Can Elian's Grannies Get Things Moving?

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The family feud over Cuban boat boy Elian Gonzalez is now taking place on American soil. Both of the six-year-old's grandmothers flew in to New York Friday and came out swinging against their relatives in Miami who're fighting to keep their grandson in the U.S. "I have heard people say that it was the will of the mother that Elian be in the U.S., but I know her better than anyone," said Raquel Rodriguez, mother of Elian's late mother. "If she made that trip it was because she had a person living with her who was very violent, who was very harsh with her, and he had pushed her to be in that situation."

The grandmother's attack on Elian's mother's boyfriend, Lazaro Munero, who organized the ill-fated boat trip, was the opening salvo of a p.r. offensive against the Miami relatives. But the grandmothers won't to go down to Miami for a tense family reunion with their exiled relatives. After spending Saturday in a meeting in which Attorney General Janet Reno reaffirmed her support, the pair will return to Cuba Monday afternoon.

The boy's father, Juan Gonzalez, has declined to travel to Miami to collect his son, citing fear for his personal safety and concern that he may find himself entangled in legal proceedings by his relatives there. Even though the Castro government has formally acquiesced to the father's traveling to the U.S., it is reluctant to allow him to enter a situation over which Havana has no control. And after Juan Gonzalez's emotive outburst on ABC's "Nightline," in which he talked of feeling violent toward the relatives who were keeping his son in Miami, advocates of Elian's return may have calculated that the grandmothers made better p.r. ambassadors.

Rodriguez and paternal grandmother Mariela Quintana were initially reluctant to make the trip if they could not be promised that they would return with their grandson, but were convinced to come to the U.S. by the National Council of Churches, an organization that favors normalization of relations between Washington and Havana. The grandmothers' presence is unlikely to have an impact on the legal proceedings, and it's not even clear how or whether they'll see Elian. But even if they can't help Reno make her case for the boy to be reunited with his immediate family in court, they may help her in the battle for public opinion.