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Breaking News

Elian Gonzalez's Grandmothers Hold News Conference

Aired January 21, 2000 - 4:35 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Lou Waters here at CNN Center. We're going to go to New York now to witness the latest development in the Elian Gonzalez story. His maternal and paternal grandmothers, Raquel Rodriguez and Mariela Quintana, have just arrived at JFK. They're here, in the words of the National Council of Churches' general secretary, to speak to the American people, to appeal to the American people.

Let's listen in.

REV. ROBERT EDGAR, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES: Ladies and gentlemen, I am Dr. Bob Edgar. I'm the general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, as I said I'm Bob Edgar -- I'm president of the National Council of Churches, and I'm president of the Claremont School of Theology, and I'm also a grandfather.

I'm going to take a moment to introduce a delegation of members who went to Cuba to invite Elian Gonzalez's grandmothers to come and speak. First, I want to introduce the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, who is the former general secretary of the National Council of Churches and a grandmother. Also with us was Oscar Bolioli (ph) Church World Service and witness National Council of Churches and a grandfather. Returning with us on the plane was the very Rev. Oden Marechal (ph), president of the Council of Churches of Cuba and vicar general of the Episcopal Church of Cuba. Oden is also a grandfather.

Before I introduce to you Elian Gonzalez's grandmothers, let me say that we, as people of faith, believe that the children should lead us to reconciliation and to peace. Our mission began yesterday when we left New York, traveled to Havana and spent time with the family. We then met with the family over several hours, and they, at the invitation of the National Council of Churches and the Cuban Council of Churches accepted the invitation to come and give voice.

All the people I've just introduced are grandfathers and grandmothers, but the most important grandmothers are here to speak to you. First, let me introduce Juan Miguel Gonzalez's mother, Mariela Quintana, who will speak on behalf of her grandson.

MARIELA QUINTANA, GRANDMOTHER OF ELIAN GONZALEZ (through translator): I wanted to say thank you to the National Council of Churches and the general secretary to invite us to be here with you today. So all the people here, the journalists, so they can hear us and also to make the question that they feel to make.

So you can make questions, because we wanted to tell you that we are free to say what we feel.

I wanted to thank everybody in the U.S. government who was trying to facilitate all that's possible so our grandson can go to Cuba so to finish with this tragedy that is so hard for us as a family so our grandson can return home as soon as possible.

With this reason is that we have come up to here.

EDGAR: The second person that I would like to introduce to all of you is Elizabet's mother, Raquel Rodriguez -- is Elian Gonzalez's grandmother and the mother of Elizabet, who tragically died at sea.

She would like to speak to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you hold on one second?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're either down or you're out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Either everybody gets down or you leave. That's the last time I'm going to ask you. Get down.


You don't get down, you leave.

Sir, sir, do you want to stand up, you stand in the back.

RAQUEL GONZALEZ, ELIAN'S GRANDMOTHER (through translator): I am the grandmother from the mother's side. I come as the other grandmother. And I think that I want, as a mother, to remember the memory of the mother, and we feel that the best way to keep the memory is that Elian will be with us back.

I wanted to add also many people say that it was the will of the mother that the son will stay here. I talk for her because I knew her very much. I know the mother, I know how she things and how they behaved.

If she make that step, it's because she has a person living with her that was very violent, sometimes was very harsh with her, and he pushed her to be in that situation.

I want to ask all of you who want to help us, if you want to help us, what I want is help us to return Elian home, because I want that my daughter will be in peace, and she cannot be in peace until Elian is back with the family.

QUESTION: Can they to us why they are here in New York and not in Miami?

EDGAR: As people -- as people of faith, we act on behalf of the children of the world. Our prayer is to take Elian Gonzalez home. As you can imagine, facing all of the people and the press in Cuba and here in the United States is a terrifying, terrifying act for them. These are very kind, very caring grandmothers.

As I met them over the last 24 hours, I want them to adopt me as a grandchild. They will be here only for a few days, and they hope to return with their grandson.

I will invite you to ask questions, but we will not answer any questions that deal with the technical aspects of the case. We are simply here to allow the grandmothers to speak on their own behalf.

You may ask questions.


Your question. Your question.


EDGAR: We're asking permission for them to answer your question.

QUINTANA (through translator): I -- what I wanted to say I feel that nobody has the right to make him an American citizen. He's born in Cuba. He live in Cuba. He's a Cuban, and nobody outside has the right, even the Congress or the president, to change his status.

EDGAR: Your question is next. Your question is next.


EDGAR: I can answer that question for you. They have no plans to go to Miami. They do want to meet their grandson as soon as possible.


EDGAR: I've answered the question.


EDGAR: The answer -- I will ask her if she's willing to respond, but the answer to that question is that the National Council of Churches of Christ and the Cuban Council of Churches will facilitate the return, or there may be other options if, in fact, the government responds. But she answer the other question.

We believe in miracles.

Other questions? Your question back there. Your question back there, and then yours. Your question.


EDGAR: She wants to respond first to the question that was asked and then we'll come back to yours. QUINTANA (through translator): With respect to the family who is in Miami, I am not thinking to go to the house. They have no right to keep the child there. We are requesting the church to help us to return the child to Cuba.

EDGAR: Would you repeat your question? Then we're going to translate the question, and then she will respond, or whoever.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are afraid to be here?

EDGAR: Let me answer the question for her, because we've talked about this over the last...


I'm going to respond and say we're all frightened to be here in front of all of you. She can speak for herself, but your question is so personal.

Obviously, we are all nervous.

Please, do you want to say anything more than that?

QUINTANA (through translator): I feel very well here. I'm not afraid of anything.

EDGAR: OK. CBS here.


QUINTANA (through translator): The only message that we have from the father, from Juan, is that the child must go back home. And he doesn't need to be here because we, the two mothers and grandmothers. we are here for that.

EDGAR: I might say that Juan joined us at the airport in a moving tribute to these courageous women as we took off. Your question? [inaudible]


RODRIGUEZ (through translator): There will be so many things we want to tell him. I don't know if we can talk and ask questions. Maybe we are going to cry a lot, because today is 63 days that we don't see him. And it's three days that we cannot reach him by phone.


RODRIGUEZ (through translator): Elian cannot see this type of program. They don't allow him to see this.

EDGAR: Your question over here. Your question.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) EDGAR: I can answer that in part. I will -- I will let them answer it. But I want to let you know it's been very difficult on them and the family until there was this church-to-church exchange.


RODRIGUEZ (through translator): We didn't come before, because always we received the promise that the child is going to be returned very quickly. This didn't happen, and they started some type of game that changes the dates again and again. The last date was the 14th, and they changed it again.

Migration say the child must be returned to Cuba, and the deadline was the 14th. The view that this deadline is over, and it's nothing new that we can expect. We decided not to wait more on promises and to come up to here. And we come here because the church invited us to come and helped us to come.

EDGAR: I have your question, and we're going to take one more.


QUINTANA (through translator): What other thing we can do that just be with him, play with him, give him all the love that we have.

EDGAR: Your question. The man in the back.



QUESTION: Can you translate the question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can -- put it in English, so it's better for us, too.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but for the rest of the press, can you put it in English?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Repeat it in Spanish.


QUINTANA (through translator): We feel that the government must not interfere, but when you say that, we must remember how much help the other side, the mafia, has been supporting the other side of the case.

I'm going to answer your question. We talked with that child every day. This child says to me and to the father that he wanted to return. He is crazy to return to Cuba. And what more you want when he saw that plane and he said, please take me to Cuba. What more do you want to ask of that child if he wanted to come or not?


EDGAR: We -- the agenda for the rest of the evening is the last question. We have been up most of the night and all of today and yesterday, and we have two things on the agenda. One is dinner and one is rest.

These courageous women have come and they have begun to tell their story. They would like to have Elian Gonzalez return with them. They would like to have an opportunity to meet and speak with any government official that can help in that process.

They are going to rest and sleep and begin tomorrow a journey to be successful in taking back Elian. We thank you very much for your time and energy, and we will keep you posted on any new developments.

Thank you.


WATERS: That's Robert Edgar. He's the general secretary of the National Council of Churches who said that before the grandmothers' arrival in the United States that they wanted to speak to the American people and ask that Elian Gonzalez be allowed to go home.

You heard in a tearful appeal from both grandmothers that the family members in Miami had no right to keep the family. There was no right for Elian to be made a United States citizen and that he must go home.

You heard one grandmother say it's been 63 days since we've seen the boy. Elian says he wants to return. Please take me to Cuba, they say, he's been telling them over the phone.

The first thing you'll say to Elian, we'll just give him all the love that we have. So they wanted to speak to the American people. They have.

Another development in this matter is after their rest and relaxation this evening, we are being told by our people at the State Department that the two grandmothers have requested a face-to-face meeting with the attorney general, Janet Reno, and the INS commissioner, Doris Meissner: both of whom agree that the boy should be returned to his father in Cuba.

Ms. Reno and Meissner are said to be seriously considering granting such a meeting, but that's all we know for now.

The request was made to the U.S. officials by Representative Maxine Waters, who is the Democratic representative from California. She was speaking to the attorney general and the INS commissioner on behalf of the grandmothers. The other development today, the senior U.S. district judge in the matter, James Lawrence King, who got that petition to override the INS decision has withdrawn from the case. No public reason was given. However, he had warned parties in the case that he might withdraw because of potential conflicts. Another judge has been assigned to the case.

Then on Monday, the Congress reconvenes, and there's a matter pending before the Congress which would make Elian Gonzalez a citizen of the United States.

So the Elian Gonzalez story is far from over as we see it for now. More on the story as it unfolds.

I'm Lou Waters at CNN Center.


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