Washington, April 23 (Bloomberg) -- Relatives of six-year-old
Elian Gonzalez pressed today for a visit with the boy and
denounced the tactics of armed federal agents who stormed their
Miami home and spirited him away before dawn yesterday.
The relatives, who flew to Washington yesterday after Elian
was reunited with his Cuban father, said it wasn't necessary for
agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to break
down their door and point automatic weapons at them while seizing
Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder said today that the raid
and the weapons were necessary because the Justice Department had
been told the family might have guns in the house.
``They lied,'' a tearful cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, said
at a news conference. ``We were not armed. All we had was God on
The raid, which the government said lasted about three
minutes, followed months of tense talks about the fate of the boy
who was rescued on Thanksgiving Day after his mother and others
drowned off the coast of Florida while trying to escape to the
U.S. The Miami relatives had refused earlier Justice Department
warnings to give custody of the boy to his father, who wants to
return to Cuba.
Elian and his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, remained in
seclusion at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington, where
a family attorney said the boy was happy and playing with his
infant step-brother. A federal court has ruled that Elian cannot
leave the country until it rules on an appeal that will help
determine the boy's fate.
`No Need for This'
During today's news conference, Marisleysis Gonzalez -- who
has acted as Elian's surrogate mother since he was rescued by
fishermen -- repeatedly held up an Associated Press photograph
that showed a federal agent with an automatic rifle reaching for
``There was no need for this,'' she said, waving the
photograph. ``There was no need for my family to have guns against
them. There was no need for Elian to have fear.''
Holder, appearing on NBC's ``Meet the Press,'' said Attorney
General Janet Reno, had no choice but to order the raid because
the relatives had defied earlier orders to return Elian to his
``We were forced into the action we took by the intransigence
of the family in Miami,'' Holder said.
U.S. Senator Bob Smith, a New Hampshire Republican,
unsuccessfully tried to help the relatives visit Elian and his
father yesterday at the air base, and he appeared with them at
today's news conference to denounce ``an armed assault on an
innocent family, an unarmed family.''
Other Republicans joined the criticism, but Smith said their
words came too late. ``I'm ashamed of my government'' for
conducting the raid, and ``I'm ashamed of my party'' for not
speaking out sooner, Smith said.
Family Seeks Meeting
Marisleysis Gonzalez said she wanted to meet with Clinton and
Reno to hear why they thought an armed rescue of Elian was
necessary and she wanted to see Elian. She said repeatedly that
the government had lied to the her and her family.
``Don't let the president or Reno stand on TV and lie to
you,'' she said at one point. At another, she said Americans
should ``open up your eyes and see the truth.''
Holder defended the use of armed agents and said the Justice
Department consulted with a child psychologist before Reno
approved the raid on the Miami house. He said wrapping the boy in
a blanket and using a Spanish-speaking female agent to carry him
from the house were recommended by the expert.
``We went in with a minimum number of agents ... and Elian
was safely and successfully removed from the house,'' Holder said.
INS Commissioner Doris Meissner said agents carried guns only
to protect themselves and to ``pave the way for the female agent,
who was not armed.'' Meissner, appearing on CBS's ``Face the
Nation,'' said the agents conducted ``a perfectly legal, properly
carried out operation.''
Although Elian is back with his father, the case is not
expected to be resolved any time soon. A federal appeals court in
Atlanta has scheduled a mid-May hearing to determine if the boy is
eligible to apply for political asylum in the U.S.
Meanwhile, calm was returning to the Little Havana
neighborhood of Miami where Elian had stayed with relatives. The
Associated Press reported more than 350 people were arrested
yesterday and earlier today following demonstrations against the
government's use of force.