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Miami Relatives Fly to Washington to See Elian

Aired April 22, 2000 - 2:18 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: As we reported earlier, Elian Gonzalez' cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez and his great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez boarded a flight in Miami this afternoon at 1:25 Eastern time bound for Washington. They say they want make sure that Elian is in good hands in this city.

Elian earlier, of course, was reunited with his father at Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington.

Also aboard that flight with the two Elian Gonzalez relatives is CNN's Jim Hill. We'd like to go to him now -- Jim.

JIM HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Gene, the party heading for Washington, the plane I'm on right now, departed at about 1:30. Lazaro Gonzalez, Marisleysis Gonzalez, the great-uncle, of course, and the great-second cousin who have been caring for Elian these past weeks and months. They are on this aircraft. They were rushed on at the last moment, along with the family attorney Roger Bernstein, one member of the Cuban activist community, as well as another great-uncle of Elian, Delfin. They are all on the aircraft. I approach them for a comment. Lazaro took my card, but then he shook his head, would not give any comment. They waved me away very quickly.

Another person along the -- on the ride here on the aircraft is Donato Dalrymple. He is the fisherman who has also been saying with the household where Elian was in the Little Havana area of Miami.

They are all headed to Washington. They will not comment on what they are going to do. The Cuban activist and Roger Bernstein did express their dismay at what they called the inappropriate tactics used to snatch Elian, to take him into custody, as they put it. They are very upset by this, but they are not commenting on what they are going to do once they reach Washington. They are sitting in the back of this American Airlines flight, and as I say they are not communicative. And when I persist, they waved me away and put coats up over Lazaro Gonzalez and the second great-cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez.

RANDALL: Jim, what time does that flight arrive in Washington if the schedule is met?

HILL: The flight is expected to be in Washington at 3:55 Eastern time. It's an American Airlines flight. This was rather hastily put together. As I was boarding the flight and arranging at the last minute, the attorney, Roger Bernstein, as well as a Cuban activist and the fisherman, Donato Dalrymple, were all rushing and very -- very harried as they argued with the counter people in attendance. Some of these people actually had to get on the flight stand-by, waiting until the very last moment to rush onto the flight.

So this was very hastily arranged, and I imagine that Lazaro as well as Marisleysis are exhausted at this point. Both of them appear very tired. Marisleysis was slumped over in her seat, her head -- her face covered with her hair. She appeared to be sleeping. And Lazaro Gonzalez, when I first approached him, appeared to be sleeping, and they would be understandably tired at this point, as they are rushing to Washington.

RANDALL: All right, Jim. Have a good flight, and we will see you here in the nation's capital.

We are told, by the way, that the Justice Department is quoted as saying it would not necessarily block a meeting between the Miami relatives and Elian Gonzalez and the boy's father, Juan Miguel. Those two, of course, had their reunion today at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We've been talking about the operation this morning to remove Elian from the home of his relatives in Miami. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to CNN's Justice Department Pierre -- Pierre Thomas about this operation.


ERIC HOLDER, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The American people will understand that we had information that there were weapons in the house. I don't know if that's true or not. We have to do a debriefing of the agents. But given that fact, we had to make sure that our agents, when they went in there, were able to protect themselves and make sure that they could get Elian out there in a way that was most protective of him as well. We didn't go in there with intention to intimidate anybody. We used a female agent to bring him out who spoke Spanish. We tried to be as sensitive as we possibly could, understanding that this was ultimately a law enforcement operation.


WOODRUFF: For his part, President Clinton today expressed full support for Attorney General Janet Reno and the Justice Department in the seizure of Elian Gonzalez.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She had a special feeling because she was from Miami. She wanted to resolve this in the most patient way possible to minimize the damage to the people and community that she loves so much, but she felt strongly and I felt strongly that the law had to be upheld and that Elian had to be reunited with the his father. And every conceivable alternative was tried for quite a long time. And so I think she did the right thing, and I'm very pleased with way she handled it.


WOODRUFF: Mr. Clinton added that when all efforts failed there was no alternative but to enforce the legal decisions to return Elian to his father's custody.

RANDALL: Shortly after Elian was taken by federal agents, the attorney general told a news conference there was no other recourse possible.


JANET RENO, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have been to great lengths to resolve this case in the least disruptive manner possible. Up until the last, we tried every way that we could to encourage Lazaro Gonzalez to voluntarily hand over the child to his father. Unfortunately, the Miami relatives rejected our efforts, leaving us no other option but the enforcement action.

Elian Gonzalez is a child who needs to be cherished, who needs to have quiet time, private time and to be with his father. And that is what this case is still all about.


WOODRUFF: A very different view came from 21-year-old Marisleysis Gonzalez. She spoke to reporters before she left Miami to fly to Washington. She's on that flight right now.

This is how Marisleysis described the seizure of Elian.


MARISLEYSIS GONZALEZ, ELIAN'S COUSIN: We heard noises, people banging on the door and breaking the door down. Elian was awake in the living room, and we didn't know what was going on because they never told us that U.S. marshals were going to come in and pick up the boy. So we thought it was maybe a fight outside or something, and we ran him in the room with three other cousins that were -- two other cousins that were in the house, kids as well.

And as they entered, they came here violently. Because if they wouldn't have been violently they wouldn't have been armed. They told me, give me the boy or I'm going to shoot. I'm going to shoot. Give me the boy. Give me the boy. Give me the boy -- and they said a bad word -- give me the boy, give me the boy.

And I said, please, don't let the boy see this. Please, I will give you the boy. Don't let him see this. He's seen enough seeing his mother's death. We don't want this. We're not going to do anything. We're not armed. We don't want anything.

Put your hands up, we're nothing, we're negotiating what's going on.

I'll give you the boy. Don't let him see this. I'll give you the boy.

They ran into my room, they broke the closet door, they broke Elian's bed. They went in my mom's room, they broke the door down. They got Elian by here, they put a gun right there and they took him.


WOODRUFF: Marisleysis Gonzalez says she hopes to visit her cousin Elian in Washington this weekend.

RANDALL: Here to discuss the legal aspects of this sorry is our legal analyst Roger Cossack.

Roger, it is very easy to get caught up in the drama and the pictures of today's event. But where exactly are we legally in this Elian Gonzalez case?

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we are pending a decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that will possibly decide something that probably has never been decided before. That is, a 6-year-old may have the right to speak for himself in terms of asking for political asylum in this country. Pending that decision, we are pretty much at the status quo, other than the dramatic event which we saw this morning.

RANDALL: Now you and Greta you talked about this, Greta Van Susteren, talked about this last hour. And that is that today's action was clearly within the parameters of the law.

COSSACK: That's right. It was within the parameters of the law. It is unfortunate and scary how this law had to be enforced, but it was clear, particularly when the 11th Circuit made its opinion last week in which they said, throwing some favor toward the family, which is, look, we're going to -- there may be an issue of law that says that the 6-year-old can decide, but the 11th Circuit never said anything about the fact that the custody had to remain with the Miami family. And that was when push came to shove. That was really the end of it.

WOODRUFF: Roger, we know now that the members of the Miami family are flying to Washington, hoping to see Elian Gonzalez this weekend or within a very short period of time. What legal rights do they have to see him now?

COSSACK: Judy, in my opinion they have absolutely no legal rights to see him. I think their -- the word you used is hoping to see, and I think that probably sums up what their rights are. They have hopeful right, perhaps they would argue a moral right, but I don't think the -- that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of Elian, has any legal obligation to share his child with that family.

WOODRUFF: But they are very much pursuing whatever recourse they have in the courts.

COSSACK: Of course they are, and as everyone has rights to do this. WOODRUFF: The asylum petition is still standing.

COSSACK: The asylum petition is still standing. The 11th Circuit is yet to have its full decision as to whether or not a 6- year-old can make that kind of a decision. But just to carry that out, if they did decide that, can you imagine the little child would go into the INS and say, I want to stay here, and have to make out some kind of a reason that he would be under political pressure or reason for political asylum here in this country. It's going to be a very difficult battle for that child to do.

RANDALL: Roger, is it understandable that we're hearing the second guessing about the way this raid was carried out this morning? I mean, they even -- the government even doesn't like term "raid," of course.

COSSACK: Of course. Of course you're going to hear second guessing, because we have seen those really frightening pictures and that one in particular, I think, that frightens all of us of the...

RANDALL: Do you think that picture being overused?

COSSACK: Do I think that picture's being used? It's a good question. I suppose that we all have the right to see that question, and I see now obviously that we are seeing other pictures to try and counter that pictures, and that's why we're seeing pictures of Juan Miguel and Elian, showing them how happy they are together.

Look, that is it what happened. Can you overuse a picture that demonstrates truthfully what happened? Now we have to remember that that was a -- that picture represents an instant, and we also know that this raid took a very short period of time. But that is the picture of how the raid occurred.

RANDALL: And, of course, we should point out that Attorney General Janet Reno is very strong about this point. She says there was intelligence that there could have been weapons inside that house in little Miami, and that is why the agents went in prepared for anything.

We'll take a break and be back in a moment.



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