Miami Kin Lose, but Elian Case Unlikely to End Soon

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The small overnight protest gathering in Miami's Little Havana seemed to epitomize the fate of the losing side of the Elian Gonzalez case. The demonstrators had gathered outside what had been the home of Lazaro Gonzalez in anticipation of the ruling to be handed down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday, but Mr. Gonzalez — like Elian himself — no longer lives there. The court upheld the Justice Department's decision to send Elian home to his father, dismissing the Miami relatives' claim that the six-year-old is entitled to file an asylum request independently of his father's wishes. But the question of whether Elian is free to go home will be determined by whether the Atlanta court, or the Supreme Court, is prepared to grant the Miami relatives' request to extend the injunction against removing the boy from the U.S. — and, indeed, whether a higher court is prepared to actually hear an appeal on the matter. Thursday's ruling extended the injunction by 14 days to give the Miami relatives an opportunity to file an appeal.

While the legal battle grinds on to what appears to be an inevitable defeat for the Miami relatives and their supporters, the political battlefield has gone quiet. The attention of the American public and its elected representatives has moved on, with two thirds of the electorate having consistently favored Juan Miguel Gonzalez's right to take his son home and once-angry legislators having quietly allowed plans for a congressional inquiry into the Easter Saturday raid on the Little Havana home to drift off into the ether. The story that had supplanted the death of Princess Diana and stood second only to the O. J. Simpson trial in the extent of network news coverage had all but disappeared from the media over the past six weeks, as Elian and five Cuban playmates romped around estates in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and his Miami relatives filed perfunctory protests with various courts and the INS.

Thursday's decision, of course, will bring Elian back into the headlines, a sight for the sore eyes of the nation's news editors in an otherwise dolorous early-summer news cycle. But whether this marks the saga's denouement depends on the content of that decision, and the response of the Supreme Court judges on whose shiny table the Elian folder is bound to eventually land. The only outcome that would allow Juan Miguel to take Elian home as soon as possible would be if no higher court extends the injunction that has obliged him to stay. In other words, even though the case has long since been resolved in the court of public opinion, in the legal system it's far from over. And that's good news for Fidel Castro and for his fiercest opponents in Miami, who've both used Elian's fate to rally their supporters behind decades-old banners. The extended Gonzalez family are, in the end, simply the latest victims of the epic mutual hatred with which the Cuban leaderships in Havana and Miami have symbiotically sustained each other for almost 40 years.