- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

MIAMI Elian Gonzalez remained a powerful but muted presence here as Cuban-Americans celebrated a somber Easter Sunday, just 24 hours after federal agents spirited the boy to Washington from the home of his Little Havana relatives.
The neighborhood streets, wracked by vandalism and scattered skirmishes between protesters and police on Saturday, were mostly quiet yesterday, as police regained control of the major traffic arteries in the early Easter morning hours.
Scattered demonstrations erupted around Miami late last night, with hundreds of cars moving slowly along normally busy thoroughfares and small groups of pedestrians waving flags and shouting, but there was little violence. Police made a handful of arrests.
Thoroughfares that had been blocked off a day before were reopened, with only an occasional knocked-down traffic sign, a broken street bench, or a black smear in the street from a tire fire testifying to the previous day's mayhem.
Businesses and private homes in the area came through almost entirely unscathed, and police said yesterday that the large majority of protesters had shown their unhappiness peacefully.
City officials said there had been 303 arrests, while local fire departments reported responding to 304 fires before order was fully restored.
The most serious assault came when a demonstrator attacked Miami police officers Saturday evening with an aluminum baseball bat, sending two officers to the hospital.
The frightening force employed in the three-minute raid Saturday "hurt the people," Bishop Augstin Roman said in a sunrise Easter sermon to about 125 Cuban exiles at a local church, Ermita de la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre.
He urged the congregation to pray for a peaceful reconciliation of the Miami family with Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the boy's Cuban father.
The Catholic hierarchy here has kept a low profile on the inflammatory case.
At Spanish-language services at two other churches St. John Bosco in Little Havana and Gesu Catholic Church in the city's downtown office district Elian Gonzalez's name went unmentioned.
But several worshippers were red-eyed and sniffling as the Easter gospel recounted the story of the apostles arriving at Jesus' empty tomb.
One woman prayed for several minutes while crying openly in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. She said later in Spanish that she had been praying "for the boy."
Police began tearing down barricades and reopening traffic on the street outside the modest home of Lazaro Gonzalez, the great-uncle who has led the fight to keep the boy from being returned to his father and to Fidel Castro's Cuba.
The media tents that had lined the street for months were disassembled, as was the large blue tarp that shaded the scores of mostly Cuban-American demonstrators who had showed up daily to maintain a vigil.
Lazaro Gonzalez, brother Delfin and daughter Marisleysis were gone, having traveled to Washington seeking a meeting with Juan Miguel Gonzalez and a chance to visit Elian.
A few relatives could be seen in the back yard, and a coil of yellow police tape lay ignored on the modest lawn. Part of the chain-link fence in the front yard had been knocked down, with two plywood boards filling the gap.
Over the front door was plastered a huge reproduction of the now-famous photo of an armed federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agent confronting Elian in a tiny bedroom closet of the home.
The poster's caption read: "Federal child abuse Would you let this happen to your child?"
Many in the crowd of about 40 milling around outside held smaller versions of the same image, but with Attorney General Janet Reno's face superimposed on that of the rifle-toting INS agent. The helmet above Miss Reno's face bore a Nazi swastika.
"Reno comunista," Israel Medina, one of the protesters, said as he displayed a copy of the doctored photo to the steady stream of cars slowly driving by the sight.
But lingering tensions could be seen shortly after 1 p.m., when two women showed up bearing a small poster that read: "Janet Reno was right."
Challenged by enraged demonstrators, one of the women initially sat on the street encircled by angry protesters. When she decided to leave, she was knocked down and kicked before being hustled out of the area by police officers.
Police immediately moved to re-close several streets near the house. Local officials mixed appeals for calm with renewed expressions of outrage over how the federal raid was conducted.
"They did the deed and and then left the community problem for the rest of us to try and deal with," Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas said on a local television talk show.
Like many here, the mayor condemned the raid as "unnecessary," saying he had been told that a deal was within reach by both the family's attorneys and by local civic leaders who were trying to mediate the dispute in the early morning hours just prior to the raid.
The presence of Miami Assistant Police Chief Maj. John Brooks in the INS van that spirited Elian Gonzalez away also sparked public rancor between Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, an outspoken critic of the raid, and Police Chief William O'Brien.
Mr. Carollo said Saturday that he had "lost all confidence" in the police chief for failing to alert him that the raid had been ordered and for allowing Maj. Brooks to take such a high-profile role.
Both Mr. Penelas and Mr. Carollo, who have large Cuban-American constituencies, had insisted that local police would provide crowd control but would not aid the INS in seizing the boy.
Top police officials say Maj. Brooks was in the car to let surprised Miami police officers at the scene know the INS raid was a legitimate federal action.
"This was a police issue, not a political issue," Chief O'Brien told reporters.
City officials and Cuban-American community leaders are discussing a rally later this week, possibly tomorrow, as a peaceful way to express the anger that still smolders here.
"[Saturday] was like the funeral," said Pedro Freyre of the activist group Facts about Cuban Exiles. "We still have to grieve. It's only after the funeral that we really start to come to grips with the new reality we face."

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