ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. -- Seized by armed agents before dawn, Elian Gonzalez was reunited with his father Saturday after a frantic and forceful end to a five-month standoff between the government and the Cuban boy's Miami relatives.
''They are together,'' said Myron Marlin, the Justice Department spokesman.
Federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing pepper spray into an angry crowd as they took away the screaming 6-year-old boy for the reunion with his father.
Father and son met at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, the secured base used for the president's travels.
Marisleysis Gonzalez cried after her cousin, Elian Gonzalez, was removed from her home by government officials early Saturday morning. (AP Photo)
Gonzalez's attorney, Gregory Craig, visited the reunited family at the base. Joan Brown Campbell, a former National Council of Churches official who has assisted the father, said the lawyer reported that Elian's eyes just ''lit up'' when he saw his baby brother Hianny. ''He's gotten so big since I saw him,'' Elian reportedly said.
Craig told MSNBC, ''I found no evidence in the brief time I spent with Elian that he was in any way terrorized, frightened, traumatized or otherwise troubled. He seemed to be very happy to be back with his father.''
After the lengthy standoff, it took federal agents just three minutes to enter the Miami home and take Elian away from the relatives who had been caring for him since his rescue at sea and are fighting to keep the boy from returning to his native Cuba.
At 5 a.m., more than 20 agents in several white vans arrived at the house and used rams on the home's chain-link fence and front door to get inside.
Elian Gonzalez was carried by a government official as he was taken from his Miami relatives' home Saturday in a predawn raid. (AP Photo)
The boy was being hidden in a bedroom closet by his great-aunt and Donato Dalrymple, one of the fishermen who rescued him on Thanksgiving Day.
In the bedroom, an agent in green riot gear and goggles and holding an automatic rifle confronted Dalrymple clutching the frightened child, an image captured by an Associated Press photographer and broadcast around the world. Agents then took Elian out of Dalrymple's arms.
A Spanish-speaking female immigration agent carried Elian from the home and put him in one of the vans, which sped off as pepper spray was fired to keep the distraught crowd back.
Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said the agent had a soothing message for Elian -- worked out in advance: ''This may seem very scary. It will soon be better.'' The boy was told he would be taken to ''papa.''
Maria Elena Quesada, who was at the home, said Elian was screaming ''Help me! Help me! Don't take me away!'' in Spanish.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez was told about the raid as soon as Elian was safe.
''He was very tearful, very happy,'' said Joan Brown Campbell, a former official of the National Council of Churches who talked to Gonzalez before he left for the airport. ''This is a moment he'd waited for for a very long time. And he's glad the boy is safe.''
By 6 a.m., the boy was on a government plane headed for the Washington area and the reunion with his father.
The decision to act was made by Attorney General Janet Reno, President Clinton said during a brief question and answer session in the White House Rose Garden. ''She managed this, but I fully support what she did,'' he said.
Reno said she tried to reach a negotiated solution until the final moments but the relatives ''kept moving the goal post and raising the hurdles.''
She said the boy would stay in the United States pending further court action over the question of asylum, as the federal appeals court ruled -- a statement confirmed by Gonzalez's lawyer, Gregory Craig.
''Juan Gonzalez has made a commitment to remain in the United States during this appeal, and he will live up to that commitment,'' Craig said.
Elian was given a physical by a government doctor before he got on the plane, a government official said earlier, speaking on condition of anonymity. A psychiatrist was among those on the plane.
Elian was described as subdued and calm on the flight. He was given Play-Doh, a toy airplane, a map and a watch.
In Havana on Saturday, Cubans wept in happiness. In an official statement read over state radio stations, the government urged Cubans to ''maintain calm and avoid public displays'' over the event
But in Miami, under a brilliant, clear sky, crowds began to gather in Little Havana as the city awoke to the realization that Elian was gone. By midmorning, drivers on one highway demonstrated with a slowdown.
Police closed off 35 blocks around the home after dawn as people at a street intersection burned debris and yelled at a line of officers in riot gear.
The siege appeared to catch the family completely off guard. After daylight, the boy's cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, came out of the house and shouted to the crowd in words sprinkled with patriotic references.
She said the agents broke down the door yelling, '''Give us the (expletive) boy. We'll shoot. We'll shoot. We'll shoot,''' as she begged them not to take him or let him see the guns.
''How can this boy be OK when he had a gun to his head?'' she said. ''I thought this was a country of freedom.''
But Reno said, ''the Miami relatives rejected our efforts, leaving us no other option but the enforcement action.'' She also said the gun was not pointed directly at the boy.
Marisleysis Gonzalez and Kendall Coffey, an attorney for the Miami relatives, said they were in the middle of negotiations and had been put on hold by the mediator when the agents arrived. ''We're angry and disgusted,'' Coffey said.
It was a swift step in the international custody dispute over the little boy rescued off the Florida coast nearly five months ago. His Miami relatives have sought to retain the temporary custody they were granted in November, while the government worked to bring father and son together.
''Assassins!'' came the cry from a crowd of about 100 protesters, some of whom climbed over barricades trying to stop the agents. The agents, wearing INS shirts, were armed with automatic weapons.
Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the anti-Castro Democracy Movement, was bleeding from one ear after the raid. He said he was knocked out by an agent using a rifle as a club.
''They were animals,'' said Jess Garcia, a bystander. ''They gassed women and children to take a defenseless child out of here. We were assaulted with no provocation''
Miami police executives, including the chief, had some notice of the raid but officers at the scene had only a moment's notice, said Schwartz, the department spokesman.
The raid came amid reports of progress in talks to transfer custody of the boy immediately to his father. Reno was at her office early this morning engaged in a long-distance negotiation that began Friday afternoon.
All of that ended in failure early Saturday.
Carlos Gonzalez said he and several others tried to form a human chain in front of the door but were forced back at gunpoint.
Inside, Dalrymple held Elian in his arms as the agents arrived. He said agents told him ''give me the boy or I'll shoot you.''
''They took this kid like a hostage in the nighttime,'' he said.
The government and Juan Miguel Gonzalez insisted that any deal contain an immediate transfer of custody of Elian to him, but the Miami relatives refused.
The relatives have cared for Elian since he was found clinging to an inner tube in the Atlantic after a boat carrying his mother and other Cubans capsized, killing her and 10 others. They and the hundreds of Cubans who gathered for days outside their home don't want the boy returned to a Cuba ruled by Fidel Castro.
The deal that was under discussion called for Juan Miguel Gonzalez and Elian, Lazaro and Marisleysis to move to one of two foundation-owned conference centers near Washington, with formal custody being transferred immediately to the father, a Justice Department official said. The two sides couldn't agree on the custody issue or how long they might live together pending the end of the court battle.
The Miami relatives lost a U.S. District Court battle to get a political asylum hearing for Elian. An appeals court has ordered Elian to stay in this country until it hears that case, but did not bar Reno from switching custody.
(AP writers Alan Clendenning in Miami and Michael J. Sniffen in Washington contributed to this report.)
On the Net:
Immigration and Naturalization Service: http://www.ins.usdoj.gov
Miami relatives: http://libertyforelian.org
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