce Morton, got badly burned when he split with the administration and appeared to be pandering on the issue. Janet Reno was widely criticized for not acting, and then when she finally acted, the way she handled it was badly criticized.

The two politicians I think who came off the best were President Clinton and George W. Bush, because they sort of kept a distance from the issue. They didn't touch it, they didn't get burned.

MESERVE: Bill, let me go back to Vice President Al Gore. He was perceived to flip-flop on this issue. Could it hurt him in November?

SCHNEIDER: It certainly could. And I think there were a couple of problems that the issue raised for hi. He wanted to distance himself from the Clinton administration, but he picked a wrong time to do this, because he defied public opinion on this issue. He appeared to be pandering to Cuban voters in Florida, apparently on the hope that he would keep Florida, which voted for Clinton in 1996, although it had voted for Bush in 1992. He wanted to keep Florida in the Democratic column.

I think the worst damage was that it confirmed the impression that a lot of Americans had that he is a man totally driven by politics. It seemed to be a political calculation, and that stuck with him. It was a very bad move that has really created the impression that he's just like Bill Clinton. Instead of distancing himself from Clinton, I think it made Americans think he's driven by politics, just like president Clinton is.

MESERVE: Bill, the public rarely cared about the Elian story one way or the other. Did public opinion, in fact, have an impact on the outcome of the case?

SCHNEIDER: Well, if you had to say there was a winner in this, I would say it was the American public. The American public always insisted on seeing this case in human terms. This was a family issue. A child had lost his mother, and they believed that he should be reunited with his father. Now Cuban-Americans and a lot of conservatives in this country insisted that it wasn't simply a human issue, it was also a political issue. The father is a communist. That was confirmed to us by the Cuban Interests Section, and they did not believe that this boy should be raised in Cuba. Some of them said, he wouldn't be raised by his father and stepmother; he'd be raised by the Cuban state, and he shouldn't be allowed to go back to a dictatorship.

But Americans refused to see this case, steadfastly refused to see it in political terms at all. They insisted the boy should be reunited with his father, that that was the right thing do, and we kept finding in poll after poll that Americans would not see this case in political terms. It was wholly a human case. And public opinion really won out on this issue, because the public said that they would be very angry with any politician who tried to politicize it, and in the end, American public opinion prevailed, and we just heard Juan Miguel Gonzalez at Dulles Airport say, he thanked the American public, he found them warm and sympathetic. Believe me, he had a lot of Americans to thank, because they supported him -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Bill Schneider in Los Angeles, thanks.

We're going to go not to Gary Tuchman in Miami. Gary's been covering a press conference by the Miami relatives spokesman and their attorneys.

Gary, bring us up to speed.

TUCHMAN: Well, Jeanne, they are devastated, heartbroken and they believe it was all unfair. Those were the words from the attorneys for the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez. They just finished a news conference here at a restaurant in Miami. We've seen them a lot over the last seven months. We probably won't seem them very much anymore, because this legal case is completely over with Elian going back.

Marisleysis, Elian's cousin, and Lazaro, Elian's great uncle, were not at this news conference. The lawyers say they were too heartbroken to attend. They say that the lawyers, that the family members are taking it very tough.

Something very interesting, a lawyer said that Lazaro, the great uncle, shortly before that airplane took off at 4:41 Eastern Time, he received a phone call from the U.S. Justice Department in Washington. The Justice Department told Lazaro that Juan Miguel, the father, wanted to talk to him and wanted to get Lazaro's cell phone number before so he could talk to him before he left for Cuba. But the lawyers say that Lazaro waited for the phone call, didn't get it. The Justice Department called back and said Juan Miguel ran out of time, but said he would call Lazaro when he gets to Cuba.

We then ask, has Lazaro and Juan Miguel ever had a conversation on the phone before? And we were told by a family spokesman that two weeks ago they did have a phone conversation. The father, the great uncle, both ends of this family dispute. Great uncle Lazaro told the father, according to the attorneys, that you are not a free man, you should not go back to Cuba, you should stay here. We then asked, what did Juan Miguel say to him? Knowing, obviously that's hearsay, hearing it from them, but they say, or they claim, that Juan Miguel could not say anything because Cuban authorities were near him. That's what they say, but they did have a conversation, apparently, two weeks ago. Either way, they say they are very devastated, sad about it.

One of the issues we things that we wanted to talk about with the attorneys was an offer the father made. The father sent the family here a letter saying if you drop all legal action, you, the Miami relatives, can visit Elian. We asked the attorneys here why that offer wasn't accepted?


EIG: The Miami family, as much as they wanted to see Elian and as much as it hurts them to see him go without having a chance to see him again, would never sacrifice what they thought was in Elian's interest for their own gratification in seeing him. This case was always about protecting Elian from a dangerous and difficult future, and as much as they would have liked to see him, now that they know that he's going to say goodbye to him, to kiss him for one last time, they would have never done anything to harm him in order to get that opportunity.


TUCHMAN: It was just over two months ago that we saw that incredibly dramatic scene, the raid at the home here in Little Havana, and that was the last these Miami relatives saw of Elian Gonzalez in person. They never saw him again.

I close this report with the words from one of attorneys here today, Roger Bernstein. He said -- quote -- "One day I hope Elian will come back to the United States as a free man and not on a raft with his father."

Jeanne, back to you.

MESERVE: Gary, I wanted to ask you a question about a remark made by the family spokesman. He said, "We will fight for Elian to be free." What did he mean? Where can he fight?

TUCHMAN: Jeanne, excuse me, what did you at the very beginning of that statement by the family.

MESERVE: The family spokesman said, "We will still fight for Elian to be free." Where will they wage that battle?

TUCHMAN: Well, there's two ways they'll wage that battle. They say they will continue to speak out. They realize the legal case is done. There are no other courts in this country above the Supreme Court that will hear this. They will continue to speak out, they say, about Elian and other refugees.

But one other point that they brought up, and this relates back to a statement made by family members earlier today, the family had said that Lazaro Gonzalez will not give up the fight and everyone was wondering what that meant, and there was another quote in the statement, and that was, "Man has decided, but God will have the final ruling." And they hope that God helps them out in a fight, a fight they couldn't win with the American justice system. MESERVE: Gary Tuchman, in Miami, thanks for the latest on that press conference.

We'll have more information, more analysis when our coverage continues. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: Joining us now, Kate O'Beirne of the "National Review" and Margaret Carlson of "Time" magazine.

Kate, I am just going to say one word: Elian.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Who? Oh, the poor little guy is gone. I didn't favor his return to Castro, but ever since that Easter Saturday morning, when it was clear the Clinton administration would go to such extraordinary lengths to return him to Cuba, tonight has been inevitable. We knew he was going back. I suppose, given that he was heading back, it's just as well he left before Independence Day, Jeanne. Imagine him saying, you know: Papa, what are the fireworks and flags all about? And it spares Juan the embarrassing explanation to this poor little guy about our own Independence Day, because he is back with Castro.

MESERVE: Margaret?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Oh, Kate, we've been through this before. I think this is the last time, though. The interesting thing that is left about this story is that it's not going to be a story that much longer. We saw it fade in the period when the father came and took him off to Wye Plantation and then to Northwest Washington. Without the little pictures of little Elian sliding down that sliding board everyday, and the hysterical Miami relatives, the story was, you know, no longer a headline.

This is the last gasp of that story. And whether anybody can motivate votes over this I think is doubtful.

O'BEIRNE: Well, clearly the Cuban-Americans will care a lot.

MESERVE: And will they be blaming Al Gore in November?

O'BEIRNE: I think they broadly blame Democrats despite Al Gore's attempt to distance himself from Clinton on this one. Cuban-Americans supported Bill Clinton in 1996. Given how the Democrats broadly favor the child's return, I don't think they're going to be doing that again.

MESERVE: Has Al Gore lost support elsewhere because of this issue?

O'BEIRNE: I think, Al Gore -- yes -- attempted to -- I don't think that it's all bad that Al Gore attempted to go against public opinion. That might benefit Al Gore, given the rap on him -- is that he bends and shapes himself, you know, with the political breeze. But this issue, it did not help him on. Again, the backdrop, though, is that he flips all over the place in order to be a pleaser.

CARLSON: It tapped into the sense that he's had other flip- flops, and to that extent, it hurt him. As Bill Schneider said earlier, George W. Bush benefited by staying way away from it. And I'm not sure that Al Gore was ever going to able to take great advantage, you know, of Clinton having won Florida, in that Jeb Bush is the governor of Florida. George W. Bush was coming in. Cuban- Americans traditionally vote Republican. It was a Hail Mary pass for Gore even, you know, to get into this and think he could snag that back. I think we are just back to where we were in Florida.

MESERVE: Florida Senator Bob Graham has been mentioned in the veep-stakes. Is this going to affect his chances?.

O'BEIRNE: It might not be enough. The community there, as Margaret correctly notes -- a Republican governor who happens to be related to the Republican nominee.

CARLSON: Just happens to be.

O'BEIRNE: Exactly. It is highly doubtful that even putting Bob Graham, Senator Bob Graham, on the ticket would do the trick for Al Gore in Florida, especially given the hostility on the part of those Cuban-Americans.

CARLSON: I think that Elian actually hurt Bob Graham's chances. It would be a good choice in many other ways, but that this -- I think the story is dead, but it would stir it up if Bob Graham were chosen by Al Gore.

MESERVE: How do you think this whole episode has affected the influence of the Miami Cuban community?

O'BEIRNE: It's hurt their influence, absolutely. It was a loss for them. They were knocked back on their heels. I think they were terribly unfairly untreated. I don't think the case they were making on behalf of this child having his day in court to determine the best interests was fairly made. But, right away, on the heels of this case, those who wanted to modify the embargo saw the weakness on the part of the community, and has moved now to try to soften the embargo. That would have not happened a year ago.

CARLSON: It created a new voting block, which is anti-anti- Castro Cuban-Americans. It didn't exist before this, or it was, you know, totally asleep. And they went too far. Yes, there was a case to made, but they made it some what hysterically. And the Miami relatives put themselves on the same plane as a parent, as the father. And trying to take that status among Republicans, who believe in family values, was a dissident, a very dissident note to strike.

MESERVE: This has really focused on U.S.-Cuban relations. Where do they go from here?

O'BEIRNE: Well, there is a growing sentiment on Capitol Hill, given the weakness of the Cuban-American community, to try to soften things, to try to warm up things some. Apparently, an awful lot of our farmers, for instance, want to modify the food embargo. They seem to think that's there's gold in them there hills, on that bankrupt island. And so that is the attempt being made now.

CARLSON: It should have been done before, and that Republicans are leading it -- Governor -- I mean George Nethercutt in Washington thinks his reelection prospects hinge on farmers in Washington somehow picking up this business, saying there are good reasons to lift the food and medicine embargo -- a windfall for farmers in Washington state is not among them.

O'BEIRNE: Castro has no cash. And they are not going to extend credit, so it remains to be seen whether or not this is going to be any big economic boom.

MESERVE: Kate O'Beirne, Margaret Carlson, thank you both.

And we will have more on Elian Gonzalez and his return to Cuba when we continue.


MESERVE: It's a story that began seven months ago when little Elian Gonzalez was picked up off an inner tube off the Florida coast by two fisherman. He had spent 50 hours on that inner tube after his mother and 10 others lost their lives trying to flee Cuba. Right now, he is on a journey back to his homeland. His father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, spoke at Dulles Airport near Washington before he left, thanking the American people for their support. And family spokesmen also held a press conference, saying this was a tough time for them, that they regretted that the little boy was going to back to a country where he would not be free.

And now our coverage continues with Wolf Blitzer.


This story is continuing. There's no doubt that there's going to be some excitement in Havana once Elian Gonzalez lands there. We're expecting that landing within the next two hours or so.

CNN's coverage is continuing.

Elian Gonzalez is nearing the end of his American odyssey. The six-year-old boy began his trip home leaving Washington about an hour and a half ago, on his way back to Cuba.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

More than seven months ago he was pulled from the sea and brought to the United States. Now Elian Gonzalez is flying back to Cuba with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. They left the Washington area at about 4:40 p.m. local time.

Lucia Newman, our Havana bureau chief is standing by in Havana with the latest as Cubans anticipate the imminent arrival of Elian Gonzalez -- Lucia. LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Good evening, Wolf. I'm speaking to you here from the Jose Marti International Airport where Elian Gonzalez is expected to return to his home country in just about an hour and a half, that is, if the weather cooperates. It's raining right now and there's a lot of lightning. But his small plane is expected to land here in about an hour and a half. And it will be a very small ceremony, we are told. In contrast to...

BLITZER: We are obviously having some technical problems with Lucia Newman. We will get back to her, of course, as soon as those problems are resolved.

Meanwhile, Kate Snow has been following these developments over at Dulles Airport outside of Washington D.C. in northern Virginia. That's where Elian Gonzalez took off from about an hour and half or so ago.

Kate, what was the mood as the little boy and his father and the entourage left Washington?

SNOW: Wolf, I think exuberance is probably the best way to describe it. People very enthusiastic. A small party out here at Dulles International Airport to say goodbye to Elian and his family, his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

They took off here only about 40 minutes after the court order that had been holding Elian in the United States expired. Forty minutes after that order was over, they took off in two small chartered private planes. Elian and his family in one of those planes, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his father, pausing at the door, picking up son, waving to the crowd. And then you see him at one point make a fist, right there, as if to say that they have won, that they are returning home now.

The crowd here including lawyers, members of the legal team for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, also including friends of his and members of the Cuban interest section. That's the Cuban diplomats here in Washington D.C. And they all listened along with the cameras as Juan Miguel Gonzalez spoke about making friends in his three months in the United States.

Well, apparently we don't have that sound. But Juan Miguel Gonzalez commented that he felt he had enjoyed his visit, that he felt welcomed by the American people. He said they intelligent people. They are friendly people. And I'm so glad that I have met them. I can take this impression back to Cuba with me. Let's hear what he had to say.


GONZALEZ (through translator): I would like the thank the North American people for the support they have given us and to the U.S. government. I think that this has allowed me to meet very beautiful and intelligent people in this country. And I hope that in the future this same friendship and this same impression that I have of the U.S. people, that the same thing can become true between both our countries -- Cuba and the U.S.

I am very grateful for the support I have received. I am extremely happy of being able to go back to my homeland and I don't have words really to express what I feel. Thank you.


SNOW: Interest to note that Juan Miguel Gonzalez spoke without any notes in front of him, speaking, perhaps, off the cuff, from the heart, There you see his attorney Greg Craig shaking hands and hugging some of the other members here present for the take-off. Also some of the Cuban interest section diplomats here as well.

Attorney Greg Craig there in the middle of your screen was all smiles throughout this. He says that he's so happy that this is over. He's relieved that it's over. He also said something interesting, though, Wolf. He said that he had made a good friend in Juan Miguel Gonzalez and he was a little bit sad to see him go. He say he may not never see -- may never see that good friend again.

Kate Snow reporting live from Dulles International Airport. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kate, before you go, there was -- it was a really modest low-key event at Dulles International Airport. Only one speaker really, who came before that microphone, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Was there ever any anticipation that Greg Craig, other supporters of Juan Miguel Gonzalez would speak and express their feelings on this day?

SNOW: Right. It's interesting that you point that out. It was a low-key affair. And it was on purpose. We asked if we might be able to speak with Greg Craig afterwards or with some of the other family members -- friends, I should say. And we were denied that. They said, no, we want just Juan Miguel Gonzalez to speak on behalf of the family today. We want his voice to be the one that carries the message.

BLITZER: Kate Snow at Dulles International Airport, thanks.

CNN's Miami bureau chief John Zarrella is in Havana covering these latest developments. And he joins us now live.

John, you've been watching this all day. What's going on right now?

ZARRELLA: Well, Wolf, the weather here at least is far different where Lucia Newman is out at the airport where they are in the midst of a tropical downpour, lightening and thunder storm.

What I can tell you that -- is that the plan is that when the family arrives back here in Havana in an hour and a half or so as Lucia Newman reported, there will be a very small gathering at the airport. Just the immediate family. President Fidel Castro will not be there. The president of the Cuban assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, will represent the government. But just the grandmothers will be there and one great-grandmother will be there.

Then the family will go to another location where they will meet up with the people who flew in on the second airplane. And after a brief get-together there, they will then go to the Miramar safe house that we have been talking about all day.

At first it was thought that perhaps they would go right back to their hometown, but that's not going to be the case. They are going to go to Miramar with Elian, his family and some of the school children, his friends, and they will spend two to three weeks there. And after that two-to-three-week period, then they will return to their hometown and then go on a long vacation, perhaps a week to two weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, there was always some suspicion, some fear among Cuban-Americans, other supporters of the Miami relatives, that Fidel Castro would use little Elian as some sort of propaganda tool immediately upon his arrival, have photographs with him, pictures with him, and have a huge rally, for example, in Havana. I take it that decision has not been made.

ZARRELLA: Correct. Our understanding, Lou -- or I'm sorry, Wolf, is for that very reason they are not doing that. They do not want to show Fidel Castro embracing Elian Gonzalez. At least not at this point and not publicly. They've made a concerted effort to keep this extremely low-key here.

Although you must point out that they have used Elian Gonzalez's case for the past several months and certainly ratcheted it up in the last several weeks, to do some saber-rattling of their own. The Cuban government beating home their displeasure with the embargo, with several pieces of legislation which have tightened the embargo over the years. And the Elian Gonzalez saga gave them that platform to do that. And they promise that will continue even though the Gonzalez family returns here. They see this, really, as a window of opportunity, perhaps their best window in 40 years, in which to try to make some hay in the United States pressing their case that they want the sanctions against them lifted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: OK. John Zarrella in Havana, thanks.

In Little Havana in Miami, CNN's Mark Potter is standing by. A lot of disappointed Cuban-Americans are standing by as well -- Mark.

POTTER: Wolf, indeed. Here in Miami's Little Havana news from the Supreme Court was met with both anger and sadness. Now outside the Gonzalez family home here, where Elian stayed with his relatives for several months, there was only a small group of protesters, but among them emotions ran high.

Later, the demonstrators settled down to watch TV. They saw Elian walking to the airplane. They saw the aircraft taxing down the runway, and then watched it taking off, bringing this seven-month saga in Miami finally to the a close. Many of the protesters as that moment wept. Some clung to the fence outside the family home and cried openly. Others shouted out their anger. A spokesman for the Gonzalez family said they were devastated by Elian's return to Cuba where they said the father could not give him the freedom that his mother had died for. It was a sentiment also expressed by the family's lead attorney, Kendall Coffey.


COFFEY: We are truly heartbroken at this moment with the sense of sadness that an injustice has occurred. And especially a sense of sadness in our concern for this child. But the spirit and the commitment that brought us to this moment remain unbroken and undiminished.

The family that heard the dying wish of Elizabet Brotons -- that her son would have a life of freedom and an opportunity to be in this country -- is a family that is extraordinary and heroic.

With heart, with courage, with passionate commitment to their beliefs, it's an inspiration to anyone. And in so many ways, that family reflects this community.


POTTER: In its statement, the family asked the community to accept the court ruling and to remain calm, and that is exactly what happened. There were no major demonstrations in Miami. Police say the community was quiet. There was no violence.

Political activists say they will now concentrate their efforts on trying to bring freedom to Cuba, so that in their words, there will be no more Elians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mark, we had heard that a last-minute meeting between the Miami relatives and little Elian Gonzalez could have been possible if the family, if the relatives in Miami, their legal team, had dropped their last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court. Was there any ever serious consideration given to that option?

POTTER: In a word, no. The family never wanted to drop its legal options, and so there was no chance of their being a meeting. The family stayed here in Miami, knowing that the last moments of this case in the United States would play out in Washington. They stayed here. They left this house this morning. They went to church. They are now in seclusion. They never had a chance, given that as the requirements set down by the father, they never had a chance of seeing the boy off the Cuba.

BLITZER: OK, Mark Potter, in Little Havana, in Miami, thanks for joining us.

POTTER: And you can go online to track the progress of the family's plane as it makes its way back to Cuba: Log-on to Using the identifying numbers on the plane's tail, N800LL, the site follows the position, route, speed and direction of the flight. Right now, it's not far from Macon, Georgia. And we have a lot more on this continuing story. We'll be joined by CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack, as well as the White House view from our own White House correspondent Major Garrett.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of Elian Gonzalez' return to Cuba. We're now Joined by CNN White House correspondent Major Garrett, who's been following this story. The president had a news conference today, major, and he spoke about U.S.- Cuba relations.


The president received several questions about the topic, but before I get to that, I would say the White House reaction here has been one of quiet relief. White House officials recognize that although the saga, the odyssey of Elian Gonzalez is over, the question of the fate of U.S.-Cuban relations is not. That's a topic that was very lively at the president's press conference today.

He said in the early stages he of his administration, years 1993, '94 and '95, he was moving to gradually normalize relations with Cuba, but then something happened in 1996 that changed everything: the February 24, 1996 downing of two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft by the Cuban MiG aircraft that killed three Americans and one resident alien. After that, the president said, everything changed politically for the worse.


CLINTON: The killing of those innocent people in those two airplanes changed all that, and now we're in a position where, until there's a bipartisan majority of Congress persuaded that there has been a fundamental change, we can't more than what I've been doing, which is try to aggressively expand people-to-people contacts.


GARRETT: Now, of course, Wolf, after that downing, the Congress passed and the president signed the Helms-Burton legislation, which codified into U.S. the embargo which was started against Cuba in 1962.

Now there has been a gradual move in Congress this year to as least lift that embargo in some small way. Considering is currently considering an effort to allow U.S. agricultural industries to sell food to Cuba, although there are very many cumbersome restrictions on that, many people consider that legislation, which is as yet unresolved and the president has yet to sign, a symbolic move. But as you know from your experience covering Washington, sometimes symbolic moves also lead to greater breakthroughs later.

The White House has had difficulty dealing with the whole Cuba trade embargo issue, because as the Elian Gonzalez case has proceeded, the president has pushed very hard to open up trade with China. He's also looking to regularize trade with North Korea. And the question always comes to the administration, if that policy would work in those nations, wouldn't it work in Cuba?


BLITZER: Major, the president, of course, knows that this legislation is moving rapidly through Congress. Only yesterday, did it get an enormous boost. For the first time in 40 years, the U.S. would be easing food and medical sanctions against Cuba. A lot of people think it's not a coincidence that this legislation is moving through just as the Elian custody battle has been resolved. What are they saying at the White House about a possible shift in U.S. governmental policy toward Cuba?

GARRETT: What they're saying at the White House is, essentially, Congress, you go first. The White House has been very ginger about this subject, not wanting to move too fast, in the aftermath of what the president clearly said today was an offense against international law in the downing of those two Cuban Brothers to the Rescue planes. The president has understood and White House officials have told CNN that they would much prefer Congress to move on this path, and then the White House will still reserve its ability the object. There are a couple of key elements of that legislation, Wolf, that the White House objects to.

One, it would codify current restrictions on travel to Cuba. When the president mentioned this soundbite, people-to-people contacts, the legislation might make that more difficult. That's a troubling issue for the White House. Another troubling issue is that the Congress would require the president to ask them in the future, not only this president, but all future presidents, if he wanted to impose sanctions on other nations. That president doesn't like that provisions. He says that would hamstring not only himself, but future presidents.

This issue is far from resolved, but as you mentioned, a significant breakthrough in Congress with some consideration of lifting trade sanctions with Cuba --Wolf.

BLITZER: OK, Major Garrett, at the White House. The plane carrying Elian Gonzalez is over Georgia. We're expecting that it will land in Havana within about an hour and a half, hour 45 minutes or so from now. We'll of course be monitoring that trip as it continues.

Meanwhile, CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack is here in our Washington bureau.

Roger, was there ever any legal doubt as to how this case would be resolved?

COSSACK: Well, I don't thins so. You know, there was an issue, a legitimate issue, that went to the United States Supreme Court based on a divergency between circuits in the United States.

As you know, our court of appeals, our federal court of appeals, are divided into circuits, and there is some law from other circuits that might be contrary to what the 11th Circuit held in the Elian Gonzalez case. But cases are fact driven, Wolf. And I believe in this case, it was a pretty much of a done deal once the 11th Circuit came up and said unanimously that the INS had not acted unreasonably in making its decision to deny Elian Gonzalez a political asylum hearing. I think once they decided that, the die was cast.

BLITZER: You know, when Juan Miguel Gonzalez arrived in the United States in April, a lot of people thought this could drag on even much longer than it has. It's now the end of June. Is this relatively quickly that it's been resolved, or did it go on, legally speaking, much too long?

COSSACK: Well, I will say this. You know, the legal system gets a bad rap, and sometimes deservedly so. This is one of those times where, whether you like the outcome or you don't, the legal system worked, and worked quickly. There was a resolution. Court of appeals heard it. People had their days in court. Yes, Elian Gonzalez, it was decided, did not get to make a statement as a six-year-old, and ask for political asylum. But nevertheless, there was a hearing. And to answer your question, yes, it was done expeditiously.

BLITZER: In the U.S. judicial process, precedent, obviously, always is important. What if any precedents will be used from this case that will have an impact in future immigration asylum kinds of cases?

COSSACK: Well, I think that what this does is further generally a position that really has been going along by the Supreme Court towards the INS, which is to give the INS more and more power. Now, you might want to say, you know, perhaps that's something that shouldn't happen, this bureaucratic agency that gets its own power. Remember, it was reviewed by the 11th Circuit, the decision of the INS was reviewed on the bases of reasonableness: Did they act unreasonably in denying a political asylum hearing?

So I think this is one decision that, in some ways, furthers the power of the INS. One could argue that, if you don't like that, one could argue that perhaps too much power is given to the INS, and not enough review by the courts. But I think that's probably what you take away from this, which is the fact that if the INS -- it will be judged on whether or not they act reasonably versus unreasonably.

BLITZER: Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives had a large team, a legal team, in Miami, several lawyers, many of whom were on television a lot during the course of these many months. If you're going to look back and criticize or critique their legal strategy in trying to keep Elian Gonzalez here in the United States, is there anything they did that was wrong?

COSSACK: You know, I wouldn't go back and be a Monday-morning quarterback on what they did. They played, you know, the facts that they had. And they went the correct procedures. You know, immigration law is a federal -- is within the federal jurisdiction. States can't set up their own immigration law polices for obvious reasons. They obviously hoped they could get more into the Florida courts -- although, when they did get a hearing and a decision from a Florida court, it went against them too.

They just, unfortunately, were on the -- for them, at least -- were on the wrong side of the law in this case. And eventually, it worked out that way. But in terms of looking over their shoulder, and say: You should have done this. You should have zigged here instead of zagged, I couldn't do that.

BLITZER: And as far as the other legal side, the other legal team was concerned, you had Greg Craig, the lawyer for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, backed up by the U.S. Justice Department, which basically was on the same team. That's a tough combination to beat.

COSSACK: Yes, that's almost an impossible combination to beat. You know, once the government took the position that it did, which was that Elian Gonzalez should be -- should go back to Cuba and should be with his father, you then had that sort of dynamite position, if you will, of having the federal government coming in before the United States Supreme Court, in front of all of these courts, and taking a position contrary to the Miami family. And you know, once that happened, it was pretty much over for them.

BLITZER: OK, Roger Cossack, our legal analyst. As always, thanks for joining us.

We have to take another quick break. More coverage of Elian Gonzalez's return to Cuba when we return.


BLITZER: You can go online, of course, and track the progress of the family's plane as it makes way to Cuba. The plane is now flying over Georgia. We're told it's not far from Macon, Georgia. The plane is being monitored: the identifying numbers on the plane's tail, N800LL. It shows, with global positioning, the route, speed, and direction of the flight.

Our coverage of Elian Gonzalez's return to Cuba will continue in a moment.


BLITZER: CNN's John Zarrella is in Havana, awaiting the return of Elian Gonzalez.

John, what's going on right now?

ZARRELLA: Well, Wolf, it's very quiet really here on the streets of Havana, not much going on at all in the streets. And that's part of plan. The Cuban government wanted to keep this very low-key. Once the plane does land, a very brief airport reception; just the most immediate members of the Gonzalez family: the grandmothers and one great grandmother will be there, along with an uncle and a very special close young cousin..

From there, they will catch up with group that's arriving on the second plane at another location. Then they going to Miramar, to that halfway house we've been talking about -- not going right back to Cardenas, Cuba -- going to the halfway house, Cuban government says, for about two to three weeks, during which time Elian Gonzalez and his family will -- the other children will continue their studies, and then eventually go on a long vacation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Zarrella in Havana, thanks. And our coverage of Elian Gonzalez's return to Havana will continue. We will have live coverage of his arrival in Havana. We're expecting that around 8:00 p.m. Eastern. CNN will be monitoring developments.

For now, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.




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