Elian's Kin Balk, But Handover Looks Inevitable

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Elian Gonzalez's Miami family are hard at work to find a face-saving mechanism for reuniting the boy with his father, but the U.S. government's patience may expire Wednesday. Lazaro Gonzalez moved the boy Wednesday to the home of Sister Jean O'Laughlin, where he had previously met with his grandmothers, while negotiators raced to revive plans for the Miami relatives, Elian and his father to meet. The great-uncle had balked late Tuesday at a deal struck by a sympathetic legislator and the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) that would, according to government sources, have involved transferring Elian to his father at a family meeting Wednesday in Washington, where the only outsiders in attendance would have been New Jersey senator Robert Torricelli (a White House-friendly Democrat who has long been a champion of the Cuban exile community) and an INS official. After the planned meeting was announced by the CANF — which has played a leading role in efforts to keep Elian in the U.S. — the Justice Department held off on plans to deliver a letter to Lazaro instructing him to return the boy to his father Thursday at a Miami airbase. But within hours, Lazaro Gonzalez had announced that the meeting was off because Elian didn't want to fly to Washington.

That explanation is unlikely to fly either with Juan Miguel Gonzalez or with the Justice Department, which indicated that if the meeting did not happen on Wednesday it would proceed with plans to order Lazaro to hand the boy over at a prescribed time and location. The family meeting had been arranged as it became clear that the Miami family were running out of options, even as they battled to keep legal challenges alive in Florida state and family courts. The family's decision not to go to Washington may have come in response to government spin on the meeting: While CANF representatives had presented it simply as the family meeting for which the Florida relatives had pushed and said that Elian might even leave with his father if all went well, government officials told the media the handover was a done deal. Still, the very fact that the most important Cuban exile organization, which played a leading role from the outset in the campaign to keep Elian here, is now involved in brokering an agreement to reunite the boy with his father suggests the standoff is very near its end.