The Miami family and their backers may be calling the government's bluff, on the assumption that fear of a potentially violent confrontation with the Cuban exile activists guarding Lazaro Gonzalez's home who have vowed to die before allowing the boy to leave may restrain the government from going in and collecting Elian. "Remember, Al Gore needs Florida votes," says TIME Miami bureau chief Tim Padgett. "From what we've see so far, the Clinton administration has little stomach for enforcing its decision to return Elian to Cuba." The government has threatened to revoke Elian's parole status by Thursday if Lazaro fails to sign its document, but although that would give the INS legal authority to immediately collect the boy and repatriate him, that remains an unlikely scenario. "Government caution has created many openings for the Miami relatives and their supporters to delay the process," says Padgett. "If they lose in the courts, the Miami family may again try to appeal to Congress to come up with some device, such as granting Elian citizenship or issuing a congressional subpoena, although if they've lost in court, Congress may be much less enthusiastic about supporting them."
In the end, the exile activist community that has organized the campaign to keep Elian in the U.S. is unlikely to give the last word to lawyers or legislators. "At stake for the Cuban-American National Foundation is nothing less than its role as Miami's Tammany Hall and as arbiter of Washington's Cuba policy," says Padgett. "Its authoritarian control has weakened in recent years, as has public support for the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba." And even as the anti-Castro exiles use the Elian case as a make-or-break campaign to revive their fortunes, it's working wonders for the dictator they love to hate. "Elian's plight has given Fidel Castro political life support," says Padgett. "The true foes in this fight Castro and the CANF both want this to last, in order to revive the influence they enjoyed during the Cold War."