TOPICS > Politics

Tug of War Over Elian Gonzalez

April 13, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Elian Gonzalez left his great-uncle’s house in Miami’s Little Havana yesterday, but did not fly to Washington to be with his father, as federal authorities had hoped. Instead he was taken to the home of sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, who has helped mediate Elian’s fate. There, he and family members awaited the next step in the five month tug-o-war over whether he stays in the United States or returns to Cuba. Attorney General Janet Reno flew to her home town of Miami to participate in that meeting. But after two hours, there was no resolution. After the meeting, Reno said she gave the Miami family two options, both of which would reunite Elian with his father, Juan Miguel.

JANET RENO: We have provided the relatives and Elian the opportunity to travel to Washington to meet with Juan Miguel and to participate in an orderly transfer. If not, we have provided them alternative instructions that call for them to bring Elian to Opalocka airport tomorrow afternoon, where his care will be transferred and he will be flown to Washington to be reunited with his father.

KWAME HOLMAN: Facing a deadline of 2:00 P.M. Today, Elian’s Great-Uncle Lazaro Gonzalez was defiant, as he’s been throughout the odyssey.

LAZARO GONZALEZ, Elian’s Great Uncle (Translated): We have done everything possible to see that the family is reunited and this problem resolved in the same way it started, within the family. We are not going to negotiate with Miss Janet Reno, and her crazy idea that the child should obey the wishes of the father, not the father obey the wishes of the child.

KWAME HOLMAN: Elian and his Miami relatives returned to little Havana late last night. Shortly afterward, family members released a home video of Elian. It is unknown whether the boy was prompted in what he said.

ELIAN GONZALEZ (Translated): I don’t want to go to Cuba. If you to want to stay here , but I don’t want to go back to Cuba. I’m telling you now, you say I want to go back to Cuba. I tell you now that I don’t want to go back to Cuba. I want you, if you want, to stay here. But I don’t want to come back to Cuba.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today, as the early afternoon ultimatum approached, the first- grader peered out the window of his great-uncle’s home to see a crowd of more than 200 people. Meanwhile, his father left the home of the Cuban diplomat near Washington, D.C., where he’s been staying, and met with human rights activist Randall Robinson. Juan Miguel Gonzalez was heard to say, “please return my son to me.” The attorney general spoke to reporters from Miami midday and reiterated her hope that the two sides of the family would meet.

JANET RENO: This meeting would take place before Elian is transferred to his father’s care. It would take place at a private retreat site where this family can finally sit down face to face and try to work things out amongst themselves. If they could work things out amongst themselves, the government would step aside. But if at the end of the day they could not reach agreement, the relatives would abide by the rule of law. We stand by this offer, and Juan Miguel Gonzalez has agreed to participate. Unfortunately, Lazaro Gonzalez and his family have refused these arrangements. Secondly, another rumor that exists is that the government is federalizing the streets around Lazaro Gonzalez’s home and ejecting the media.

These rumors are wrong, flat-out wrong. We have not taken any such steps and have no plans to do so. Despite all the tension, it was wonderful to look out the window this morning and to see this beautiful city lying out beyond the bay, to look to the West, towards the Everglades, to look to the Spanish tiles on the roof of the federal building, to realize that this community represents America and all that it is about. It represents America and the people who have come to this land for freedom, for opportunity, for the right to speak their mind, free of violence. It is a great community, and a community that, if we come together in this time of tension where people obviously disagree with tremendous emotion; but if we come together, if we respect each other, if we respect the rule of law, we can work through it.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Washington, President Clinton said he had confidence in Attorney General Reno’s handling of the situation, and reiterated Elian’s case is a matter for American law to decide.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: We have a legal system, and it has been followed. And the decision that was made, that Elian Gonzalez’s father was a devoted and fit father and could properly speak for his son, and therefore, to make decisions for his minor son, was ratified in a district court and is now on appeal to a court of appeals. But none of the courts have granted any kind of interim relief, which would justify opposition to the plain rule of law. So to me, this case is about the rule of law.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Little Havana, the Miami relatives once again called on Elian’s father to come to Florida. Their attorney, Manny Diaz.

MANNY DIAZ: We want very much for the families to get together with no preconditions. Let the families speak to each other. Who knows what will come out of the family meeting? Perhaps they will leave that room and come out and tell the world they have worked this out.

KWAME HOLMAN: As 2:00 approached and the crowds swelled, the two mayors who represent greater Miami urged them to remain calm.

MAYOR ALEX PENELAS, Dade County: Federal marshals are not coming to this home at 2:00 today. They are not coming to this home this afternoon. We need to tell the community that, because that is what has them with as much tension, so we want to urge each of you to cooperate with us as we try to ease tension in this very, very tense moment in the history of our community.

MAYOR JOE CAROLLO, Miami: The eyes of the world– all of you representing media from coast to coast, worldwide– are upon Miami now, and we want you to let world know what Miamians are really like. This is a peaceful community, a nonviolent community, and we are going to keep it that way.

KWAME HOLMAN: But today’s 2:00 deadline passed and federal officials did not act to remove Elian. Also today, a state court judge denied a request by the Miami relatives to intervene in the case, saying she lacked jurisdiction. In Washington, the attorney for Elian’s father had this to say:

GREGORY CRAIG, Lawyer for Elian’s Father: Today, a Florida state court dismissed the case that Lazaro brought against Juan Miguel and eliminated any and all claims under state law that Lazaor had any legal right to keep the boy. Today, Lazaro broke the law. Let the record be absolutely clear on this point: Lazaro Gonzalez and those who assist him now are in violation not only of federal and state law. Elian Gonzalez is being held unlawfully in Miami against his father’s wishes.

KWAME HOLMAN: Late this afternoon, the Little Havana crowd cheered at news that another court, a federal appeals court, had granted the Miami relatives’ request for a temporary stay in the case, which keeps Elian in the United States for now.