How the Elian Players See Their Endgames

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The Elian Gonzalez soap opera may have long since had its season finale, but many of its characters continue to read off old scripts, hoping against hope to keep the drama playing through the summer. The Miami relatives pledge faith in U.S. laws and vow to fight on, even though Thursday's 11th Circuit Appeals Court ruling is a reminder that every federal legal authority that has considered the case has found in favor of the government. Over in Havana, Fidel Castro rails against the court's decision to extend the injunction against Elian's being removed from the U.S., and draws hundreds of thousands of women to the largest demonstration yet demanding the boy's immediate return. Out on the campaign trail, Al Gore and George W. Bush try to outdo each other in demanding — against the tide of legal, political and public opinion — that the case be settled as a custody dispute in a family court. And Juan Miguel Gonzalez urges his uncle in Miami to drop their case, offering a family meeting as the prize for abandoning the appeals process.

"The Miami relatives are never going to throw in the towel because they perceive that as capitulating to Castro," says TIME Miami bureau chief Tim Padgett. "They're going to use every legal and political avenue to drag this out as long as possible, because they want to be seen to be fighting this even when Elian is aboard a Cuba-bound plane and the flaps are up." That said, however, they may be running out of options. "In order to extend the injunction keeping Elian here beyond another two weeks, the Miami relatives will have to convince the Supreme Court that there's a compelling constitutional reason to hear this case," says Padgett. "Their chances of doing that — or even of convincing the Atlanta appeals court of reviewing its finding — are abysmally low." Even then, expect the Miami relatives to press for a political intervention from Capitol Hill, although the majority of legislators on both sides of the aisle have long since backed away from doing anything that will delay Elian's return to Cuba once the courts have cleared it. Castro, meanwhile, is determined to make the most of what may be the final weeks of the legal battle, warming up the crowds for an epic propaganda finale to a saga of which, from Day 1, he's always been the greatest beneficiary. Like the anti-Castro exiles who've run the political campaign around Elian, the last thing the Cuban dictator wants is for the Miami relatives to simply back down now and let the boy go home.