Gonzalez Reunited With Dad
By CALVIN WOODWARD=
Associated Press Writer
Seized in darkness, the
little castaway adrift for five months in an international custody
dispute was placed in his father's arms Saturday after federal
agents used battering rams and pepper spray to hustle him from
Miami and the relatives fighting to block his return to communist
"We're taking you to
see your papa," an agent told a terrified Elian Gonzalez,
ending the protracted standoff in three frantic minutes with a
raid that sparked protests through Miami and debate over the
Clinton administration's use of force. Crying with fright, the
6-year-old Cuban boy was taken before dawn and flown to Andrews
Air Force Base outside Washington, where he was in seclusion with
his father, stepmother and baby half-brother. Though in his
father's custody, Elian's fate still remains unsettled. The courts
will ultimately rule on whether the boy should remain in the
Unrest spread through
Miami's Little Havana neighborhood as protesters spilled into the
streets, lighting street fires and struggling with police carrying
batons and shields. Arrests were reported. "What's
happening?" Elian boy yelled in Spanish as riot-clad agents
armed with automatic weapons burst into the Miami relatives' home,
finding him in a closet in the arms of the same fisherman who had
rescued him from the sea on Thanksgiving Day _ and now had to hand
him over. Hours later, the boy whose mother drowned fleeing Cuba
was getting reacquainted with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.
Elian smiled as he posed for a picture with his father, and was
seen in another photo playing with 6-month-old Hianny. Elian wore
a Batman T-shirt.
"He seemed to be very
happy to be back with his father," said Gregory Craig, Juan
Miguel Gonzalez's lawyer. "It is amazing how quickly that
bond re-established itself. It was almost instantaneous."
There was no independent corroboration of the lawyer's account of
the reunion. In Havana, Cubans rejoiced. In an official statement
read over state radio stations, the government urged Cubans to
"maintain calm and avoid public displays."
After the months-long tug of
war and failed all-night negotiations, it took officers only
minutes to retrieve the boy from the relatives who cared for him
since his rescue _ and defied all previous efforts to have him
released to his father and returned to Cuba. The boy who had so
often turned an impish face to the world looked terror-stricken in
pictures taken by an Associated Press photographer who captured
the raid inside the house on film.
"Elian is safe and no
one was seriously hurt," Attorney General Janet Reno said
afterward. She said the relatives' intransigence left her no
choice but to order the use of force. Marisleysis Gonzalez, the
21-year-old cousin who had cared for the boy like a mother, wailed
and wept through the morning and shouted her disdain for the
government. "To have a 6-year-old crying, 'Don't take me,
don't take me' ... This is not America," she yelled as
hundreds of Cuban-Americans poured into the streets to protest
what they saw as Washington's betrayal and what they feared would
be Cuban President Fidel Castro's propaganda victory. She and her
father, Lazaro Gonzalez, who had temporary custody of Elian, later
left for Washington to try to see Elian and his father.
As protests mounted in
Miami, police fired tear gas into one crowd, stationed two gray
buses with bars on the windows in the center of Little Havana and
began handcuffing demonstrators. The few protesters who put up a
struggle were beaten down by police and arrested. At 5 a.m., more
than 20 agents in white vans arrived at the house of Lazaro
Gonzalez, the boy's great-uncle, and used rams to get through the
home's chain-link fence and front door.
Maria Elena Quesada, who was
at the home, said Elian was screaming "Help me! Help me!
Don't take me away!" in Spanish. "Assassins,"
shouted supporters who had been keeping constant vigil outside.
Rushed into a van as officials fired clouds of pepper spray to
keep the crowds back, Elian was soothed by an immigration agent
who told him he was being taken to "papa."
"This may seem very
scary," she told him, according to Doris Meissner,
commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"It will soon be better." On the government plane, where
he was described as subdued and calm, he was given Play-Doh, a toy
airplane, a map and a watch. He talked to his father by telephone,
and was accompanied by a psychiatrist.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who
had been staying at a Cuban diplomat's home outside of Washington
since he left Havana more than two weeks ago with a personal
send-off from Castro, was told about the raid as soon as his son
was away from the scene. The decision to act was made by Reno,
President Clinton said during a brief question and answer session
in the White House Rose Garden.
"She managed this, but
I fully support what she did," he said. Reno said she tried
to reach a negotiated solution until the final moments but the
relatives "kept moving the goal post and raising the
hurdles." The relatives said they were still negotiating and
had been put on hold on the telephone by a mediator when the
"We're angry and
disgusted," said Kendall Coffey, a lawyer for the relatives.
Reno said the boy would stay in the United States pending further
court action over the question of asylum, as the federal appeals
court ruled _ a statement confirmed by Gonzalez's lawyer.
"Juan Gonzalez has made a commitment to remain in the United
States during this appeal, and he will live up to that
commitment," Craig said.
A State Department official
said the reunited family would stay at the secured air base for a
few days and then go to an undisclosed location in the Washington
area. Cautious in his statements about the standoff up to now,
George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee,
sharply criticized the raid and said the dispute should have been
settled in Florida family court.
"The chilling picture
of a little boy being removed from his home at gunpoint defies the
values of America and is not an image a freedom-loving nation
wants to show the world," Bush said. Reno defended sending
armed agents to the house, saying officials had been "told on
occasion that people would have weapons to prevent it from
She did not say whether any
weapons were found. She also said the agent photographed
confronting Donato Dalrymple in the closet with Elian had his gun
"pointed to the side" and his "finger was not on
the trigger." AP photographs showed the agent with his
trigger finger extended alongside the trigger, but not gripping
The gun was pointed slightly
off to the side of the huddling man and boy. Ramon Saul Sanchez,
leader of the anti-Castro Democracy Movement, was bleeding from
one ear after the raid. He said he was knocked out by an agent
using a rifle as a club. "They were animals," said Jess
Garcia, a bystander. "They gassed women and children to take
a defenseless child out of here.
We were assaulted with no
terrible," said Cristina Valdes, 67, who was among dozens of
people banging on a parked van to vent their anger. "I'm
ashamed to be an American. Clinton is a coward, coward,
coward." The government and Juan Miguel Gonzalez insisted
that any deal contain an immediate transfer of custody of Elian to
him, but the Miami relatives refused.
The deal that had been under
discussion called for Juan Miguel Gonzalez and Elian, Lazaro and
Marisleysis to move to one of two foundation-owned conference
centers near Washington, with formal custody being transferred
immediately to the father, a Justice Department official said. The
two sides couldn't agree on the custody issue or how long they
might live together pending the end of the court battle.
The Miami relatives lost a
U.S. District Court battle to get a political asylum hearing for
Elian. An appeals court has ordered Elian to stay in this country
until it decides that case, but did not bar Reno from switching
custody. A hearing is set for May 11.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ AP writers
Alex Veiga, Terry Spencer and Millie Cherfils in Miami, Michael J.
Sniffen in Washington and Pauline Jelinek at Andrews Air Force
Base contributed to this report. ___= On the Net: Immigration and
Naturalization Service: http://www.ins.usdoj.gov
Miami relatives: http://libertyforelian.org