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2000-01-24

Grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez Could Go Home Without Seeing Him

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The Cuban grandmothers of six-year-old Elian Gonzalez may have to return to Cuba today without seeing their grandson. The two women, who arrived in New York on Friday, met on Saturday with Attorney General Janet Reno and pleaded with her to let them take the child back to Cuba to be with his father. [includes rush transcript]

They have yet to receive a reply to the letter they gave Reno, who has backed an Immigration and Naturalization Service ruling this month that the boy should be sent back to Cuba.

Elian Gonzalez was found last November 25 clinging to an inner tube on the Atlantic Ocean, after the makeshift boat he was on with his mother and other would-be immigrants sank. His mother drowned, and Elian was taken to distant relatives’ home in Miami, where he has remained since then. His Miami relatives refuse to return the boy to his father in Cuba, prompting a tug-of-war between Cuban exiles in Miami and the Cuban government. After the INS ruled that Elian should be sent back to Cuba, his Miami relatives decided to appeal to a federal court. Several Florida Republicans are trying to make Elian a U.S. citizen to prevent him from being sent home.

In an emotional press conference they gave minutes after their arrival in New York on Friday, Elian’s grandmothers angrily demanded to have the child back, and said that they were not planning to go to Miami to see Elian because they feared for their safety. Among exile groups in Miami are several that have used violence in the past against those they accuse of sympathizing with Cuban president Fidel Castro.

We now go to that press conference, given by Elian’s grandmothers and by representatives of the National Council of Churches, the organization that flew Raquel Rodriguez and Mariela Quintana to New York. It took place at the John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Tape:

  • Press conference by Raquel Rodriquez and Mariela Quintana, grandmothers Of Elian Gonzalez, with representatives of the national council of churches.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Cuban grandmothers of six-year-old Elián González may have to return to Cuba today without seeing their grandson. The two women arrived in New York on Friday. They met on Saturday with Attorney General Janet Reno and pleaded with her to let them take the child back to Cuba to be with his family. They’ve yet to receive a reply to the letter that they gave Reno. She has backed the Immigration & Naturalization Service ruling this month that the boy should be sent to Cuba.

Elián González was found last November 25th, clinging to an inner tube in the Atlantic Ocean after the makeshift boat he was on with his mother and other would-be immigrants sank. His mother drowned, and Elián was taken to distant relatives’ home in Miami, where he’s remained ever since. His Miami relatives refuse to return the boy to his father in Cuba, prompting a tug-of-war between Cuban exiles in Miami and the Cuban government. After the INS ruled that Elián should be sent back to Cuba his Miami relatives decided to appeal to a federal court. Several Florida Republican Congress members are trying to make Elián a U.S. citizen to prevent him from being sent home.

In an emotional news conference they gave minutes after their arrival in New York on Friday, Elián’s grandmothers angrily demanded to have the child back and said they were not planning to go to Miami to see Elián, because they feared for their safety. Among exile groups in Miami are several that have used violence in the past against those they accuse of sympathizing with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

We now play an excerpt of that news conference given by Elián’s grandmothers and by representatives of the National Council of Churches, the organization that flew Raquel Rodriguez and Mariela Quintana to New York. It took place at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

BOB EDGAR: I’m Bob Edgar. I’m President of the National Council of Churches — I’m General Secretary 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 Elián González’s grandmothers to come and speak. First, I want to introduce the Reverend Joan Brown Campbell, who is the former General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and a grandmother. Also with us is Oscar Bolioli, Church World Service and Witness, National Council of Churches, and a grandfather. Returning with us on the plane was the very Reverend Oden Marichal, 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 Elián González’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 González’s mother, Mariela Quintana, who will speak on behalf of her grandson.

MARIELA QUINTANA: [translated] 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 are the journalists, so they can hear us and also to make the questions 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 are trying to facilitate all that’s possible so our grandson can go to Cuba, so to finish with this tragedy that this is so hard for us as a family, so our grandson can return home as soon as possible. With this reason, we have come up here.

BOB EDGAR: The second person that I would like to introduce to all of you is Elizabeth’s mother. Raquel Rodriguez is Elián González’s grandmother and the mother of Elizabeth, who tragically died at sea. She would like to speak to you.

RAQUEL RODRIGUEZ: [translated] 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 Elián will be with us back.

I wanted to add also many people 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 thinks and how they behaved. If she made that step, it’s because she had 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 to help us to return Elián home, because I want that my daughter will be in peace and she cannot be in peace until Elián is back with the family.

BOB EDGAR: As people of faith, we act on behalf of the children of the world. Our prayer is to take Elián González home. As you can imagine, this has been very difficult and delicate for these two courageous women. As you can imagine, facing all of the people in 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 twenty-four 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.

MARIELA QUINTANA: [translated] 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 Congress or the President, to change his status.

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

REPORTER: Do they plan to meet with the family in Miami, where they’ll stay?

BOB 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.

REPORTER: But they are saying that they’re not sending the son to New York. If they want to see the grandchild, they have to go there.

BOB EDGAR: I’ve answered the question.

REPORTER: How do they plan to bring Elián back to Cuba and, two, how [inaudible] relatives have done to Elián in Miami.

BOB 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 can answer the other question. We believe in miracles. Other questions? Your question back there, and then yours. Your question?

REPORTER: [Inaudible]?

BOB EDGAR: She wants to respond first to the question that was asked, and then we’ll come back to yours.

MARIELA QUINTANA: [translated] Respect to the family who is in Miami, I’m not thinking to go to their house. They have no right to keep the child there. We are requesting the church to help us to return the child to Cuba.

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

REPORTER: You are afraid to be here?

BOB EDGAR: Let me answer the question for her, because we’ve talked about this over the last twenty-four — 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Excerpts of the news conference held by Elián’s grandmothers, Raquel Rodriguez and Mariela Quintana, when they arrived in New York. They are expected to return to Cuba today.

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