In an apparent bid to show flexibility in the campaign to return Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, President Fidel Castro said the boy’s father has offered to travel alone today to the United States to pick up his 6-year-old son. [includes rush transcript]
However, a group trip with the boy’s relatives and classmates appeared more likely than a solo trip by his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Gonzalez, the boy’s stepmother, his baby half-brother, a dozen classmates and some adults planned to apply for American visas today at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, the American mission here. The group would be ready to leave for the United States as soon as tomorrow, Castro said.
Gonzalez said he would go get his son alone if U.S. authorities promised they would turn Elian over to him immediately and allow them to fly back to Cuba right away, Castro said Sunday. At the same time, the lawyers for the boy’s relatives in Miami said they might try to argue that his father is an unfit parent. The White House has said there is no evidence of unfitness, and the father’s lawyer, Gregory Craig, said the "outrageous" allegations were a sign the Miami relatives were getting desperate.
It was unclear if American authorities would give the Cubans the 28 visas they have proposed. The group would not leave until Gonzalez had assurances that American authorities would give him custody of his son.
- Michael Ratner, attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. He just returned from Cuba, where he met with high-ranking Cuban officials.
AMY GOODMAN: As I read in the headlines, US government officials and Elián González’s Miami relatives will resume talks today. The Justice Department has set a deadline of tomorrow for the family to sign a pledge agreeing to turn Elián over if it loses a custody battle in court. Otherwise, the government has threatened to revoke the boy’s permission to stay in the United States.
Meanwhile, the boy’s Miami distant relatives are questioning whether Elián’s father is a fit parent. The father’s lawyer told CNN the allegations are outrageous. In another development, Cuban President Fidel Castro says Elián’s father is willing to travel alone to the US today if American officials promise to turn over the boy to him and let them return to Cuba.
We’re joined on the telephone right now by Michael Ratner, an attorney who works with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. He has just returned from Cuba, where he has been meeting with high-level Cuban officials. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael Ratner.
MICHAEL RATNER: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you tell us the latest from Havana?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think — when I went to Havana about almost a week ago, I think there was an air of optimism. I mean, you had Janet Reno saying, "You have to" — to the boy’s family in Florida, "You have to sign this agreement to turn over the boy if you lose the case." And she gave a deadline of, I think it was, last Thursday.
I think since then, we saw a slow deterioration of that optimism, really because Reno and Clinton and the administration have basically been falling over backwards to accommodate themselves to that, you know, the rightwing, what they call the Mafia in Miami, and she kept extending the deadline. They were completely shocked by it, because the deadline is only about signing a piece of paper that says we will comply with the law. The family won’t even do that. The so-called family won’t even do that.
So I think while they expect that kind of behavior from the great uncle, what I think they really didn’t expect is for the United States, which, as they see is the most — which it is — the most powerful country in the world, to be held hostage by a little clack or a little clique of the Miami Cubans, and just keep giving way on the deadline.
When the announcement came down on — after Thursday after the negotiations were going that they were extending the deadline 'til Tuesday, I mean, I think the Cubans just couldn't believe it. They just couldn’t believe that the United States Attorney General could put out an order, a letter to the family saying, 'We will take that kid back if you don't sign by Thursday," then extend the date 'til Tuesday. Negotiations. Negotiations over what, they want to know. We can't figure out what’s going on.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael, you have been meeting with high-level officials. What are they saying in Cuba right now?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think — as I said, I think one thing is they felt they were very optimistic. Now, less so. I think they definitely want the father to come here and get the child. Again, they can’t understand why that can’t happen. If the father isn’t going to pick up the child, then they do want to send this whole group of people, and they’re willing to await the outcome of the court proceeding, which is also interesting to me. You have a court proceeding going on, but there’s no injunction against Janet Reno turning the boy over immediately.
And yet, the Cubans are willing to come in and wait. So, what they see themselves as being incredibly accommodating, and yet the United States officials are being whatever you want to call them, incredibly — incredibly political. The mood in Cuba, I think, is still, you know, hopeful in the sense that they can’t — it’s such a shocking thing to them that this would — that this kidnapping would occur.
They still can’t believe that in the end they’re not going get Elián back to his father, but they’re trying everything. They’re trying to understand the entire legal proceedings. What they don’t really understand is how a — basically a court ruling could come down, there not being any injunction, and yet at the same time, that the family can still hold onto the child.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this latest charge of the family’s that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elián’s father, abuses him. What was the reaction in Cuba?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, that was just incredulous I think they — you know, dredging it up from way back. I mean, first of all, if people have ever been to Cuba, they know how Cuban people treat their children and how parents treat their children. And there’s been no evidence from anybody who’s gone to that town, any reporters from the United States who have gone to that town, who have interviewed all the family, who have interviewed friends, reporters who are not particularly favorable to Cuba. No evidence whatsoever that the father ever, ever abused his child.
AMY GOODMAN: Would the reason this would be brought up now, as opposed to — it would have been the strongest information to have at the beginning, is that once this goes into a custody court, I mean, you’ve got these people of unequal standing, distant relatives versus the father. It seems that the relatives don’t have a leg to stand on. But that’s where this information becomes relevant.
MICHAEL RATNER: Right. That would be the — it could be relevant to Janet Reno’s decision to say the boy speaks for the father and that there is — you know, and you file an application, but it is correct, it’s more relevant in the family court, which is where, you know, the statement by Vice President Gore was particularly outrageous, when he said we want to hear this thing; we want this heard in a family court. The family court has no jurisdiction of this case at all and no jurisdiction unless the kid is made a permanent resident or citizen. And, of course, in my view and in the view of most law professors, that’s utterly and completely unconstitutional to do that to the child.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Vice President Gore’s decision to break with President Clinton. I’m wondering if you see it, as it appears on the surface, with Gore saying that he felt that the child should stay here. A number of lawmakers expressing open contempt for a move they felt further politicized this family tragedy, among them New York Democrat Jose Serrano. He said that he was shocked and outraged by Gore’s endorsement of legislation that would extend permanent resident status to Elián, his father and other relatives living in Cuba. He noted the unfairness of extending resident status to a Cuban father who’s not seeking it, when many Latino immigrants from other nations, as well as Haitians and Africans who desperately want resident status, are turned down. And he asked Gore, "Where are your family values? Don’t you believe a small child should be with the father who loves him?"
MICHAEL RATNER: Serrano’s statement was excellent, but, you know, there’s a lot of opposition coming from the Republicans. There was a statement by Steve Largent, the Republican from Oklahoma, saying, "I don’t want anything to do with this legislation. This boy should be — I’m a father. This boy should be sent back to his father immediately. It’s the best interest that this child be sent back quickly."
So I can’t — I mean, Gore is out there. I mean, the only thing that rings in my mind is money, money, money. The date Elián came to this country, on that day, Gore had already raised $360,000 from the Cuban community in Miami. Today, it might be a half a million by this time. So I think what we’re talking about — I mean, maybe we’re talking about votes, but I think we’re talking about he owed a favor, he did it. He showed himself to have no backbone. I mean, it’s unfortunately, in my experience with the Democrats, typical of what happens on these kind of issues.
And it’s really where the fault lies, not just with Gore, as I said, but with really Clinton, who is obviously today — today, as we talk, Amy, they could go take that child. There is no court order saying they can’t take that child back. There’s nothing. They just need the guts and the backbone to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think they’re not, at this point? And do you think what would happen in Miami would be a kind of a Little Rock situation, where you’ve got the National Guard moving in, and you’ve got the vow of the mayor of Miami, who’s a Democrat, but said the police would not help in taking Elián?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, the question is, you know, what’s happening? Each time something happens where Reno or Clinton move a little bit more aggressively, the Miami community seems to be able to — or the right-wingers there seem to be able to bluff them back and say we’re not going to help enforce the law, we’re not going to sign this paper, we’re not going to do this. And each time, our government seems to fall victim to the bluff. So I think to a large extent they’re bluffing.
But even if they’re not bluffing, how can they basically allow what, as we called in the '60s, the doctrine of interposition, which is the Southern states interposing themselves between the federal government and the law and saying, go do it to us, like you said — as you mentioned in Little Rock. That's what it is. I can’t imagine that if there’s backbone by our government that that will happen. If they say to them, if they say to the Miami mayor, "We’re coming to take that child back," I can’t imagine that basically they won’t just basically give up the child. I mean, I don’t believe that they will be required to use any real degree of force. They’re just bluffing this government. This government has been afraid of doing much. They have pious words, but so far craven acts. You know, I’m still hopeful, but more hopeful this morning, now that, of course, the father is willing to come to the United States alone, or if they won’t give him the child, then the family is willing to come as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the family has said on television that they would hand the child over to Juan Gonzalez, the father, but not to INS officials, although other family members, in talking with Univision, with Spanish media, were not saying that.
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think this family, this great uncle — these people have been talking out of both sides of their mouths from the beginning. Each time they say they’re going to do something, they withdraw it or some other lawyer withdraws it. I saw the statement yesterday also that said, "Oh, we’ll comply with the law." But that’s one lawyer saying it. You have Lazaro, the great uncle, saying something else sometimes. You have another lawyer saying something else. They obviously can’t be trusted. They’re going to string this thing out as long as they can, trying to get as much publicity as they can. They are going to try and obviously — even the fact that they have to await now a court hearing in the Court of Appeals in the Eleventh Circuit, which is to take place on May 11th, possibly not having a decision ’til June, makes no sense at all here. None at all. They could take the kid away tomorrow.
The other thing that, when I was in Cuba, that hit them very strongly, that they were extremely upset about, was the Diane Sawyer interview with Elián. They weren’t necessarily upset about the content. I mean, you know, they understand propaganda in the United States, just as you and I do. What they were really upset about was the exploitation of Elián by Diane Sawyer. They couldn’t believe it that Diane Sawyer could get into a children’s playroom with Elián, get on the floor with him, and have him actually draw pictures of what happened to him on the sea, you know, with his mother, when he lost his mother. I mean, is Diane Sawyer a psychologist? Is this healthy for a child? They thought it was utter, utter exploitation of the child.
And what they couldn’t understand is how you can give a child to a family, and then Diane Sawyer not — I’m sorry, how Janet Reno couldn’t impose conditions on that family, which she can, of course, and not even a minor condition saying you have no right to put that kid on TV. Janet Reno turns that kid over under a certain set of conditions. One of those conditions, of course, is that they have to return the boy when she says, which they obviously said they won’t do. But secondly, she could add a condition that says you can’t put the boy on TV. She hasn’t done it. It’s basically child abuse what’s going on with that family right now, and I think the Cubans are just floored by something like that.
I mean, when this child comes back to Cuba, they made a commitment that he will not be exploited. He will not be put on TV. He will just go back to his family and try and reintegrate in Cardenas with the rest of his classmates. They have that commitment. Apparently, our country doesn’t.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Juan Gonzalez faces danger if he comes to the United States?
MICHAEL RATNER: Oh, I think it’s severe. I think they’re taking a high risk, particularly if he goes into Miami. I think they could practically imprison the guy, if not shoot him. I mean, those people are — have shown themselves to be extremely, extremely dangerous, and I think it’s a big worry.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Michael Ratner. If people want to get more information on the case, where can they go on the web?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well there are a number of sites just devoted to Elián, if you do a search on Elián. On a site that the Center has with me, called humanrightsnow.org, there’s a letter to INS on Elián, there’s a piece on how it’s illegal to give him citizenship, and there’s some other stuff. But there’s a bunch of, you know, search engines that put up everything on Elián.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.