Elian Gonzalez, Your Jet to Havana Is Waiting...

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He's had a long, strange trip, but Elian Gonzalez looks to be just days away from returning to Cuba. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday unanimously slapped down the Miami relatives' bid for a review of its rejection of their appeal, and announced that its mandate in the case — and therefore its injunction forcing the boy to remain in the U.S. — will end next Wednesday. Unless the relatives manage to convince the Supreme Court in the next few days to hear the case and extend the injunction against Elian leaving, Juan Miguel Gonzalez will be free to take his son home next week. And legal analysts believe the high court is unlikely find any compelling, unresolved constitutional issue in the case, and will therefore decline to hear it.

Once they've exhausted all legal avenues, the Miami activists are unlikely to quietly accept the outcome. Having made the campaign — perhaps against better strategic judgment — a make-or-break affair, they're obliged, like the Confederates at Gettysburg, to fight to the end. Outside of Dade County, the bruising battle to keep a son away from his father has cost them heavily, fueling a growing confidence among congressional opponents of the Cuba embargo. Even once Elian Gonzalez has flown home — leaving a sea of tears in Miami's Little Havana, where his name will become synonymous, in their embittered lexicon of exile, with "Bay of Pigs" as shorthand for Washington's betrayal of their ambitions — the anti-Castro activist community faces an uphill battle to restore the position of influence over U.S. Cuba policy it's enjoyed since the Reagan presidency.

And over in Havana, Fidel Castro will probably allow himself a shot or two of rum to celebrate an improbable victory handed him by his fiercest foes. The Elian case brought hundreds of thousands of Cubans onto the streets on a number of occasions over the past six months to express their anger against Washington and Miami. And Castro will certainly do his best to cap that by turning celebrations of the boy's return into the ultimate shot of ideological Viagra for his flagging revolution. It'll be a Fidel fiesta in which Juan Miguel Gonzalez may be a willing participant. In the ultimate taunt to his ill-starred Miami relatives last week, Elian's father sent a Father's Day card signed by his entire family to Fidel Castro.