|WAR OF WORDS|
March 30, 2000
KWAME HOLMAN: Today lawyers representing the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez met with immigration officials in Miami to continue negotiations over the boy's fate. The Immigration service originally set today as the deadline for the Miami family members to agree to hand over the boy to federal authorities should a federal court deny their appeal to keep him here. They asked Elian's Great Uncle Lazaro Gonzalez to sign on to the agreement, but he refused, and last night's negotiation ended. Today the INS extended the deadline to 9:00 tomorrow morning. Unless the Miami relatives agree to the stepped-up appeal process, the INS says it may revoke Elian's temporary parole that allows him to remain in this country. Late yesterday Florida Governor Jeb Bush released a letter to President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno calling the Immigration Service's stance inflammatory. Bush called on the federal government to "step back from the heat of the moment and take a more reflective view of this situation," and for the Justice Department and Immigration Service to "rescind their written demand that the Miami relatives give over Elian if their appeals fail. These latest developments once again have stirred the strong anti-Castro sentiments among Miami's large Cuban-American community, and last night those demanding Elian be allowed to remain in the United States took their cause to the streets around Elian's Miami home. At her weekly press briefing this morning, Attorney General Reno commented on the negotiations.
JANET RENO: We're continuing conversations this morning in Miami to try to work out a resolution that will ensure that an appeal is heard in a timely way, that nothing will be done to return Elian if that has happened, and if everyone agrees that we will abide in a prompt, orderly way with the rulings that come down in that appeal.
KWAME HOLMAN: Renewing his role in the drama, Cuban President Fidel Castro last night appeared on Cuban television and announced Elian's father would be allowed to travel to the United States to reclaim his six-year-old son. Castro said Juan Miguel Gonzalez would be accompanied by an entourage of Elian's family members, teachers, classmates and a psychiatric team, but the mayor of Miami's Dade County has made it clear he won't cooperate. Yesterday Alex Penelas warned that local authorities would not be held responsible if the community erupts in violence should federal agents try to remove Elian from his relatives by force.
MAYOR ALEX PENELAS, Miami-Dade County: We will not lend our respective resources-- whether they be in the form of police officers or any other resources-- to assist the federal government in any way, shape or form to inappropriately repatriate Elian Gonzalez to Cuba.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton was asked about the Miami mayor's comments during yesterday's White House press conference.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I like the mayor very much, but I still believe in the rule of law here. We all have to...whatever the law is, whatever the decision that is ultimately made, the rest of us ought to obey it.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning Mayor Penelas tried to clarify his statement, appearing on the three major breakfast broadcasts.
MAYOR ALEX PENELAS: I made it extremely clear yesterday that in no way do I condone or any of the local elected officials condone any inappropriate behavior or protests that would in any way infringe on anyone else's rights. We've made that extremely clear. It's unfortunate that perhaps some people interpret my comments in the fashion that they have, but I think I was abundantly clear in telling people that this community will not tolerate inappropriate behavior and our police departments are prepared to deal with that. Now it's a totally different issue to suggest that our police departments will be involved in snatching the boy from his little Havana home. That we will not do.
KWAME HOLMAN: Attorney General Reno, a Miami native, responded as well.
JANET RENO: Some officials yesterday suggested that if we take action, it is a provocation, a provoking of people that would produce risk that could contribute to violence. They said that they would not be responsible for that, that I would be. The people I know in the Cuban community came to this country and have contributed so much to it because they believe in the rule of law. They came to this country seeking a democratic society in which to live, where all people can speak, and there are processes and procedures for people to be heard. I don't think they came to this country to incite violence. I think they came to this country to be able to speak their mind, to follow the law, to respect others, and to see that those processes were carried out. Those are the people that I think will speak ultimately with the loudest voice, and although we may disagree as to what happens, I think for the Cuban community I know, we're in solid agreement that the rule of law should apply, that democratic principles must be honored, enforced, and supported in every way possible and that respect must be given to everyone involved in this very difficult issue in which we all try to seek what we believe to be right. This case has been heartbreaking for everybody involved, but we believe that the law is clear. The father must speak for the little boy because the sacred bond between parent and child must be recognized and honored, and Elian should be reunited with his father.
KWAME HOLMAN: Elian's father also now has U.S. legal representation from Gregory Craig, who helps defend President Clinton during his impeachment trial. Craig read a statement in Washington this afternoon.
GREGORY CRAIG, Lawyer for Elian's Father: The relatives in Miami do not speak for Elian. The lawyers in Miami do not speak for Elian. The only person who has the legal and moral authority to speak for Elian is his father.
KWAME HOLMAN: Yet the two leading presidential candidates also spoke up today on the Elian case. Vice President Al Gore was at a Washington demonstration of fuel-efficient cars when his campaign office released a statement in which Gore called on Congress to grant permanent U.S. resident status to Elian, his father, and close Cuban relatives. The Vice President said that would allow all to remain in the U.S. while Elian's case is decided. And George W. Bush, who also supports U.S. residency for Elian, spoke at an education event in Wisconsin.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think that the administration has been heavy- handed. I believe that they ought to listen to the cries of many at the local level to have the case heard at a family court in Florida. I would hope that if Mr. Gonzalez does come over, that he come over as a person who is able to make a decision based on his desire, that he be given a chance to feel America and what freedom means before he makes any decision, and that the decision be made in a family court.
KWAME HOLMAN: And later in response to the Vice President's statement, Bush said....
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm glad the Vice President has seen the wisdom of the ways and what he ought to do is convince the attorney general and the President to accept the same position. Thank you.
KWAME HOLMAN: As tensions mounted throughout the day, the lawyers for Elian's Miami relatives finally emerged from day-long meetings with Immigration officials early this evening. They said the two sides agreed once again to extend the deadline set for tomorrow to reach an agreement. They said no further action would be taken before Tuesday of next week.