April 24 , 2000
RAY SUAREZ: Bernadette Malone Connolly of the Manchester Union Leader.
BERNADETTE MALONE CONNOLLY, Manchester Union Leader: Ray, I think she's describing something that went off logistically perfect, but was applied to just the wrong circumstances. This family, many of them American citizens, were treated like drug dealers or kidnappers. There was no cause for what happened on Holy Saturday. At 5:10 in the morning, apparently the attorney general was concerned more with having the element of surprise on her side than doing the right thing for the 6-year-old boy. I think even people who want to see Elian and his father reunited were appalled by the behavior of the Justice Department in this instance.
TERENCE SMITH: Robert Kittle?
ROBERT KITTLE, San Diego Union Tribune: Well, I think we're all concerned, Ray, about the amount of force that was used here, but I think if we look at this, the attorney general really had no choice but to act. I think the negotiations had gone on for weeks without any real prospect even in the end that this could be resolved peacefully. So keeping the element of surprise on her side, I think, was important. I think she had to act. I'm glad that it happened as peacefully as it did with no injuries. I think looking back on it, we have to say it was a successful operation, and unfortunately, it was the only way that Elian would be reunited with his father.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Patrick McGuigan, earlier the attorney general also said, baring a voluntary turnover, it seemed to be the best alternative.
PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoman: Well, my thought on this is that none of us is God. That's why we have written law. I can't read Juan Miguel Gonzalez's mind, but neither can Janet Reno. This man on November 22 called his relatives long distance. There's a long distance record to prove that, to let them know that the mother and the boy had left. And three days later, Lazaro called him to let him know that the little boy had arrived safely. And at that time, according to Lazaro, Juan Miguel said, 'Take care of my son.' That's what this man that we saw a film of earlier has been doing ever since. I think this is a horrible moment in American history.
What we need is a family law court to deal with this boy and with this whole question of custody in a way that operates through controlling legal authority, if you will, the rule of law, weighing the best interests of the child. What we've got instead is Fidel Castro considers this little boy a possession of the Cuban state, and a little bit earlier we heard the attorney general say that in essence this little boy was in the custody of the INS. To me that sounds like heads, Castro wins, and tails, the family loses. The family loses in any scenario, and Janet Reno and this administration win. They're even managing to frame the issue in terms of reuniting this little boy with his father, but we don't know Juan Miguel Gonzalez's mind. At one point, you know -- we've talked about flip-flops here and they were referred to earlier by the attorney general, at one time this man asked Lazaro, according to him, to take care of his child, and that's what he's sought to do. We need adjudication on this. We don't need armed kidnappings. I don't call it a rescue. I call it a kidnapping in the dark of the night.
RAY SUAREZ: Cynthia Tucker, you heard Mr. McGuigan call this a horrible moment. Was it?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: It was disturbing, but very necessary. I have to disagree with Patrick very vigorously on several points. First of all, this is absolutely no evidence that Juan Miguel knew that his wife and... ex-wife and son were on a small boat in -- what turned out to be a disastrous attempted flight from Cuba. There are phone records that a call was made, but Juan Miguel says that call was made only after he realized his child was missing and that there were rumors that they might be bound for Florida. So of course he called his great uncle to see if he knew anything and ask him to look out for the boy. And as for family, Patrick said the family would lose here, who is the family? Juan Miguel is the family. He is the father of this child. And as for the rule of law, Lazaro Gonzalez has been in violation of the rule of law repeatedly. And so Janet Reno had absolutely no choice but to go in and rescue a child who had been effectively kidnapped by distant relatives.
RAY SUAREZ: Patrick McGuigan, make a quick response, then I want to move on.
PATRICK McGUIGAN: How can it be kidnapping when the INS initially made a decision to grant this child in essence the equivalent of parole, which is granted to every other Cuban American -- Cuban who manages to make it to America. The same rights should be afforded to this child and to the family that's been protecting him and watching out for him for months. You know, William Allen White out here in our part of the country back in the last century said that liberty is the one thing you cannot really have or possess unless you're willing to grant it to others. Well, I'm willing to grant to the Cubans of Miami their desire for freedom for their homeland and freedom for this little boy who has come to symbolize so many things. His survival is virtually miraculous, and this looks to me like a very human intervention in a process that was on its way to a kind of resolution. I would not assert as a father of four that the father of this boy has no legitimate legal, even a compelling interest in his future; however, the determination of the best interests of the child is a matter to be determined by... in a court of law by a judge seeking the best interests of the child, not the convenience of the Clinton administration.
RAY SUAREZ: I want to get Lee Cullum in here. It's just about five months since Thanksgiving when Elian Gonzalez was pulled out of the water. Have you seen some evolution, both in your view in the Dallas area, your paper's editorial, the things that you've been writing? Has this story changed over time?
LEE CULLUM: Ray, it has not changed from the viewpoint of the editorials in the Dallas Morning News. Consistently the newspaper has called for Elian Gonzalez to be returned to his father, and I have to say, I agree with those editorials. I don't see that there's any reasonable alternative. I certainly regret that he was not returned in an orderly way. It would have been far, far better. It would have been far better if the agent making the raid hadn't had to wear that gear -- the goggles and the helmet were terrifying to behold. I do recognize, however, that the crowd was angry, and I would not want to go into a situation unprotected. So it's possible that if Janet Reno had waited longer it might have gone better, it might have gone more smoothly, but I see no reason to expect that. It may have been that what happened early Saturday morning was going to happen in some form no matter what. Now, how do people in this part of the country feel about it? They are strongly divided. I hear people... Republicans on both sides of issue, thinking Janet Reno did exactly what she had to do, thinking she did a terrible thing. I hear Democrats saying, it's a lose-lose situation all around. So there is sharply different opinion here.
RAY SUAREZ: And Bernadette Malone Connolly, what kind of feedback are you getting? I guess a newspaper in a community like yours is some place where people write not only letters to the editor and now there's e-mail and phone banks and everything else.
BERNADETTE MALONE CONNOLLY: That's right, Ray. The response was nearly unanimous. Even people what wanted to see Juan Miguel reunited with his son were distraught about the way this happened. The line we've heard over and over again, the end justifies the means, that's what the separation seems to be saying, that the excessive show of force, pointing a gun at a 6-year-old's head, that was all necessary because the Miami relatives were disobeying the law, that's not so clear to me. In fact, this afternoon, there was a press conference in which the University of Miami president and Mr. Podhurst, who the attorney general referred to on this show, said they were stunned that negotiations were broken off at such a point where the Gonzalez family in Miami was making concessions and a letter had been signed, apparently the attorney general and the Justice Department were committed to getting this over with so that the boy would have time to bond with his father before this court of appeals makes its decision in early May. And then at that point, I think it's impossible to expect Elian will want to say that he's going to stay in America. It's probable he'll say he wants to return to Cuba with his father, because by that time he'll have been in the custody of his father, and all the Cuban diplomats and psychiatrists who are up here with him. And so it looks very bleak indeed, and most people here in New Hampshire certainly see it that way.
RAY SUAREZ: And Robert Kittle, the feedback in San Diego?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, Ray, if our letters to the editor are any guide, about two-thirds of our readers support the government action. I think there is a great deal of questioning about the tactics that were used, but I think there is in general a recognition that there was no other choice. Lazaro Gonzalez had said in fact not too long ago that he would never relinquish the child, even if ordered to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court, so some action was necessary by the government to reunite Elian with his father. And we can do a lot of second-guessing about what's in the best interest of the boy, but quite frankly, there's only one person who should be making that determination, as far as I'm concerned, and this is the boy's father. Now it is up to the boy's father to make the judgments about what country he will live in, what country Elian will live in, and all the other decisions that we as fathers take for granted in raising our children. So this story, as bad as it has been, really turns out with a happy ending.
RAY SUAREZ: And, Cynthia Tucker, to close, does this look like an issue with legs, something that in Georgia will remain a hot issue for some time to come?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: I think it will be a hot issue as long as the case continues to be very heavily covered, both by broadcast media and by print. I think that there will be a occasional flare ups of interest, if you will. I think all of us will be listening very closely for the decision out of the 11th Circuit Court, which is based here in Atlanta. So I think on the day that they announce their decision, there will be a lot of interest.
RAY SUAREZ: And something that continues to be hotly debated in a state like Georgia where the role of government is always uppermost in people's minds?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Indeed. One of the interesting things, one of the interesting effects of the tactics used by the Justice Department is that it has drawn very sharp criticism from people who are very skeptical about government intervention. In fact, I heard a radio talk show host haranguing yesterday that this was the reason that every family should own a gun. However, I do not have any reason to believe from our letters to the editor that this is what most of our readers think. But that is certainly the view of some.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, we'll leave it there. Guests, thank you very much.