Associated Press Writer
Saturday, April 22, 2000; 9:23 a.m. EDT MIAMI –– Some threw rocks and shouted in anger. Others waved signs and flags – Cuban and upside-down American ones. One man stalked through the crowd with a baby doll pinned to a cross, fake blood streaming from its hands.
Across Elian Gonzalez's Little Havana neighborhood today, hundreds of Cuban Americans poured into the streets, denouncing the government for snatching the 6-year-old from his great-uncle's house on the day before Easter.
"This is like crucifying the Messiah all over again. This is a slap in the face to the Cuban-American community and the Christian community," said Ralph Anrrich, a social worker helping the family at the house, where more than 500 people had massed by midmorning.
On one street, a debris fire burned. Some protesters marched onto Route 836, a main highway, slowing traffic. Others threw rocks, one smashing the rear window of a police car. Still others stood around in small groups and talked quietly.
Within hours of the pre-dawn raid, police in riot gear faced off with the crowd. They blocked off 35 square blocks of the neighborhood around the house, even barring residents from their homes.
"They broke through my window and put a gun to Elian's head. This is not freedom, putting a gun to a 6-year-old's head," Marisleysis Gonzalez, Elian's cousin, screamed to the crowd gathered outside her home.
The government appeared to catch the family completely off guard. Vans screeched to a halt outside the modest stucco house just after 5 a.m., and agents battered down the door and poured inside.
The boy cowered in a bedroom closet as an agent in riot gear pointed a huge automatic rifle and barked demands. A crowd of supporters waited outside, anxious to find out what was happening.
"They took this kid like a hostage in the nighttime," said Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman who rescued Elian on Thanksgiving Day and held the child in his arms inside Lazaro Gonzalez's house during the raid.
Within minutes, Elian, wearing a white T-shirt and shorts, was carried outside in a white blanket by a female agent, lifted gently into a van and driven away by a man in a mask. He seemed bewildered.
"All of a sudden I heard people yelling that the police are here," said Anrrich. "Before you knew it, they were here with guns. They came through the back, the side and the front. This was the last thing that was expected."
As the reality of Elian's departure began to set in, the restless crowd milled about. While some wept, others screamed. One man flailed his arms and ranted.
"No liberty, no justice for all," one sign said. In another, Fidel Castro holds two dalmatians by the collar; their faces are those of President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.
Joel Beltran said he was standing next to the front door of the house when four agents grabbed him, threw him to the ground and told him to get away or "we will shoot."
Ramon Saul Sanchez, a leader of the Miami exile community, said a federal agent hit him in the side of the head with a gun when Sanchez and other protesters demonstrators attempted to form a human chain in front of the house.
Beatriz Hernandez, 55, said agents pointed a gun at the head of one of the women in the group Mothers Against Repression and told her not to move.
"I feel like I'm back in Cuba in 1960. That's the way I feel right now," Hernandez said. "I've been here 40 years. I never, never thought anything like this would happen."
© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press