Elian Case Looks to Be Over but for the Shouting

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However delicate and diplomatic the lastest negotiations over Elian Gonzalez may become, in the end they're only intended to ease the way to a foregone conclusion. Greg Craig, an American attorney representing Elian's father, flew to Havana Tuesday night for meetings with his client and with Fidel Castro, hoping to persuade both that Juan Miguel Gonzalez should fly to the U.S. as soon as possible. Gonzalez has insisted on a guarantee that he be given immediate custody of Elian, and also that Washington issue visas for a large entourage if he and Elian are to remain in the U.S. pending the outcome of the appeal by the Miami relatives. Although negotiations broke off Tuesday between Elian's Miami relatives and the INS, the U.S. government has made clear that all that remains to be discussed his how the boy will be turned over to his father once he arrives. The Miami relatives have fallen back on a new line of defense, demanding that a panel of psychologists investigate the impact on Elian of transferring custody, but the government is only prepared to countenance an evaluation whose purpose is to establish the least traumatic mechanism for restoring the boy to his surviving parent.

Talks between the INS and the Miami relatives are to resume Thursday, but there may be a limit to how long the government indulges the process before reverting to enforcing the law. "The federal government can simply come up with a court order that will force Lazaro Gonzalez to comply or otherwise face the prospect of going to jail," says TIME Miami bureau chief Tim Padgett. A Justice Department official has told the AP that failure to reach an agreement would result in the INS revoking Lazaro Gonzalez's custody and issuing a legally binding order to hand over Elian. All that would remain between Elian and his father, then, would be the hundreds of demonstrators who gather daily outside Lazaro's house, practicing passive resistance techniques and vowing to disrupt any attempt to remove Elian. But their position could quickly become untenable once it fell on the wrong side of the law. Still, while losing his mother was a trauma suffered by Elian alone, regaining his father may well become a trauma for a whole city.