Cubans 1, Exiles 1, Six-Year-Old Elian, 0

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Most child-custody wars mean profit for some (the lawyers for both sides) and pain for others (the child and his parents). In the case of Elian Gonzalez, too, the winners are the ones pulling the strings, but in this case it is the Cuban government and the large Cuban-exile community in Florida who are reaping the benefits of a family tragedy. That situation became even more apparent Monday as U.S. negotiators prepared to meet with their Cuban counterparts for biannual talks on immigration amid a frenzy of anti-American protests sparked off by the case of the six-year-old Gonzalez, who was found floating off Florida after his mother and stepfather drowned in an attempt to reach the U.S.

On Friday, Fidel Castro drew more than 2 million people into Cuba's streets to demand the return of the boy, who is currently staying with a great-aunt and great-uncle in Miami. The same day, Florida relatives filed a claim for political asylum on the boy's behalf, to prevent him from returning home to his natural father, with whom he remains close. While the U.S. has urged Elian's father to make a formal claim with immigration authorities, legal challenges by the boy's relatives — backed by Cuban exile organizations — are likely to delay his early return. In what may be a reflection of the ironic symbiosis across the Florida Straits, it's been a tremendous propaganda boost both to Castro and the right-wing exiles in Miami. While most experts agree that U.S. courts will ultimately rule that a six-year-old boy should go home to his daddy, that looks unlikely to happen before the Miami exiles have exhausted his value as a cause célèbre. And the delay simply accrues the political dividend reaped by Castro.