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Reporter's Notebook: Elian Gonzalez One Step Closer to Cuba

Aired June 3, 2000 - 9:37 a.m. ET


MILES O'BRIEN, ANCHOR: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Atlanta issued a ruling this week that nudges Elian Gonzalez closer to returning to Cuba. But not for at least another two weeks or so, to give Elian's Miami relatives time to appeal the ruling.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman has been closely following the latest legal wranglings surrounding the boy. He joins us from New York, for no particular reason, to take your questions about the case.

Gary, good to see you in New York. Has nothing to do with this story, but that's where we find Mr. Tuchman, and therefore that's where he will be this morning. How are you, sir?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, I'm doing great, and thank you for saying I'm worth a nickel or a dime for a phone call. I appreciate that.

O'BRIEN: Or a quarter, yes.

Let's go right to the e-mail, shall we? This comes from north of the border, from a Mr. Al Ramsay in Toronto. "As a Canadian and an addict of American politics, all I can do is shake my head and wonder just how powerful the Cuban American lobby is when they can just hold this poor family hostage for their own agenda. My question is, how much longer can they drag this thing on?"

TUCHMAN: Miles, the Cuban Americans are passionate. Many of them lost family members before and after the revolution, many of them are still split from their families. They just cannot stand Fidel Castro.

Also, though, they truly believe that the mother of Elian lost her life trying to bring her son to freedom. They believe they have an obligation to this mother, and most of the people we've talked to in our times in Little Havana say they will never give up on this case.

O'BRIEN: All right, and we will take them at face value on that one, that's for sure.

Let's go to the phone lines. Hazel's on the line. She's in Georgia. Good morning, Hazel.

CALLER: Good morning, Mr. Gary.

TUCHMAN: Hi, Hazel.

CALLER: How are you?

TUCHMAN: Fine, thank you.

CALLER: My question is, can the family, the Miami family go to court and have the courts force the family -- Elian's father for them to have a visitation with the child?

TUCHMAN: Well, that's a very good question, because that is something that has happened. Ever since the raid on April 22 that forced Elian to leave his Miami relatives' house and end up with his father, the relatives have wanted to see him, and they have not seen Elian yet.

However, they have been advised that it would not work to bring it to court. The father has custody of the son, he can't be forced to show his son to anyone he doesn't want to, so that would not work, and that's why they haven't taken it to court.

They say they continue calling the father trying to get a visit, but it has not happened yet.

O'BRIEN: All right, Gary, let's head back to the Internet, shall we? This one comes from a gentleman in parts unknown who goes by the handle Mad Mac, and his question is this. "What would John F. Kennedy have done?"

TUCHMAN: Mad Mac has a very good question, because it's something that's very interesting to think about, not only what Kennedy would have done, but what would LBJ have done, and what would Richard Nixon have done?

Regarding John F. Kennedy, I think a lot of it would depend on if it were before the Cuban missile crisis or after the Cuban missile crisis. It's hard to imagine the United States having talks with Cuba or having discussions or doing anything favorable for Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis. But it's something we'll never know, but it's very interesting to think about.

O'BRIEN: Always interesting to play those things out, those scenarios out.

Let's go to Dorothy, who's on the line with us from Illinois. Good morning, Dorothy.

CALLER: Good morning. You know, I've been watch -- I won't keep you long. I've been watching it from the very beginning, and I still can't understand how the courts can do this to that father and his boy. Why don't they let him go home? And who's paying their attorney fees? None of them work down there. That's all, honey.

TUCHMAN: Honey? Is she calling you honey or me honey, Miles?

O'BRIEN: I think that's you.

TUCHMAN: Well, I'm very honored about that also.

O'BRIEN: I think maybe that should be Mr. Honey, I don't know.

TUCHMAN: Whatever. Either way.

No, the courts have dealt the Miami relatives the defeats in this case. The district courts in Florida, and now the appellate court in Atlanta, which is the second highest court in the land under the U.S. Supreme Court, so the father has won the victories. But they're playing it very cautious in this country. You want to give people a chance to appeal, and the appeals wouldn't mean anything if Elian were allowed to go back to Cuba right away. And that's the logic of the three-judge panel on the court.

So the victories have gone to the father, but the appellate process continues. And right now, if there's no appeal filed, and there hasn't been yet, Elian will be able to leave, it appears, in 21 days. Actually it's now 19 days, 21 from when this ruling was issued.

But if there is an appeal filed, it could take even longer.

O'BRIEN: It's really a matter of when, not if, isn't it?

TUCHMAN: It appears to be a matter of when. But there's a scant chance that an appeal can work, but scant may be overestimating it.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's move along to the Internet once again, and this query comes from Mr. Ian Johnston. Not sure where he is either. "I bet the Miami relatives are sorry they were so disobedient and behaved so badly. If they had been more cooperative, they would have had a family reunion, and maybe Elian's father would have decided to stay in the U.S. Too late now."

Once again, I'm putting you in the category of speculation, but in the interesting thought, if there's -- if their tactics had been slightly different.

TUCHMAN: Well, "disobedient" and "behaved so badly" can be argued, whether that's true or not. You can be sure the people in Little Havana wouldn't say that's true. However, if from the very beginning the family said, Come on down, father, or we'll bring the son up, we'll all get together, we'll have some Cuban coffee, we'll talk -- yes, I think it's fair to say that things would have been much different.

But the situation was not a friendly situation, and perhaps we can speculate that's why the Miami relatives haven't gotten a chance to see Elian yet.

O'BRIEN: All right, this next question on the Internet comes to us from Dubuque, Iowa. The folks with the query are John and Jeanine Irelan. "Yesterday, during his segment on CNN's MORNING NEWS, Bob Franken made reference to Elian's palatial surrounding in northwest Washington. We're wondering what these surroundings, along with those at the Wye River, are going to cost and who is footing that bill."

TUCHMAN: Well, the surroundings he's staying in now, Elian in Washington, private donations. But certainly this case has cost a lot of money. We're talking in the seven figures. It's hard to figure exactly how many dollars because there's so many different costs involved.

But that's what happens in big, controversial legal cases, it costs a lot of money, and this one is certainly no exception.

O'BRIEN: All right. And a final e-mail, this one slightly provocative, and once again I'm putting you in the speculation bubble here, I'm sorry to do this to you, Gary. But, you know, it's really the viewer's fault. So...


O'BRIEN: ... Rathy O'Martin (ph) wants to know this. "I am curious about something. What if Elian was black and from Haiti? Would the Haitian community in Miami have rallied for a black Elian, like the Cubans did? Would the attorney general have personally flown down to Miami to meet with the Haiti family? In my opinion, the answer to the above questions are no, but I would like to hear your answers."

TUCHMAN: That's a very good question, and that's something we hear a lot of complaints about, that this would never be the same kind of situation if it was a refugee from Haiti. But the U.S. government points out this is a whole different case, and so do Cuban Americans point out, they say that Cuba is a communist totalitarian society.

And the fact is, for the 41 years since Fidel Castro took over power in Cuba, that Cuban refugees have had a special status in this country because Cuba is a communist nation. And that's the way it was from eastern European nations also, before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And that's just the way it's been in this country. That's the way it works.

O'BRIEN: All right, CNN's Gary Tuchman. You going to be watching that ball game today, Clemens versus Maddox, or are you going to be busy?

TUCHMAN: That is known, that I'm going to be watching it. It's a great matchup.

O'BRIEN: That is a great matchup, all right.

TUCHMAN: That could be your World Series matchup too, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes. Thanks so much for being with us, and have -- handling some tough questions. We appreciate it.

TUCHMAN: Miles, thank you.

O'BRIEN: All right.



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