Elian's Day in Court: The Players and Their Plans

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He's baaaack! Little Elian Gonzalez, whose every moment on his swing set once reached America's living rooms in real time, has returned to the headlines. After a couple of weeks of inactivity, the case of the young Cuban boy is in the spotlight again as the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday heard oral arguments on his great-uncle Lazaro's appeal against the Justice Department's refusal to hear an asylum request filed for the six-year-old. Elian's father, meanwhile, hopes to persuade the three-judge panel to allow him to take his son home to Cuba as soon as possible (Elian right now is unable to leave the U.S. without the judges' say-so). Here's a TIME Daily primer on the doings of the main players since the April 22 INS raid — and their current game plans:

Juan Miguel Gonzalez

What he's been up to lately: Holed up on a Maryland estate, Juan Miguel is consulting with his lawyer, Greg Craig, and with Cuban officials, hoping to end the appeal quickly in order to take Elian home. Playing the model Cuban citizen, he not only declined offers to defect, he also returned many of the gifts sent by well-wishers for his son, saying he didn't want to reproduce the Miami situation in which the boy was surrounded by "things."

His game plan: Juan Miguel will repeat his claim to sole right to speak for Elian in legal matters, although the three-judge panel that rejected his previous attempt is unlikely to approve it immediately. Instead, Greg Craig is expected to have five minutes to present oral arguments ahead of the major protagonists — the Miami Gonzalezes and the Justice Department — who each get 15 minutes. In papers before the court, Juan Miguel argues that his uncle, Lazaro, is using the U.S. legal system to destroy his family and "rob Elian of a childhood at his home." Pooh-poohing the relatives' claim that the asylum application bearing Elian's signature represents an independent desire to live in the U.S., Juan Miguel also points out that the boy can't yet read Spanish, much less the English of the form he signed.

The Miami Gonzalez Family

What they've been up to lately: The Miami Herald reports that the relatives who cared for Elian in Little Havana are deeply depressed since losing custody of the boy. Lazaro Gonzalez and his wife, Angela, still occupy the Little Havana home made famous in the standoff and raid, but they're reportedly planning to move. Their daughter, Marisleysis, once described as a "surrogate mother" to Elian, is reportedly staying with an aunt at an undisclosed location. Neither she nor her father have returned to their jobs. They plan to attend to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing, although they won't be asked to testify.

Their game plan: The Miami family's legal argument centers on the claim that the Justice Department failed the test of due process in summarily dismissing the asylum application filed on behalf of Elian. They argue that the INS made the decision on the basis of no pre-existing criteria. They're also keeping alive their efforts to file for custody in Florida state court and to have the Appeals Court guarantee them access to the boy, although both courts have previously dismissed those applications. They're reportedly planning to argue that returning the boy to Cuba will leave him at risk of brainwashing and political exploitation from which his father will be powerless to protect him.

Janet Reno and the Justice Department

What they've been up to lately: The DOJ and its leader appear to have ridden out the storm of criticism that followed the Easter Saturday raid on Lazaro Gonzalez's home, with Republicans in both the House and Senate backing away from politically risky plans to hold congressional hearings. Now they'll have to deal with an appeals court that, in its emergency ruling requiring that Elian be kept in the U.S. pending the outcome of the appeal, castigated the government for failing to consider the asylum request on its merits.

Their game plan: Justice lawyers will maintain, as they have throughout this saga, that they've acted legally on the basis that Juan Miguel Gonzalez is Elian's sole parent and guardian, confident that U.S. law will ultimately recognize the primacy of the father-son bond over political considerations.

Fidel Castro

What he's been up to lately: The aging Cuban dictator has been doing his utmost to make propaganda gains out of the widespread anger among ordinary Cubans at the actions of the Miami exiles and at Washington's failure for four months to act decisively to return Elian to his father. Elian's image has become more ubiquitous in Cuba than even that of Che Guevara, and Castro has orchestrated repeated demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people demanding the boy's return. But Castro's sometimes clumsy efforts to translate anger over Elian into enthusiasm among a younger generation for his flagging revolution aren't likely to yield much of a long-term dividend.

His game plan: Whatever happens, Castro will continue to do what he can to draw out the case to achieve maximum political benefit at home. If Juan Miguel gets to bring his son home after the current hearing, he'll try to organize the biggest demonstrations in Cuba's history to celebrate. If the Miami relatives win the case, he'll try to turn up the heat with more demonstrations to express popular anger. In other words, demonstrations either way designed to cast him as the protector of Cuban family values.

Elian Gonzalez

What he's been up to lately: Working on his fastball with Dad in Maryland seclusion. That's when he's not sitting through revolutionary catechism with his four schoolmates and an older cousin, being taught to ride a bicycle by the Secret Service or schmoozing Big Tobacco-connected Democratic party donors — as he did last Saturday when attending a party at the Georgetown home of R. J. Reynolds heir Smith Bagley. A court-approved psychologist says he's doing fine, despite protests by New Hampshire's Senator Bob Smith that he's being held in a Cuban "reeducation camp" in the heart of Maryland.

His game plan: Ride that bike.