With Elian Gone, Miami Campaign May Lose Momentum

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It was the outcome a Waco-spooked Janet Reno had most feared, and yet its political fallout is unlikely to hurt the Clinton Administration. Heavily armed uniformed federal agents swooped on the Miami home of Lazaro Gonzalez before dawn Saturday, battered down the door and wrenched a terrified Elian Gonzalez from the arms of his Miami relatives to reunite him with his father in Maryland. Although police and federal agents used pepper spray to keep some 100 demonstrators around the house at bay, the situation around the house quickly calmed down after the van carrying Elian left. Reno, who insisted immediately afterwards that the Miami relatives had left the government no option, had feared that a forced seizure might provoke a riot in Miami. And although Miami police are braced for the venting of some fierce emotions, those will likely peter out quickly as it becomes obvious that no amount of anger on the streets of Miami will bring Elian back to his great-uncle's home.

Reno had been under pressure from the Clinton administration and her own department to end the standoff, and she'll be hoping that her decisive action — which passed without casualties — will have redeemed her from charges in Washington that she'd mishandled the situation by failing to follow through on ultimatums. President Clinton comes out looking like the decisive leader who prodded his attorney general into action, even though his intervention came rather late in the game. And candidate Gore, well — he looks like the Vice President everyone loves to ignore.

Although Juan Miguel Gonzalez is bound by this week's court decision to remain with his son in the U.S. pending the outcome of the relatives' appeal, his reunion with Elian will change the political facts of this case. It now becomes a campaign to remove a six-year-old from the care of his father and transfer him back to some relatives in Miami, and that's unlikely to elicit much sympathy from either the public or the courts. To be sure, the Miami relatives and their supporters may struggle to maintain the momentum of their campaign to keep Elian now that they no longer have possession of the boy. But while Washington, Havana, the Miami Cuban leadership and the U.S. TV networks may soon be able to walk away from the saga, poor little Elian is faced with suffering the scars for years to come.