||Bill Press is co-host of CNN's Crossfire. This column is in Sunday editions of the Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2000; reprinted courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.|
Federal marshals beat Elian's dad to door
Father was ready to go to Miami alone
Federal marshals swooped into Miami just in time. One more day of delay, and Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian's father, told me that we would have beat them to the door.
It's hard to imagine what a photo of that might have looked like. And, sure, it was unnerving to see the photo of an armed federal marshal standing alongside a frightened little Elian Gonzalez as he was carried out of his house in Miami.
But blame it on Lazaro Gonzalez and his family, not Attorney General Janet Reno. No violence at all would have been necessary, if Elian's Miami captors had only agreed to obey the law. Given their total lack of cooperation, Reno had no other choice.
And, of course, that first grim photo was soon overtaken by a second, much happier one: a very relaxed Elian, wearing a big grin, back in the arms of his father. If federal force was necessary to get that family back together again, it was worth it.
At midnight Friday, just four hours before Reno gave the order, Gonzalez told me: "I'm ready to go to Miami alone." He met with me and three American friends at a private gathering that lasted late into the night before his son's dramatic rescue.
Clearly frustrated and angry, Gonzalez said he had told Reno earlier on Friday that, because the U. S. government refused to act, he had decided his only option was to fly to Miami, accompanied by his second wife Nercy and their 7-month old son Hianny, walk up to his cousin's house, bang on the door and say: "I'm here for my son."
Warned by his attorneys and others that he might be in danger if he traveled alone, Gonzalez insisted that he was willing to take his chances. But first, he said, he would hold a news conference before leaving suburban Washington -- where he had been waiting since his arrival in the United States for Reno to deliver on her promise of reuniting him with his son -- and invite all Americans who agreed with him to join him in Miami.
"That would be the ultimate embarrassment for the United States," he observed, "for the people to do something their government could not."
Gonzalez was beaten down by endless negotiations with his uncle in Miami, Lazaro Gonzalez, who was still refusing to release his son. At 8:30 Friday night, in fact, he was summoned from our dinner party to join his attorney in downtown Washington to respond to still one more proposal -- for Juan Miguel and his family to share a compound with his Miami cousins for the next few weeks, while awaiting the outcome of an appeals court trial: a plan Gonzalez strongly rejected.
When he returned to the dinner, three hours later, he was dejected and downhearted.
Over a beer, Gonzalez lashed out: "They tell me I have to come here to get my son. Well, I've been here for over 15 days. I've been fighting my cousins in Miami. I have the law on my side. I have the top law enforcement officer of the United States on my side. Even the president of the United States says the law must be obeyed. And yet," he shrugged his head, "they still can't bring me my son? It's unbelievable!"
Somehow, despite it all, Gonzalez kept his sense of humor. "And after all that," he added with a smile, "everybody still wants to know why I don't want to live in the United States."
Gonzalez explained that, since he's been in the United States, he has traveled all over Washington with no Cuban guards or diplomats present, only Justice Department security. He has met alone with his attorneys, reporters and anti-Castro members of Congress. He said he has had hundreds of opportunities to flee with his wife and new son if he wanted to.
"Why doesn't anybody believe me when I say all I want to do is get my son and take my family back to Cuba?"
In the end, Juan Miguel Gonzalez didn't have to go to Miami. Janet Reno finally, and firmly, acted. She freed Elian Gonzalez with the least amount of trauma and violence necessary. She did the right thing.