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Will Juan Gonzalez Ever Get His Son Back?

Aired April 13, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, the deadline to hand over Elian comes and goes as the Miami relatives take new legal action. Is the Miami family delaying the inevitable? And why doesn't Juan Miguel Gonzalez just come to Miami and get his son?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a member of the Immigration Subcommittee, and in Miami, Republican Mayor Joe Carollo.

MATALIN: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. The wrenching custody battle over little Elian Gonzalez continues today, prolonged by the Miami family's defiance of the government's 2 o'clock deadline to turn the boy over.

Elian's father equally adamant, remained in suburban Washington making demands on U.S. soil that would be impossible in his native Cuba: that is, that the law be respected.


GREGORY CRAIG, ATTORNEY FOR JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ: The law must be respected, and the attorney general must enforce the law. Elian Gonzalez must be returned to his -- his father.


MATALIN: But Elian's unique case is in legal never-never land. Today, a Florida family court rejected the Miami family's plea seeking custody, but a federal court granted them an emergency injunction blocking the government from instituting Elian's immediate transfer. Seemingly oblivious to the legal labyrinth, little Elian, as usual, played on his slide, but in an unusual move, the boy's Miami relatives have released a videotape of the boy saying he does not want to return to Cuba.

The family says the tape was recorded late last night after negotiations with the Justice Department broke down. It shows Elian on a bed looking into the camera and delivering a message to his father. It is not clear who was in the room with Elian or whether the boy was coached.

Here's a part of the tape as received by the Spanish language network Univision and translated by CNN. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIAN GONZALEZ: Dad, I do not want to go to Cuba. If you want to, stay here. I am not going to Cuba.


MATALIN: Through it all, prayerful and peaceful protesters continue their vigilance at Elian's Miami home. So again, in the crossfire, Elian's two families. One is his blood. One is his freedom. Which is in his best interests? And is his interests at the heart of the feuding families?

Sitting in for the peripatetic Bill Press, syndicated columnist Matthew Miller -- Matt.


Mayor, you have been all over the television today talking about a scenario that you said that Janet Reno had considered in a meeting with you. And I want to ask you -- this was a scenario that said that she would think about putting the families in a government-paid-for compound for 30 days so that they might be able to get reacquainted, that Elian would be able to go back and forth between the two families in some situation that would let them reach a more peaceable solution.

Who suggested that scenario, and why are you fingering Janet Reno in a way that seems to be trying to lay blame on her for that not happening?

MAYOR JOE CAROLLO (R), MIAMI, FLORIDA: Well, let me be very to the point. This is what I have been talking about for days before. The meeting that we had for approximately an hour with the attorney general at her office in front of the director of immigration, and it was the attorney general herself before I or my colleague mentioned anything that brought this up to us.

The only thing that she said was that the 30 days she thought was a little too long. I said that for this to be credible, we needed at least a minimum of two weeks. And after all, every single objective, impartial psychiatrist or psychologist -- even the governor's own -- the government's own have said that this is what is needed to have the least traumatic transition for this boy with his father. And after all, we should all want what's best for this boy.

Now, the attorney general -- and it's very significant -- brought this up to us that she was considering this. What's happened is that plainly the Castro government -- and this is what the attorney general stated to Gloria Estefan today in a conversation they had -- that the Castro government had said, no, that they would not concede to this.

MILLER: Well, but presumably this is not the kind of situation we can use for the millions of custody cases that go on in the country every year. But I'm still confused as to why you would think that the only way to know, I suppose, that Juan Miguel is not expressing his view about going back to Cuba under duress is to lock him up in a government-paid-for compound for 30 days with relatives that at this point he obviously can't stand.

CAROLLO: You know, I am outraged that you would be saying that the federal government of the United States would be locking someone up if we would do something like that for a few weeks in the best interests of the boy, and you don't complain whatsoever about the Cuban government having disappeared Juan Miguel for three months in Cuba, and then when he come here, even Mr. Craig has admitted that what he read was written by the Cuban government. And you haven't complained about Mr. Juan Miguel being completely in the control of the Cuban government and truly locked up in the interests section of the Cuban government here in the Cuban interests section of Washington.

MATALIN: OK. Congressman, can I pick it up there, because this was an INS-appointed team of child psychiatrists and psychologists who gave their conclusions to the INS this very week? And it said, as Matt and the mayor have alluded to, that the families, as many members of the two families must get together in a protected, private, neutral place. They should stay there for one or two weeks, and in the best interests of Elian, he must see these two families together. He must understand unambiguously that he is being given back to his father, but that he can maintain contact with the family he now has come to love.

Can you think of any other explanation for this father's resistance and new-found antipathy for his formerly loved Miami family, that anything that would cause this father to act not in the best interests in his son as has been concluded by this team of psychologists unless it is pressure from Castro? What else could be motivating him?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The fear he has and the uncertainty -- because the family, to my knowledge, hasn't agreed that at the end of that process of a week or two they would agree that Elian went home. This is really topsy-turvy and upside down.

Let's be clear what the history has been with regard to Mr. Gonzalez Sr., the father. First, the people who were holding the child here were saying: Well, he needs to come here, we need to have him come here. He's afraid to come here. Castro won't let him come or he's afraid to come. Well, he did come, and he came in a fairly voluntary situation, and brought his wife and child so he wasn't leaving hostages behind.

If he had come without his wife and child, they would have said, well, he's afraid to say anything because his and kid are there. So he's met the test.

I think he's feeling, perfectly sensibly, is, look, every time they set a test and I meet it, they come up with a new test. And you have people who are quite hostile to him who have said they don't agree that -- I mean, if you were talking about a process in which there was an agreed-upon transition at the end of which the father has his son in his custody and can take the son back to Cuba if he wishes, that's a different story. I don't understand that to be the case. What you have is this continued injection of an irrelevant political situation, the -- the situation in Cuba. I wouldn't want to live under Castro. I think it's awful. But the father does. And the father is the father and has never been abusive to the child.

MATALIN: OK, congressman, let me add some facts, because the politics should be -- and of course, we'll get to that later -- is irrelevant. But here's some more relevant facts. He is here with his new baby and his new wife, but his mother back in Havana has been moved to a secure government building. He has never had a meeting in Havana or here outside the watchful eyes of communist...

FRANK: Oh, Mary, Mary.

MATALIN: ... security agents.

FRANK: It's not Halloween. Stop looking for ghosts.

Look, first of all, let's -- you know, your side keeps injecting politics into this. First, we were told, we're not going to let this happen unless the father comes here. He is here. He has been physically outside. There's no gun on him.

You have got this problem: The father came here after people said if he comes here, we'll let him go. He's done that. And now you just keep raising the bar.

MATALIN: No, it's not.

FRANK: You want to just...

MATALIN: Congressman...

FRANK: He brought his wife and he brought his son. He is here. You are reading into this somehow that he's not a free agent.

MATALIN: What am I -- let me ask you again, congressman. Do you think he is -- how do you think -- how can you explain to me how he can freely be making decisions when his mother is in a secure government building, when his father is back in Havana? All he has with him is his wife and his son.

FRANK: I will tell you how...

MATALIN: He has never had a meeting, not even with his own lawyer, with Castro not in the room. He has never spoken freely.

FRANK: Do you want an answer? No, Castro has not been in the room. He's met with -- talked to Greg Craig. In the first place, I have a great deal of confidence in Greg Craig's integrity, and he has talked to the father.

The fact is, yes, when you're talking about your son, I think the feelings he has for his son are probably greater than for his mother and father. People often defect without their parents. The mother and son -- his mother and son -- that's -- his wife and son, that's very important. But you know, if it was mother and father were out, then it would be a cousin.

Again, when people first said, if Juan Gonzalez comes here, we'll let him have his son, they weren't saying, oh, and he has to bring his mother and his father and everything else. He's brought his wife and son. And what you have, I think, is you're frustrated. You are disappointed that he does still want to go back to Cuba.

If I were he, I wouldn't want to go back Cuba. But I'm not he, and he has the freedom to make that choice.

MILLER: Mayor -- by the way, this is a live shot we're looking at of Elian playing right now in Miami, Florida.

Mayor, let me pick up on the theme Mary is talking about. It seems like those of you who are in doubt that Juan Miguel is speaking what's really in his heart won't be satisfied with anything. I mean, is anything short of Juan Miguel saying, I want to live in America and raise my son in freedom: Is that the only thing that he could say that you would say was not done under duress?

CAROLLO: No, sir, not at all. It's been 4 1/2 months since Juan Miguel took -- for Castro to let him come in. And he only let him come to the United States under a kind of security that we've never seen happen in American soil before.

Only after Mr. Craig, our president's own attorney, became Castro's attorney and promised Castro that he had a deal that he claimed himself (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that he had brokered between Castro and the U.S., that Juan Miguel would be handed over to him within seven days. But the truth is that...

MILLER: Mayor, no...

CAROLLO: ... that...

MILLER: Mayor, may I...

CAROLLO: The truth is that -- let -- let me finish it for a second, because this is important.

MILLER: Go ahead.

CAROLLO: And we're talking about things that are facts. Even today, as Juan Miguel was leaving the interests section, Congressman Barney talks about him fearing America. Do you know what Juan Miguel did today? He shot a bird, not one, but several, to the reporters, to the people who were out there. I'm sure he did that only because he's being told to do that by the people around him.

But is this the kind of country that we are going to be letting dictate to us in America what we're going to be doing on American soil? MILLER: But is there nothing he can except for -- the only thing you'll accept that would be genuine is if he says, I want to defect to America. Isn't that imposing your values over his?

CAROLLO: Not at all, sir. Not -- not at all. What we discussed with the attorney general and what she said that she was considering was that after a trial period of two to three weeks or so, where the boy could be reunited with his father in the least damaging, least traumatic way, after that period in full freedom where he could breathe freedom and liberty, the words that Castro despises, for the first time on American soil, if after that time he wants to stay in America or go back to Cuba, we should respect his wishes.

MILLER: Well, we're going to need to take a break right now, but when we come back, we'll ask whether it's time to take children away from politicians who are too busy working to spend time with their kids.


MILLER: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's been another surreal day in the saga of Elian Gonzalez. The Miami family went to court to fend off the transfer of custody to Elian's father while his lawyer said the Miami relatives were breaking the law. Anti-Castro protesters, meanwhile, kept up their vigil near the family's home.

Is this drama rocketing inexorably toward tragedy or is there still a way to steer through the chaos toward a happy ending?

Sharing their insights on the latest twists in the story are Barney Frank, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts and Miami Mayor Joe Carollo -- Mary.

MATALIN: Oh, congressman, earlier you were discussing or questioning the family's evolution in this saga, as Matt rightly just called it. Let's talk about the government's evolution in this matter as was concisely put today by George W. Bush. Take a listen.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The INS said that the -- that the place to determine the status of this young man should be done in a Florida family court. That's what the INS said on December 1st, 1999, and then Fidel Castro began to create the need for demonstration in this country and the administration began to change.


MATALIN: OK, congressman, he's exactly right on this. Immediately after the rescue, the U.S. Border Patrol said he can stay. The INS said this should be a state or family court matter. The State Department concurred. And then as Bush rightly pointed out, in early December, Castro demanded a return within 72 hours. What other explanation for the government's flip-flop is there than we're kowtowing to Castro? FRANK: A very simple one, Mary: that American law has always been that where there is a single surviving parent who has never shown any signs of abuse toward the child, that parent has custody. In the immediate aftermath of this turmoil, an official in the INS -- I don't know who it was, somebody at whatever level -- might have misspoken. It's not binding, and it's something that was done on the spur of the moment.

American law has been overwhelming. There's no issue for family court. The family court here in the U.S. arbitrates when there are people with an equal claim on the child or when a parent has been accused of so abusing the child as to violate his or her right to the child. In this case, the American law is very clear. That's why the Florida family court just dropped out. Do you think they were manipulated by Castro?

And by the way, I do want to address one thing that the mayor said, which is just terribly unfair to Greg Craig and totally inaccurate, the notion that somehow Greg Craig gave Castro a guarantee that he was going to ship Gonzalez back.

And frankly, mayor, for you to be criticizing people's demeanor here, when people in Miami have been defiant of the law, when you and other officials have boasted about your willingness not to obey the law, not to enforce the law, I don't think you have the right credentials to criticize other people's demeanor. And the notion that Greg Craig is somehow going to be complicit in Shanghaiing Juan Gonzalez is just outrageous and untrue.

Here's what happened: People said, what we want to know what the father thinks if he comes here. The father came here. And what the American administration is following is the principle of American law, which we have fought for internationally -- and I think we gained some credibility by being consistent here, despite our political dislike, which I share, of Fidel Castro -- where there is a surviving parent and that parent has shown a responsible degree of behavior to the child, the parent has custody.

So somebody at the INS misunderstood American family law. American family law doesn't say that you take the father's rights away because you don't like the politics of the country in which the father lives.

MATALIN: Mayor, do you want to respond to the congressman?

CAROLLO: Thank you, Mary. With all due respect to the congressman, either he's talking about a totally different case or he's very ill-informed. First of all, the videos are there that Mr. Gregory Craig stated clearly what was going to be happening, and everything that he said so far was happening. And he said...

FRANK: No, he never prompted him to send him back against his will.

CAROLLO: ... that within seven days...

FRANK: You misrepresent him.

CAROLLO: He said that within seven days -- no, I did not, sir. He said within seven days, that boy was going to be turned over to the father. Now...

FRANK: He didn't say against the will of Mr. Gonzalez.

CAROLLO: Sir, can you let me finish, please, sir?

FRANK: No, because you've made a misstatement.

CAROLLO: I am amazed -- no, sir.

FRANK: You have made a terrible misstatement...

CAROLLO: Can you let me finish, sir?

FRANK: ... and you refuse to acknowledge it.

CAROLLO: Can you let me finish, sir?

MILLER: One at a time please.

CAROLLO: Please, thank you. Now, I am amazed that Mr. Craig and Congressman Barney are talking about the law when Mr. Craig's client is an international criminal terrorist that has no respect for any law in Cuba or anywhere else. And Mr. Craig is going to be talking about the law?


MILLER: ... at the heart of this case, which is if we're going to take a boy away from his family because we don't like the country that his father wants to live in, where are we going to draw the line? Does that mean we're going to end up taking away kids from poor families because better-off families can provide them a better life? What about -- there are people who say politicians lead tremendously demanding lives with all of these evening dinners and late-night TV appearances. How would you feel if somebody said, let's take away your four kids from you and give them to a father and a family where the father isn't focused on his career as much?

CAROLLO: I would imagine, congressman, that attack is on me, because I don't think you have any children. But nevertheless, sir...

FRANK: Excuse me. That wasn't me who said that.

CAROLLO: ... I'm glad that at least you're...

FRANK: Mayor, I didn't say that.

MILLER: That was me, mayor.

FRANK: Mayor -- mayor, you're obsessing here about me. I didn't say that.


CAROLLO: I'm sorry. We're not hearing that well over here in the connection.

FRANK: That's -- that's apparent.

CAROLLO: But let me say that regardless of which one of you said that, I'm glad at least, if that's what you're saying, and you're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) announcing that now Craig -- Mr. Craig is representing Saddam Hussein or Mr. Qadhafi also.

FRANK: Excuse me. But I want to respond here. I just want to take exception to the mayor. I -- frankly, mayor, I'm just baffled that you would listen to the moderator and say that I said it. No, I said nothing about that.

What I have said, mayor, is that I have been disappointed, when we talk about the law, about your and other officials down there announcing that you're not sure how much of...


CAROLLO: That is totally untrue, sir. We are law-abiding city. And we have a -- by -- abide by the law in the United States and in Miami.

FRANK: Will they physically....

CAROLLO: We have lost the connection. I hope you can hear me. Sir?

FRANK: Will they physically resist?

MATALIN: OK. Congressman, you have to go vote, and mayor, you've lost the connection.

CAROLLO: I can't hear what you're saying. I'm sorry.

MATALIN: Well, good for all of us, because it's the end of the show.

CAROLLO: I can hear you now, Mary.

MATALIN: Thank you both for joining us. Our time is up. From the Hill, Congressman Barney Frank and from Miami -- that's great -- mayor, thank you so much.

CAROLLO: Thank you.

MATALIN: Matt and I will be back after this very quick break to give our own closing comments. Stay with us.


MATALIN: Matt, didn't you tell me earlier you saw the president today? Was it at this event that you saw him? I know he was giving another speech. But he was quoted today as saying: "It is our obligation to uphold the rule of law" -- laughable, but I'll put that aside for the moment, saying that in this case, his selective application of the rule of law. But we, under the guise of the rule of law, when we could keep him here, give him a no exit -- the INS can issue a no exit. Under the guise of the rule of law, we're sending him back to a place where there is no law, and we're saying that's in his best interests. We're applying our values to a place where they do not exist.

MILLER: But to -- but to me, Mary, you guys are usually the ones who care about father's rights and family values. And it's not the choice we would make. I wouldn't choose to live in Cuba. But I've been there. I've been to Varadero Beach, where Elian's father works. It's beautiful.

If he's got a dollar-related job and he wants to raise his son there, who are we to say that's our choice, not his?

MATALIN: So it's beautiful, but it's the last remaining bastion of communism...

MILLER: I wouldn't live there.

MATALIN: ... in our hemisphere.

MILLER: If he wants to live there, why isn't it his choice?

MATALIN: OK, all I'm saying is: We don't want him not with his father. We want the father and son in freedom. Can we agree on this?

MILLER: There may be one happy person in Cuba, maybe even as happy as in the U.S. But from the left, I'm Matt Miller, sitting in for Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Thank you for joining us. And join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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