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Burden of Proof

Elian Gonzalez Case: Federal Government Plans to Use Psychiatrists to Smooth Transfer; Miami Relatives Continue Legal Efforts

Aired April 10, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: And the family right behind me, all that they want is for the opportunity to speak for the best interest of Elian, whether it's to stay here or whether it's to return to Cuba. But they want and they plead and they're begging for a private meeting with Juan Miguel. That's all the family wants.

JANET RENO, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is a very special little boy. His father did a darn good job of raising him until he was 6 with his -- along with his mother. It's time we reunite them, and it's time we do it in a peaceful way. Elian deserves that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: The federal government plans to use psychiatrists to smooth the transfer of Elian Gonzalez to his Cuban father. But their Miami relatives continue their legal efforts to keep the child in America.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Psychiatrists are preparing to meet with the Miami family of Elian Gonzalez. The meeting has been described by Attorney General Janet Reno as one of the final steps toward Elian's reunification with his father.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: But the Gonzalez family in Florida says the psychiatrists should also meet with the 6-year-old child. And those relatives haven't given up on their bid to keep Elian on American soil.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY CRAIG, ATTY. FOR JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ: The issue here is not reuniting the Gonzalez family. The issue is reuniting the Gonzalez father with the Gonzalez son. And the way that should happen is for Lazaro Gonzalez to take the hand of Elian Gonzalez and lead him to Juan Miguel and say, here is your son. When that happens, anything is possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: And joining us today from Miami is Mayor Joe Carollo. Here in Washington: Steven Wheeler (ph), CNN Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman, and immigration lawyer Jose Pertierra.

VAN SUSTEREN: And in our back row: Beth Vitello (ph), Nancy Ginesta-Wall (ph) and Amanda Esquibel (ph).

Lucia, let me go first to you because you've been in Cuba all this time and came over when Juan Miguel came to the United States. What do the Cuban people -- if you can generalize, what do they think is -- that Juan Miguel is going to do here?

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Well, a lot of people have speculated: Will he stay here or will he go back to Cuba. I think most people expect him to go back. And it's not because they think that the relatives that stayed behind are going to be put in jail and turned into mince meat if he doesn't go back, but because there is a kind of a pressure, a moral pressure, on him now to do so. And that's what I think they were debating.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the moral pressure from the viewpoint of the Cubans -- is that what's going to triumph here, or is international law, or is it Castro? What's going to be the driving force?

NEWMAN: Well, the most Cuban people believe that the boy should be with his father regardless as to whether he wanted to come here or go back to Cuba -- that he should be with his father, that that's national law not just international law. They think that that's what will triumph more than anything else.

COSSACK: Let's go to the mayor, Mayor Joe Carollo.

Let's talk about what might happen if, in fact, it comes time for the transfer of young Elian to the Justice Department. How do you think your community will react?

MAYOR JOE CAROLLO, MIAMI, FLORIDA: Well, the history, the tradition that the Cuban-American community in Miami has had has been one of being peaceful, being nonviolent. There is not going to be any violence in Miami. This is not Cuba where there is no freedom, there is no liberty, only the law of Castro and the use of the rapid brigades to harass and use violence against people.

In fact, one thing I do like to point out in this whole thing is that December 1, 1999 -- and here it is -- the Department of Immigration, their position was clearly that the proper place to hear this venue was Florida family courts. Several weeks later when they received the pressure that was applied by the Castro regime, of the typical threats of sending and lashing out with another Marillo (ph), of opening up the jails and sending the hard-core criminals and sending the insane from the psychiatric hospitals, our government backed down again. And this is what really is happening here, that no matter what is right, no matter if even God himself came down and said that it was wrong to treat this boy without the due process, our administration is petrified of what Castro would do, and they've made up their minds to send him back.

COSSACK: Mayor, let me just interrupt you a second. What part of due process don't you -- do you believe that Elian has not been afforded? He has been -- his case has been heard in the federal court, there's been a decision made that this is an immigration matter. The Florida state courts have tried to be involved but the federal courts have said immigration is a national -- is a federal policy.

VAN SUSTEREN: He didn't get a hearing, that was the problem. He didn't get a hearing.

CAROLLO: How you can say that when right now as we speak, there is a day set for May the 8th before the 11th appellate court in Atlanta to hear this appeal? This is America. This is how we work -- through the court system. And this boy has not been given his full due process rights that we even give to convicted murderers.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mayor, I understand tomorrow you're going to meet with the attorney general of the United States. What is the purpose of that meeting?

CAROLLO: Well, that meeting was arranged on Friday afternoon of last week. And I think the purpose of that meeting, at least from my perspective, is that we want to work in making sure that this boy is reunited with his father, but in the way that we do things in America: through fairness, through liberty, through justice. And what has happened there...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you about that, then, Mayor. Let me ask you just quickly. If -- I mean, if the father shows up on the doorstep this afternoon down in Miami -- and it's his son, and in the United States fathers and sons have a special relationship both in law and in the sense of morality -- will the family turn him over to his father?

CAROLLO: Well, first of all, he would be received with the same love and flowers in hands that the grandmothers were waited for in Miami. But you and I both know that the father will never show up in the home of the family here because the father is being totally controlled unlike anything that's ever happened in America. We're letting a foreign government control on U.S. soil Juan Miguel.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you encourage the family, though, if...

CAROLLO: And this is part of what I'm saying.

VAN SUSTEREN: If there weren't this control that you say that Castro has over Juan Miguel, if the father did show up, would you urge the family to say, this is the father, he's on the doorstep, let him take his son?

CAROLLO: If the father would be out of the control of the Cuban security personnel, if we would follow for some 30 days what every objective, unbiased psychologist, psychiatrist has said that needs to be done for the welfare of the boy, that there be a 30-day reuniting of the father where the Miami family could participate -- if the father can finally breathe freedom and liberty in America and have that opportunity to make up his own mind in that process with his son, and if at the end of that time he decides to stay in Miami or the United States, we should let him. But if he decides instead that he wants to go back to Cuba, then I will support that.

But this is the problem: He is not being given that real opportunity to know and understand that this is America, this is not Cuba, he could have real freedom here.

COSSACK: All right, let me interrupt a second.

Lucia, what do the people of Cuba think about this? We now see how the mayor represents how the Cuban-Americans in Miami feel. What do they feel?

NEWMAN: Well, the same with the Cuban-Americans in Florida, I don't think they're all absolutely unanimous in their point of view -- the Cubans in Cuba aren't -- except on one thing they're almost unanimous. And that is that that little boy should be with his father and that his father should decide where he wants to live with him. And his father, as we know, has said that he wants to live with him in Cardenas, Cuba.

Now, many Cubans, we know, every day get on boats and try to come to this country. It's -- living in Cuba is not a bed of roses for many, many people, and they come here looking for a better life, a better lifestyle, a better standard of living at the very least. Others come, also, for very, very strong political reasons. But it's mainly because they want a better standard of living. But the Cuban people believe it's up for the father to decide and that, above all else, he has the right to decide for his son.

VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take a break.

Up next, the Elian hand-off: If his Miami relatives balk, how does the Justice Department proceed? Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

A Wisconsin federal court recently upheld a November 1999 verdict which found the restaurant chain Chuck E. Cheese unfairly fired a mentally retarded janitor. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Chuck E. Cheese must reinstate the former employee to his janitorial position and pay him $300,000 in damages.

Source: "The National Law Journal"

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to cnn.com/burden. We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back.

We're joined now by CNN Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas, who joins us from the Justice Department.

Pierre, has the attorney general given it any thought about whether or not -- how she will achieve this transfer, if the family doesn't want to transfer the child to the father?

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first option that the Justice Department would pursue is to go to federal court to seek an order that would compel the family to produce the boy, the feeling is that the family would likely comply with that. They have said all along that they will follow and comply with federal law or state law.

Now, there is a question of the use force, that has always been an option. However, sources are telling us that it is not something that senior Justice Department official, the attorney general, Doris Meissner of the INS, or Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder are actively considering at this moment. There are some mid- to lower- level people looking at that option, but they have forwarded no plan to the attorney general at this particular moment, at least as of this weekend.

COSSACK: Jose , you met with Juan Miguel, Elian's father, over the weekend and had an opportunity to spend a couple hours with him. What were your impressions of that conversation? What were your impressions of him?

JOSE PERTIERRA, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: He is a regular guy. I mean, I spend 3 1/2 hours with him, spoke about all kinds of issues. He is very, very upset at the manipulation that has occurred in Miami with his little boy. That is a thing that is most troubling him. He was concerned about the images he has seen on television about how thin he looks lately and how much he has been manipulated, paraded in front of cameras.

COSSACK: In terms of manipulation, what does he mean? Does mean manipulation in the sense of making the child look like he doesn't want to go home to his father, when in fact he really does?

PERTIERRA: He mentioned the parading of the boy in front of camera at all hours of the night, teaching him how to make the V for victory sign, things of that nature, and using the little boy, he feels, for political purposes in Miami.

He said, in no uncertain terms, I just want to go home to Cardenas with my son.

COSSACK: Does his son want to go back to Cardenas with him? PERTIERRA: I didn't ask him that question. But you know, legally, that is not a proper question because the son is only 6 years old. If the son was 15 or 16 years old that would be a proper question, but since he is of such tender years, the only one who is legally authorized to decide say where this boy should live is his father.

COSSACK: Well, I was just interested in a manipulation or whether or not they manipulated this young boy so that he doesn't want to go back.

PERTIERRA: I didn't ask him that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Lucia, what do we know about the relationship between father and son prior to the tragic drowning of his mother?

NEWMAN: Well, by all accounts they were very, very close, which is not unusual because Cubans love their children, that's -- it would be unusual if they didn't...

VAN SUSTEREN: Did he support his child?

NEWMAN: He helped support his child. He had the child with him about half the week, they shared the custody or the care of the child with his wife -- with his former wife, I should say -- Elizabeth. She worked as a housemaid in a hotel -- in a large hotel in Maradero (ph), the nearby tourist resort. And so she sometimes had night shifts. So the child would be both with the mother and the father's families. And he would take the boy to baseball games, to political rallies. They would go, so he says, to get their hair cut together. They had a close relationship.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did he have any idea that the mother was going to take the child out of Cuba?

NEWMAN: The only one who knows that 100 percent is Juan Miguel Gonzalez. But I asked him that question. He sounded convincing when he said that he had no idea. And in fact he said to me, she would never have done that to me, she would never have done that to me, she knows how much I loved him.

But there is another reason why, perhaps, his former wife wouldn't have told him, and that is because late last year the Cuban government passed an edict which said that anybody who left for the United States illegally, in other words on a raft or a speedboat, wouldn't have to wait the five-year period that they had to wait earlier to come back to Cuba, but rather that they would never be allowed to come back again. And that would made it very difficult. That means that if she left with her son, he perhaps would never be able to see him again, son unless he left for the United States.

PERTIERRA: He told me that it was a surprise to him when he learned that his boy had been taken to the United States. He learned of it when he visited the school to try to pick him up and found that the boy wasn't there, and then he went to the house where the mother of Elian Gonzalez was and learned that the family had taken off for the United States.

COSSACK: What kind of life will Elian have with his father when they return to Cuba?

PERTIERRA: Well, Cardenas is a small town, so it will be a small-town life away from the glare of the media. It's a very different place from the United States. Cuba is an underdeveloped country. It doesn't have the material riches that exist here.

On the other hand, even though it's in Latin America, Cuba -- Cuban children don't suffer the kind of misery and difficult conditions that Latin American children suffer in places like Guatemala or Bolivia. The education system is very good, and there seems to be a great deal of care taken to children.

But as he grows older, the kinds of liberties that exist in the United States, such as the freedom of speech, are severely curtailed. So there are -- it's a give and take.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pierre, there's a meeting tomorrow between the attorney general and the mayor. From the attorney general's perspective, what does she expect to achieve?

THOMAS: Well, the attorney general is expected to make clear that she would like this transfer to happen as soon as possible. We understand that, as early as tomorrow, perhaps on Wednesday, the Justice Department will send a letter to the family informing them of the time and place of the transfer of the boy.

The Justice Department is pretty firm on that. Obviously, they have to wait to see how the family reacts, but they would like to see this transfer, if at all possible, take place this week.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. When we come back, a check-in to Miami, Florida, and the reaction of the Cuban-American community. Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Why has a coalition of political demonstrators filed suit against the city of Philadelphia?

A: Philadelphia has deeded over most of the public space to the Republican National Party for its July convention, forcing protesters to wait until July 1 to find out if space is available.

The coalition claims that the city has violated the First Amendment by favoring one group's speech over others.

Source: The National Law Journal

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Protesters near the Miami home of Elian's relatives say they know the boy's time in America may soon be coming to an end, but some told reporters they were praying for a divine intervention.

Joining us now from Miami is CNN correspondent Susan Candiotti. And along with Susan in Miami is Ramon Saul Sanchez of The Democracy Movement.

Well, Susan, there was a meeting that was scheduled for this afternoon at 1:30 that looks it is now on hold. What about it?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is in question, Roger. According to one of the lawyers representing the Gonzalez family, they have informed U.S. Immigration that because Lazaro is at a local hospital right now, where his daughter has been hospitalized, they have told Immigration that they are not quite sure when the meeting will take place. The lawyer stresses that the meeting has not necessarily been canceled, but that for now, as you say, it is delayed until Lazaro has time to take care of his daughter's needs, meet with her doctors, and then decide whether he will be able to make it to that meeting today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ramon, you are president of The Democracy Movement, and you are in favor -- correct me if I'm wrong -- of having this issue resolved in family court. Now, let me present the issue to you that two of our guests here, both Jose and Lucia say -- describe the father as having been a good attentive father when the child was in Cuba. Family law prefers fathers over a more distant relative.

If the family court says, the father has total and complete custody and should make decisions for his son, what's your position at that point?

RAMON SAUL SANCHEZ, THE DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT: Well, we haven't argued that the father should be reunited with his son. What our position has been is that above that is the best interest of the child. And in the case of Elian Gonzalez specifically, this child, if sent back to Cuba, will face irreversible damage, psychologically, as said by Fidel Castro, he is going to be deprogrammed, which in a totalitarian regime means affecting him psychologically to make the child think the way Castro wants. And this, of course, puts the child in a very dangerous position.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask our Havana bureau chief, who is here. Lucia, is Ramon correct?

NEWMAN: I have not heard President Castro say, specifically, that he will -- to use those words -- "deprogram" Elian Gonzalez. I haven't heard anything of the kind. What he has said is that the boy would return back to Cuba; that he would go back to the Cuban school system, obviously, and nobody is denying it, the Cuban school system teaches the virtues of communism. He has also said that the boy would have access -- he said this back in December, let me say, and he hasn't returned to repeat it, but he did say the child would go initially to a hospital to receive medical treatment, psychiatric help, whatever he would need to get over the trauma. But right now they haven't mentioned that. But some kind of a ideological detoxification, he hasn't used those words. COSSACK: Susan Candiotti, normally, when you are out where you are at your post there are many, many Cuban-American protesters also there. How many are there today?

CANDIOTTI: Well, not that many, Roger. At this hour, there are generally around 30-40 people or so, and then normally the numbers build as the day go on. However, they are expecting thousands to show up at a candlelight vigil tonight at 8:00, just a few blocks from here. So a much larger crowd expected to attend that tonight.

VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, has anyone in the crowd spoken to you, and told you what their intentions are, in the event the Justice department does show up and seek custody of the child?

CANDIOTTI: Well, yes, these demonstrators have said, time and again, as well as their organizers, that they intend at the very least to try to form a human chain around the house, at least symbolically to try to protect this child from being removed from here.

Now, if it came down to a situation where Lazaro Gonzalez or a family representative was asked to take the boy someplace else, under a court order, it remains unclear whether there would be a similar human chain formed around the house. But perhaps Mr. Sanchez might be able to explain what steps they might take in that instance.

VAN SUSTEREN: And unfortunately we are going to have to wait until the next time we cover this topic because we are out of time. That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Stay tuned to CNN today for developments in the Elian Gonzalez case. That will be the subject for today's "TALKBACK LIVE." That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

COSSACK: And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. And we'll see you then.

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