"The Justice Department seems to be laying the groundwork for something more assertive than negotiation to reunite the boy with his father," says TIME Miami bureau chief Tim Padgett. "Lazaro Gonzalez's lawyers say the law doesn't compel him to physically hand the boy over, and it's now widely assumed that the only way this is going to end is when the feds go in and fetch Elian." Although the government has delayed action pending an Atlanta appeals court ruling expected Wednesday on who speaks for Elian, it already has the legal authority to seize him from his Miami relatives and return him to his father. Last Thursday's injunction simply stipulated that the boy not be returned to Cuba before the completion of the appeals process, and that's a condition his father has accepted. Which means that Janet Reno now faces a tough decision. "On the one hand, Reno's strategy of drawing this out in the hope of wearing down the resistance of the protesters around the house has produced a measure of protest fatigue," says Padgett. "But on the other hand there's the fear that by having allowed this to drag on, she's raised the expectation among the protesters that they'll prevail. And that could mean that when the government does decide to go in and fetch the boy, the tinderbox atmosphere will be that much more volatile."
The Justice Department is once again talking the talk of a quick and decisive intervention to reunite Elian Gonzalez and his father, and this time the political risk of not following through may be even greater than any fallout on the streets of Miami. With polls continuing to show Americans two to one in favor of returning Elian to his father and the public growing weary of seeing a little boy showcased by relatives desperate to make their case in the court of 24-hour TV, the Justice Department Tuesday released a letter by its consultant pediatrician in the case warning that there was no justification for further delaying Elian's removal from a home described as "psychologically abusive." Dr. Irwin Redlener wrote that "Elian Gonzalez is now in a state of imminent danger to his physical and emotional well-being," and urging that immediate removal from the home of Lazaro Gonzalez was "clearly in the best interest of this child who continues to be horrendously exploited in this bizarre and destructive ambiance."