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Breaking News

Little Havana Seethes But Stays Peaceful

Aired April 22, 2000 - 10:45 a.m. ET

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

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures courtesy of our affiliate in Miami, WFOR, about 100 feet above Little Havana. These are anti-Castro demonstrators expressing their displeasure with the actions of the federal government now five and a half hours ago.

We could characterize these demonstrations as emotional, vituperative, anguished, angry, whatever you want to call them, but it is important to underscore that thus far no violence has been reported and thus far, Mark Potter, I guess you could characterize this as the sort of reaction you might get to a sports team winning a World Series, that kind of thing -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, at least in terms of passion and the size of the crowd. But this is a different thing. The crowd here is very angry. There is no doubt about it, that everyone here is extremely upset about the action taken by the Justice Department and the INS.

What you're looking at is a line of policemen who formed here just a short while ago at the intersection of West 27th Avenue and Flagler Street, about five blocks west of the house where Elian Gonzalez was staying with his relatives. And the reason they are here is that just a few moments ago the crowd of protesters spilled out into the street and they came face to face with the officers who had been trying to keep the intersection clear unsuccessfully.

And if you can see way off in the distance now the crowd is now walking away. It's a couple of blocks away heading east on Flagler toward another major intersection that way. The police here have really beefed up their forces in the last hour. The situation was relatively under control. Traffic was flowing. There was only a small crowd. But within the hour the crowd has grown considerably. There have been a number of scuffles as several people have been arrested, primarily for sitting down in the street, stopping the cars, engaging in acts of civil disobedience.

You are right, Miles, in saying that we have not seen any violence except those relatively minor scuffles involved in arresting people.

The police have been trying to let traffic flow through here because that kind of keeps the crowd out of the streets and they are still allowing traffic to flow from north to south. But Flagler Street, where the crowds are now, is blocked off. It appears that the police are trying to keep the crowds out of the intersection. They did form the line that we saw before and you're seeing reinforcements coming in and it did work. It stopped the crowd and they just simply went the other way.

Officers on the scene are concerned that they're going to be seeing a lot of incidents like this throughout the day because there is a very high level of anger here. We've talked with a lot of the people in the crowd and they are quite upset by what happened and they're very vocal about it and many people have said that they are, in this crowd, ashamed to be Americans, ashamed of the U.S. government. That's the sort of thing that we are hearing over and over and over as we watch this crowd sort of ebb and flow in this area that the police now, once again, have under control. They didn't have it under control a few moments ago -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Mark, I think it's probably worth pointing out here that as this all unfolded over the past five months, the local authorities there and specifically the mayor even indicated that they were not in support of the federal government action and may not even provide them a level of security. I guess this plays to the favor of the local authorities in the sense that they are not viewed as the enemy here.

POTTER: No, they're not and that statement was one made by the county mayor and it was quickly explained and changed shortly thereafter. The police have always said that they would work in support of the officers who came in, the federal officers, meaning they would engage in crowd control. They wanted to make that point over and over that that statement did not mean that they wouldn't be here. And, indeed, they have been.

They were at the house for the months that that stand-off occurred, keeping order at the periphery, and again, that's what they're doing today. This is the Miami police force. We're in the city. The Miami-Dade police force is engaging, is dealing with situations out in the unincorporated area of the county. We also understand the Florida Highway Patrol has beefed up its presence for a while there and I don't know if it's still in effect. Parts of, or at least the entrance to one of the highways, 836, was closed when the crowd earlier this morning surged north on West 27th Avenue. That area was closed off. I don't know if that is still the case, but it happened for a while at least.

And now you're seeing a little bit of the crowd coming out into the street again. They keep moving in and out. Again, no violence, just the crowd wanting to do more than stand on the sidewalk.

O'BRIEN: Mark, as always happens in these cases, by the very nature of how we do our business we tend to focus on these places where the demonstrations occur. Set it in the larger context, though. Is this something that is widespread over many blocks in the city or are we just seeing a few isolated pockets of anger?

POTTER: I think the latter. From what we have seen, this is occurring at a few intersections. And even if it grows later in the day, as has happened in previous incidents, they're usually buttoned down in a few block areas. There may be more areas than just in Little Havana, but people should not think that all of Miami-Dade County is involved in this. This is at least right now occurring at just a few intersections and even if it grows, it'll probably be contained in a relatively few areas given the size of the county.

And another point to make, the Cuban-American community here is 700,000 to 800,000 people. The several thousand people who are out now do not represent the totality of that community.

O'BRIEN: All right, this is not the time to paint with a broad brush. CNN's Mark Potter, who is at a critical intersection right now where you see police hoping to contain what is a tremendous amount of anger which is building up now for more than five months -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And that was a good point to be made. There are pockets of disturbances. It's not something that is spread throughout the whole area and is a big ruckus.

Susan Candiotti is still live in front of the home of the Miami relatives.

Same situation, yes, kind of little disturbances here and there, Susan, but overall pretty calm and things have quelled down?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kyra. Right now you're hearing sirens behind me because a couple of Miami police squad cars have come by as they, there is also a rescue unit here with a gurney that they're bringing in. So presumably someone needs some kind of treatment. We don't know exactly what.

I can tell you that the situation mirrors the area where Mark Potter is in that for hours now people have been in the area expressing their opinion. They are very angry, indeed, at the U.S. government for what they call carrying out a violent action and they say that they are embarrassed and ashamed at what has occurred here.

In fact, the president of the University of Miami, Tad Foot, told CNN earlier this day that he was very disappointed in his long time friend, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno about how things came about. Mr. Tad Foot is involved I negotiations.

Now, police are also coming in wearing protective gear as they move into the crowd. Now, we can tell you that a few minutes ago the crowd was throwing some items at a Miami police spokesperson, Lieutenant Bill Schwartz, who was in the crowd. We don't know if anyone has been injured. But now this is the very first time we have seen any kind of show of force by police officers who up until now have been allowing the crowd to vent their frustrations and their feelings, their frustration at what happened here hours ago.

We do know that the -- of course, unfortunately a police car is parked right next to me. That's why it may sound a little more urgent than perhaps it is. Again, no one is being taken away at this time. People are shouting at each other, as they have been. They've been carrying signs. They've been waving both the Cuban flag and the American flag and they are printing signs like, "President Clinton and Janet Reno, we'll hold you responsible," signs saying "Elian" and a concern by many of the people here that even though Elian Gonzalez has been reunited with his father, they are worried about whether he will suffer any permanent trauma from what happened here.

Now, they are also walking around here with still frame photographs of the photographs that you have been seeing throughout the morning on CNN about that precise moment when armed U.S. immigration agents, federal agents and U.S. Marshals approached the house, eight of them, when they came in to take charge of the child. And we heard also from the cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, about what happened when those agents came into the house.

I tell you, before we go to that, the crowd is now cheering as the Miami police officers have moved away from the front of the house and are now moving back toward their vehicle and away from the house. So the crowd is, seems to be happy that, in their viewpoint, they seem to have won a point here as the police officers are moving away.

But the police have said time and again that they are prepared to let the people stick around here for as long as it takes, as one police official has said, to let them make their feelings known. Again, there has been no need to make any arrests at this site as far as we know, that according to police, as a few hundred people remain here. And there are barricades outside the area to try to prevent more people from coming in.

Now, let's take you to what Marisleysis Gonzalez had to say earlier when she was explaining what occurred when the agents came in to seize Elian Gonzalez.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARISLEYSIS GONZALEZ, ELIAN'S COUSIN: We heard noises, people banging on the door, breaking the door down. Elian was awake in the living room and we didn't know what was going on because they never told us the U.S. Marshals were going to come in and pick up the boy. So we thought it was maybe a fight outside or something and we ran him in the room with three other cousins that were in that -- two other cousins that were in the house, kids as well.

And as they entered, they didn't, they came here violently, because if they wouldn't have been violently, they wouldn't have been armed. They told me, "Give me the boy or I'm going to shoot, I'm going to shoot! Give me the boy! Give me the boy! Give me the.." -- and they said a bad word -- "Give me the boy! Give me the boy!" And I said, "Please, don't let the boy see this. Please, I will give you the boy. Don't let him see this. He's seen enough, seen his mother's death. We don't want this. We're not going to do anything. We're not armed. We don't want anything."

"Put your hands up!" "We're nothing. We're negotiating. What's going on? I'll give you the boy, don't let him see this. I'll give you the boy." They ran in my room. They broke the closet doors. They broke Elian's bed. They went in my mom's room. They broke the door down. They got Elian by here. They put a gun right there and they took him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and other officials have said that U.S. federal agents did not ever point a gun at the child. They maintain that the agents' hands were, as they put it, their fingers were never on the trigger. When the female agent brought the boy out, she told him what he, she explained that he looked very startled but told him not to be afraid, that he would soon not be going back to Cuba, but would be going back to see his poppy.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, reporting live in Little Havana.

PHILLIPS: OK, Susan, thank you. You're watching breaking news concerning Elian Gonzalez. He has been taken from the home of his Miami relatives. He's now been reunited with his father.

We will have more when we come back right after this break.

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