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Who Is Looking out for the Best Interests of Elian Gonzalez?

Aired March 28, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



MARISLEYSIS GONZALEZ, ELIAN'S COUSIN: He has always said he wanted to stay here because this is where his mom brought him.



KAREN KRAUSHAAR, INS SPOKESPERSON: Each passing day is another day lost between Juan Gonzalez and his son.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, who is looking out for the best interests of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez? His Miami relatives, who want him to stay, or the Justice Department, which says he has to go?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire...

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. The U.S. government has set a deadline in its effort to send 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez back to his father in Cuba. Immigration officials met today with Miami relatives who are taking care of the little boy. An ultimatum was laid down to his great uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. He was given until Thursday to sign an agreement promising to turn over Elian as the courts finally rule against keeping him. Otherwise, the boy will be packed off to Cuba forthwith.

Will Lazaro Gonzalez sign? His daughter, the relative closest to Elian, is against it.


GONZALEZ: I wouldn't want my father to sign that. To me, that's betraying Elian.


NOVAK: The Immigration Service is still trying to get the uncle's signature.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KRAUSHAAR: Lazaro Gonzalez will be meeting with INS and Justice Department officials tomorrow afternoon. We hope that at that time he will agree to the very reasonable condition that we have set out as a condition of Elian's continued parole.


NOVAK: Meanwhile, ABC's "Good Morning America" ran the second in its three-part interview with Elian, but not in its entirety. The network said the boy told Diane Sawyer that he did not want to return, but it did not broadcast his exact words because of what the network called "the inflamed atmosphere."

So is Elian Gonzalez out of here? Is that a big win for Fidel Castro? And what's the political fallout at home?

We're talking -- we're going to get the answers to all that from two Congress -- members of the House of Representatives, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Congresswoman, you've said several times on the show, as we've discussed this issue before, that you wanted due process to apply in this case. A judge has ruled that the INS has jurisdiction in this matter. The family wants to appeal that and should have the right to appeal it. The INS is saying, as they do routinely in these matters, that the family that has custody in Miami should sign an agreement saying that if the court rules against them, they will turn the boy over to the Immigration authorities. Yet the family refuses to sign that agreement. Why?

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Well, first of all, to say that there's something usual about this case is, I think, a misnomer. Everything that has been handled in this case has been in an unusual way, and short-circuiting the judicial proceedings, as the Department of Justice is trying to do, is just one more example of it.

Everyone is allowed to appeal. This is a family that is a law- abiding family. They should not have to be forced to sign a document saying what they will and will not do. There's always an appeals process. This is a right that's granted to everyone. And any criminal would be afforded a right to appeal. Why is 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, whose mother died trying to get him to freedom, afforded no rights whatsoever?

It's an unnecessary document. It's harassment, and it's short- circuiting the judicial process. And that's unfair.

PRESS: Well, this case is unusual, but this request is not. It is a routine matter, because the -- the terms of the parole that the family is asking, if they will agree to the terms of the parole, which means that if they lose the appeal, they will abide by the law.

Are you saying here tonight...

ROS-LEHTINEN: But no judge has told them that. PRESS: Are you saying here tonight -- let me just change the question then. Will you abide by the law, yes or no?

ROS-LEHTINEN: It is a law-abiding family, and we have every expectation that they will abide by the law. However, no judge has told this family in a judicial hearing through a real process, a fair and impartial process, that they have to sign anything.

I think that the family should be afforded the same rights that anybody would. And in fact, the Court of Appeals in Atlanta has given them a date. They said: You filed in a timely manner. You filed in the correct manner. You filed the correct papers. And your hearing will in May.

Now Janet Reno says, oh no, no hearing in May until you do this and this and this. Let the judges in Atlanta settle this.

I don't think it's Janet Reno, one person, to decide the case. That's why we have laws and that's why we have appeals.

PRESS: You say you want a judge to speak. A judge did speak last week, a federal judge, and here's what Judge Michael Moore said. Just one sentence, I think, wraps it up.

Quote: "Each passing day is another day lost" -- this is the judge talking -- "between Juan Gonzalez and his son."

ROS-LEHTINEN: And I could give you other things.

PRESS: Why don't you let him go back to his father?

ROS-LEHTINEN: And I can give you other statements. For example, the statement made by the Department of Justice a few days after little Elian Gonzalez arrived on these shores of freedom, where INS said: We are not capable of ruling on a custody dispute; that will be decided by a family state court in the state of Florida. That was one statement. How about another statement that INS made just a few weeks after that, that they said let the appeals process take place and we will not take action until the appeals process is over.

So I can show you many statements that the Department of Justice and INS has made, and they're not willing to comply with any of those. Every day they have a new requirement. It is unfair.

NOVAK: Congressman Charles Rangel, let's get real. The fact of the matter is the boy's family in Miami has been pretty clear. Although they won't sign the document, that if law enforcement officials show up at the home, they will turn the boy over.

But the fact is that the Immigration Service and the administration doesn't want to send armed men into there because of the politics. Isn't that what the reality of it is?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Of course, I would say they don't want to send anyone in there. I don't understand what you mean the family has made it perfectly clear. What is perfectly clear is this: This young lad is in the custody of the Immigration. They have the official custody of this boy. They thought they were doing the right thing, rather than sending the kid -- without a mother, and his father in Cuba -- by placing it in the hands of loved ones. It turns out that the loved ones have created a political situation that now they are violating the rules of parole.

The federal government sets the rules of parole, and the courts have set the outline. Anytime the Immigration authorities want they can mandate that that child be produced, and if the child is not produced, you don't have to send the law people in there.

NOVAK: But that's the politics. They don't want to send...

RANGEL: Of course no. Because this is a charming, wonderful kid that was just made to be loved.

NOVAK: Now, something I've never understood...


RANGEL: ... one thing?


NOVAK: Just one thing, Charlie.


PRESS: Good, Charlie, progress.

NOVAK: You fought for your country bravely in Korea.

RANGEL: Our country.

NOVAK: You fought for our country bravely in Korea -- you won the Bronze Star -- against the communists. And you say -- you don't feel that there's any problem in sending this little boy into a communist dictatorship where they'll have mind control, he'll have to go to camps, he'll have to be controlled by Fidel Castro rather than living in the freedom of the great USA? You don't see a difference there?

RANGEL: That's a bitterness I used to feel until you Republicans told me that the best way to fight these ugly communists is by doing trade with them. You told me to allow a billion communists to join the World Trade Organization...

NOVAK: What's that go to do with...

RANGEL: ... that we should open up our doors...

NOVAK: ... sending a boy to Cuba?

RANGEL: Because if the communists in China that we're ready to do business with, why can't we do business with the communists in Cuba? Why can't we trade with Cuba? Why can't we use the same love and affection, exchanges of cultures in Cuba as we've got to use in China?

NOVAK: But you say that the boy would be just as well-living in a communist dictatorship as in the United States. Is that what you're saying?

RANGEL: No, no. What I'm trying to say, if you would let me, that a kid who's just lost one of his parents, not withstanding the political surroundings, is better off with the surviving parent.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, why don't we ask, why don't we ask Elian? You know, in all of these judicial proceedings never once has any United States official ever asked Elian what he would like.

Now I'm not saying that a 6-year-old...

RANGEL: As one lawyer to another, let me tell you this...

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... that a 6-year-old should decide. But I guarantee you that if Elian's position would be, "I want to go back," you would say listen to Elian. But because Elian so clearly says...

RANGEL: No, no, I don't think that's so.

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... I want to stay here, he would like his dad to come.


ROS-LEHTINEN: I know what I would do as a mom. I would want my child to be raised in the best...


NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, I have got one more question for you. Your friend Fidel Castro said...

RANGEL: You're getting mean tonight, aren't you? Go ahead.

NOVAK: ... said in Havana, he said of the family, "They are capable of killing the boy instead of returning him safe and sound to his country." He said that on Sunday. Isn't that outrageous?

RANGEL: I really think that it is. It's just as outrageous as he politicize it as those Cuban-Americans politicize it in Miami. Neither one of these sets of people are concerned about this young fellow.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Whoa! You're going to compare the Cuban-American exile community...

RANGEL: I am saying that they make it into a political...

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... when Fidel Castro denies the most basic human rights.

RANGEL: I... ROS-LEHTINEN: What drove Elian's mother here? What drove Elian's mother here? Freedom.


ROS-LEHTINEN: Liberty. Justice. This is the land of immigrants...

RANGEL: I understood -- it was somebody -- it was somebody that was a friend of hers, she took the risk.

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, that is...

RANGEL: This guy had been on the boat...


ROS-LEHTINEN: And that's what Elian would be facing: this kind -- this kind of country that brainwashes a child and wants to make his mother a demon. That is not right.

RANGEL: You don't think the father is a decent person? Is there reasons why he should not be with his father?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Let's have a court decide here. That's all we want. Let's have the father come. I think that would be great.

RANGEL: Should the father have -- should the father have to compete against Disneyland?

ROS-LEHTINEN: But I tell you what, I wouldn't take his word for it like INS has done. Let's have him come. We invite him and his family. Please come. Pick up your child.


PRESS: Let me get in...

RANGEL: That's a new twist.

PRESS: Let me get in with a question, also remind you that a court has decided this. The family is appealing it, which again is their right.

But I want to tell you, of all the things that have happened to this little kid, the thing that bothered me the most -- you know, I hate it when reporters when there's a plane crash run out to the airport, stick a microphone in a family's face, and say: "How do you feel? You lost your son. You lost your daughter."

Why did you ever let Diane Sawyer go down there stick a microphone in this little kid's face, and say, "What's it like to lose your mother?" Why did you do that to him?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I'm not the deciding person. I'm not a member of the family. But I bet that we had a lot of requests from CNN to do the very same thing...

PRESS: I don't care.

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... that Diane Sawyer did.

RANGEL: That doesn't mean that it's right.

PRESS: I don't care.

ROS-LEHTINEN: So I'm not saying that -- but what I would like to point out is that, as Mr. Novak said in his beginning statements, they did not have the courage in that station to say what Elian wanted to say, which is, I want to stay here. And we still have never heard from this little boy. And I think that his voice should be heard. One day somebody should ask...

RANGEL: But how -- how many illegal aliens get to the United States and say they want to stay? Do you know how many Haitians have been sent back?

ROS-LEHTINEN: And I'm a proud supporter of all the Haitians having their right. And if there were a little Haitian girl wanting to stay...

RANGEL: But she would be sent...

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... I would support her right as well.

RANGEL: But she would be sent back. Wouldn't she?

PRESS: Let me come -- let me come back to the interview. There was a...

ROS-LEHTINEN: That would be unfair, Charlie. If they had an equal...

PRESS: Please.

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... communist dictatorship, as they used to have.

PRESS: There was an outcry, an outcry around the country today and the last couple of days...

ROS-LEHTINEN: From whom?

PRESS: ... over this interview. From child psychologists. Let me just quote one of them. Yes, child psychologists are a laughing matter.

NOVAK: They are to me.

PRESS: They know nothing, they're not professional.

NOVAK: Right, exactly.

PRESS: Here's one, Dr. Butterworth in Los Angeles, who said -- quote -- of this interview, called it, "nothing short of psychological and political exploitation of a helpless victim."

My question to you is...

ROS-LEHTINEN: You could get five psychologists to say...

PRESS: Did you do that interview for his best interests or your best interests?

ROS-LEHTINEN: What is it to me? I'm not the one who decides. I don't understand.

PRESS: You're there with the family. I see you all the time with them.

ROS-LEHTINEN: But I will tell you this: If you want to quote one psychiatrist, I can give you five psychiatrists, including one and several who have spoken to Elian to say...

PRESS: Do you defend that interview?

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... to say that that little boy has really bonded with this family. He is loved. He is cared for. The special relationship that he has with his cousin, who is the same age, just one year younger, than his mother was when she perished trying to bring him to a better life of freedom. And I think that we should talk about a that bond and that relationship and what this separation is going to mean to him.

PRESS: Let's talk about the bond with his father, too. When we come back. We're going to take a break. And like everything else this year, this case of Elian Gonzalez does have a political dimension. When we come back, we'll ask the question: Will it be true that as Elian goes, so goes Florida and New Jersey?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. There's also a political dimension to the case of Elian Gonzalez, which may explain why not one candidate for president, not one, Republican or Democrat, has said the boy should be returned to his father in Cuba. So will Elian's fate determine who wins Florida and New Jersey this November? And will it all be decided this week?

In the crossfire again tonight to debate this issue, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican from Miami, and Democrat Charles Rangel, Democrat from New York -- Bob.

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, your leader, the person who you want to be president, who -- to lift you into the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, Al Gore, said there should be a hearing on this question, which the government is trying to avoid. Is Al Gore wrong on that?

RANGEL: I think he is. I think Governor Bush is too. I think Bill Press really hit it right on the nail. For decades the electoral vote in Florida has really governed our foreign policy to Cuba. As I indicated, we're talking about letting communist China into the U.N. and we can't -- I mean, into the WTO, and we won't even consider removing the trade embargo from Cuba.

NOVAK: You've made that point here.

RANGEL: Well, I'm making it again because I think it's that important. And so, therefore, I think Gore and all of the candidates are so anxious that they don't offend our Cuban-American friends that they will do and say anything in order to get that vote.

NOVAK: Congressman, I could refute what you just said, but I won't. I won't do it.

RANGEL: I appreciate it.

NOVAK: I'm going to let Al Gore refute it. Let's listen to Vice President Gore.

RANGEL: Candidate.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The father is not free to speak his true mind. What is his true feeling? This child should never have been put in the position where the choice is his freedom or his father. The real fault here lies with Fidel Castro.


NOVAK: I couldn't agree with Vice President Gore more.

ROS-LEHTINEN: And you know, one of the points that he makes -- how free this father may or may not be to speak his mind -- we had a case of a general who defected from the Cuban air force to the United States. He brought along his new wife, his little baby and his 14- year-old son from a previous marriage. The mom stayed behind and said, you've kidnapped my child, this is terrible, the United States is a terrible country.

She later came on a raft and said: "Of course, I had to say that. I was in Cuba." Perhaps it would apply in this case.

NOVAK: Congressman, what kind of father is it that has been invited to come to this country -- we said, please come -- four months, he hasn't seen this little boy. Isn't it true he didn't come because Fidel won't let him? Isn't that the truth of the matter?

RANGEL: No, and what you don't know is that Al Gore has invented a mind detector so that he can really determine what somebody in Cuba is thinking, and so once again he saw it. The truth of the matter is nobody has invited him, not our government has invited him.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, that is so untrue.

NOVAK: Untrue!

RANGEL: Let me tell you, you don't invite foreigners to the country.

NOVAK: They've asked him to come.


RANGEL: They have not asked him to come in!

ROS-LEHTINEN: The grandmothers came.

RANGEL: I have been involved in this myself...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, my god.

RANGEL: ... personally.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Let's call him right now. We have invited him many times.

RANGEL: Let me tell you, the guy said he would come into the country if there was a place that he could go that he wouldn't be served with summonses and get caught up with the court system here. And I asked the State Department...

ROS-LEHTINEN: The grandmothers came.

RANGEL: ... Immigration to do that.

ROS-LEHTINEN: The grandmothers came. Nothing happened.

RANGEL: Can you -- can you -- nothing happened.

ROS-LEHTINEN: What? Did they get...

RANGEL: They picketed those poor people. They harassed them.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, now we don't have right to picket.


RANGEL: ... grandparents and not...


ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, there are so pickets that are OK and some pickets that are not OK. OK. I see.

RANGEL: I'll tell you what it is. I tell you what it is. They don't to have anything but a political issue.

So now she agrees that the grandmothers come in, the mother of the mother who died at sea. And what do they do in Miami? Do they embrace her? Do they give her something?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Yes, they had flowers. They prepared a meal.

(CROSSTALK) RANGEL: They wound up -- ah! They prepared a rally against her.

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... those grandmothers.

PRESS: I think you and I may agree on something, even though we've debated this issue many times, that you want what's best for this boy and I want what's best for this boy. You think it's here. I think it's there with his father.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Maybe it's not here. Maybe it's not.

PRESS: So let me suggest a compromise.

Why don't you agree that Elian Gonzales be allowed to go back to Cuba and you guys in Miami send him $500 a month, 500 U.S. dollars a month, so he can be in Cuba and live a good life?


ROS-LEHTINEN: I tell you what, it's not about dollars and cents. It's about freedom, it's about liberty, it's about what drove Elian's mother to come here. And she lost her life just as so many hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees have done so, just like my family came over here. It's not about McDonald's and Disney World; it's about freedom and human rights. Five-hundred dollars won't buy you that in Cuba.

PRESS: It's also about a little boy and his father, which you keep ignoring.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Let him come. Have the father come.

PRESS: No, no, why? The father is there. His home is there. His grandparents are there. His friends are there. Why not reunite them?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Maybe that would be the right thing to do.

PRESS: If you're concerned...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Let's have the proper procedures take place. Let's let a judge decide what is in the best interests of Elian...

PRESS: A judge has decided.

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... not a family state court. That's where they do custody.

This is a legal, bureaucratic, legalistic who can speak for the child? We want a real custody hearing.


PRESS: Aren't you just delaying the inevitable?

ROS-LEHTINEN: It is not inevitable. This is a country of laws. We don't know what the judges will decide. This is a country of appeals. Everyone has that right. Let's not deny it to Elian.

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, I want to go back to the father again, because I have heard so much of this, got to send a boy back to his loving father. What kind of father is this if he will not -- in four months, he will not take the risk of being served with a subpoena to see the little boy? What kind of father is that?

RANGEL: Who knows -- you know, the governor has never offered him safe conduct into this country.

NOVAK: What are they going to do with him? Are they going to kill him when he come in?

RANGEL: Well, you ought to see they frightened the heck out of the grandmother of the kid. Have you ever seen those rallies around that they have in Miami?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Yes, that's what caused him to pull down his zipper and examine his private parts, they were so traumatized.

RANGEL: Please, don't do that. That is unfair. Did you see the rallies that they have down there?


ROS-LEHTINEN: It's called freedom, freedom of expression. We know of the rallies that Castro has.

RANGEL: How is that helping the kid? I think the rallies that Castro has are wrong. I think he's politicizing it. But there's no question in my mind that that kid is being held hostage in Miami For the hatred they have against Castro and not the love they have for the child.

NOVAK: That's outrageous, but that's the end of our time.

ROS-LEHTINEN: We have 11 million hostages -- it's called the island of Cuba. Here we have freedom. That's what Elian wants. Thank you.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Charlie Rangel, thank you both very much.

And Senator Press and I will be back with closing comments.


PRESS: Bob, I know this will shock you, but did you know that there are happy families in Cuba? Do you know that fathers are even able and do love their children in Cuba? Would you admit that maybe this kid does belong there with his father?

NOVAK: See, you can't tell the difference between communist Cuba and a free United States. You know, Bill, I like you, and I feel sorry for you, because you've committed the worst error you've ever had since you've been on this program tonight when you said why don't we send him $500 a month in Cuba? As if this is about money, as if this is about material things. What it is, is about mind control, about being forced by a totalitarian state to go to summer mind control facilities, to do what you're told. If you don't understand growing up in Delaware and going -- and living in the fruits of this country where freedom is, I feel sorry for you.

PRESS: Now let me tell you something, Bob, it just proves that these people do not care for the well-being of this kid. Charlie had it right. All they care about is Fidel Castro. All they care about is continuing this effort to keep the sanctions on in Cuba. They don't care about Elian Gonzalez.

NOVAK: You think they want $500 a month, huh?

PRESS: They care about Fidel Castro, Bob. They don't care about Elian Gonzalez.

From the left, I am Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Five-hundred dollars a month.

From the right, I am Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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