That's got to have left Elian's father a very unhappy man, inasmuch as he came to the U.S. in the belief that he'd be quickly reunited with his son, with whom he'd wait out the appeals process. Thursday's ruling suggests Juan Miguel Gonzalez may now be required to wait out the appeals process without his child. "He was encouraged to believe that by coming here he'd prevail in the end," says TIME Justice Department correspondent Elaine Shannon. "But things aren't done here the way they're done in a dictatorship, and there may yet be a lot of litigation before the boy is reunited with his father. Plainly, the Cuban exile leadership are going to do everything in their power to avoid giving him up."
Lazaro Gonzalez had earlier defied a government order to hand the boy over at 2 p.m., declaring that "they will have to take this child from me by force." That marked an apparent shift from earlier in the week, when the standoff appeared set for an imminent end. The leading exile group, the Cuban American National Foundation, appeared Tuesday to have brokered a face-saving deal in which Elian would be reunited with his father at a meeting with Lazaro Gonzalez, but that deal was quickly abandoned later the same day. "Earlier this week it looked as though the foundation might be trying to cut its p.r. losses by moving to have Lazaro and Elian's father Juan Miguel at least meet in Washington before handing over the boy," says TIME Miami bureau chief Tim Padgett. "But that quickly fell through when the foundation realized that it would suffer an even worse p.r. disaster in its own constituency if it was seen to be handing the boy over." As confrontation appeared to loom, with thousands massed outside the Miami home of Lazaro Gonzalez in the hope of preventing the government from enforcing its order, all sides were given a reprieve by the latest court order. Still, unless the appeals court reverses the trend of judicial decision in the case thus far, that reprieve may only be temporary.