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Reno Arrives in Florida to Meet Elian's Miami Relatives

Aired April 12, 2000 - 5:56 p.m. ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Several developments, just recapping now, in the case of Elian Gonzalez. The boy and his cousin at the private estate of a Catholic nun in Miami Beach. This, the airplane is carrying U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. She's just landed in Opa Locka, Florida, close to Miami, an airport near Miami. We are told that her plans are to go and meet with the relatives of the boy at this hour.

The boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, is staying at the home of a Cuban diplomat in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington. Although there are signs of movement there, he may be leaving the house. We do not know where he would be headed if he left.

Again, this plane carrying the attorney general of the United States, Janet Reno, who's just landed in Florida and is expected to meet with the relatives of Elian Gonzalez.

CNN's Pierre Thomas, who has covered the Justice Department for us, is here to bring us up to date -- Pierre.

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, Janet Reno is going to make a personal quest, a personal plea to the family of Elian Gonzalez, the Miami relatives that is, to tell them that she wants them to cooperate, and that she wants an orderly transfer of the boy. She's trying to emphasize, think about the good of the child, and she wants their complete cooperation. Even our sources are telling us this is a risky proposition, and Reno may not be able to convince them.

WOODRUFF: Will lawyers be present? How many relatives do we know, that sort of information, Pierre, when the attorney general does meet with these relatives?

THOMAS: Some of that's unclear, but we do know that Reno wants to talk directly with Lazaro Gonzalez, his daughter and possibly also to visit with Elian. She wants to talk with them, look them in the eye, make a personal plea, try to get them on board to cooperate. Reno thinks it's very important to have a family-to-family transfer with very little trauma to the boy. Again, she's trying to make this personal plea. She's from Miami. She feels like if she can get there, she knows the landscape, that she can make a personal plea and it might make a difference.

WOODRUFF: This small plane carrying Attorney General Janet Reno, who has just landed in Opa Locka, Florida, just outside of Miami.

Let's go now to Miami Beach to CNN's John Zarella, who is at the private estate of the Catholic nun, Sister O'Laughlin. This is the place where Elian Gonzalez and his cousin are staying right now -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Judy, and apparently, the final preparations are being made here for what appears to be an inevitable meeting between the Miami relatives, and Elian Gonzalez and Attorney General Janet Reno. We also understand that INS Commissioner Doris Meissner was on the plane. She, too, probably will be coming here to the home.

We probably all remember that Sister Jeanne played a very prominent role back in January, as the mediator, when Elian grandmothers, his Cuban grandmothers, came here to Miami. It was here, behind the gated estate that she played host to that meeting, and it was shortly that meeting, within a day or so, that Sister Jeanne came out and very bluntly said that she believed that the boy should stay here in the United States, at least through the appeals process, before he was reunited with his father. That did not sit well on the Cuban side. Of course it sat very well with the family side.

We are told that Marisleysis Gonzalez, the boy's cousin, who had been hospitalized the last several days, is the one that requested inform come here to Sister Jeanne so they could have some peace, some quiet to think things out. Many of their attorneys have come and gone throughout the day and many are still inside behind the iron gates of the estate here, and now apparently, it is only a matter of time, Judy, before the attorney general gets here and tries to sit down and have a face-to-face and talk the family into what appears to be moving very rapidly now toward the inevitable -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's right, John Zarrella. And we should point out that the attorney for the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, made a statement just within the past hour, calling on the Justice Department to move swiftly now to make arrangements, to transfer this boy. In so many words, the attorney said every day that the boy is not with the father is doing Elian Gonzalez damage -- Pierre Thomas.

THOMAS: Well, Judy, one of the thing we have learned that Reno will tell the family in Miami is a very specific but very frank order. She said, she wants them to fly to Washington as early as tomorrow to meet with Juan Miguel Gonzalez and to give him his son. That is one of the things she will inform the family that she wants them to have happen. She also will them it's a critical time for their immediate cooperation. So those will be two major points that she will make to the family. Again, who knows how the family will react to her specific request?

WOODRUFF: There we see Attorney General Janet Reno, I believe dressed in Yellow, but you can't be certain until we get a better picture of her.

THOMAS: That is the attorney general. WOODRUFF: There she is, carrying a briefcase under her arm, walking away from a private plane that has carried her from Washington D.C. to Opa Locka, Florida, just outside of Miami, an airport that was agreed on. From there, she will travel to the location in Miami Beach, where the Catholic nun -- a private estate, where the boy Elian and his cousin, Marisleysis, are now staying.

The father of Elian Gonzalez, I'm told, Juan Miguel, is leaving the house in Bethesda, Maryland. It is the home of a Cuban diplomat, and I'm now told that the father traveling. You can see, this is a picture of the father, Juan Miguel, getting into a car. He is going to be traveling to the Cuban Interest Section in Washington D.C. The Cubans, of course, do not have a embassy in Washington.

CNN's Bob Franken has been watching there, reporting from outside this residence in Bethesda -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were told he was going to the Cuban Interest Section to speak to some supporters there, which of course leaves one of the possibilities aside for the moment, and that was is that he would be leaving and heading to Miami or the Opa Locka Airport. Apparently, that is not the case, at least not yet. And of course what we've been told all day is that it's now up to the Justice Department, as far as Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his lawyers are concerned, that they're really sort of ended the negotiation. As you can see, the van is pulling away now. He has a Secret Service motorcade as he goes from place to place. And as you've mentioned just a moment ago, the place tonight is in Washington, the Cuban Interest Section -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Franken, at the place just near Washington, where the father of Elian Gonzalez has been staying for the past week.

That wraps up this coverage for now. When we come back we'll be back with "WORLDVIEW," much more, all the updates and current developments in the case of Elian Gonzalez.

I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. We'll be right back.

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