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The judge, putting the law above politics, upheld the INS decision to send 6-year old Elian home to his father.

For related essays and summaries of events:
The Complete Elian.

For background on Cuba and the tragi-comedy of Cuba-U.S. relations:
The Cuba Files

Judge Slams Elian Ball
Back Into Reno's Court

by Chuck 45

Elian MARCH 21, 2000. One hundred and fourteen days after its arrival on these shores, and after a cynically redundant three-month detour through the courts intended to provide political cover to the Clinton Administration and heir apparent Al Gore, the Elian ball is now back where it started: in Janet & Al's & Bill's court.

Since last November, the 6-year old shipwrecked Cuban boy has been held hostage in Miami to a wretched confluence of misguided U.S. relatives, a powerful anti-Castro lobby, and a timid, Florida-vote hungry Clinton Administration.

On March 21, U.S. Judge K. Michael Moore, putting the law above politics, upheld the Immigration and Naturalization Service's early January decision that the boy go home to his father. The judge has given the Administration all the political umbrage it wanted, and more.

Now Janet & Al & Bill face the same political conundrum they've so dexterously ducked since last November: Will Elian's return to Cuba doom Al in Florida in November?

Judge Moore Sniffing the political hay to be made, Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush has already asked the Clinton Administration to thumb its nose at Judge Moore and not send Elian back to Cuba.

Al Gore, determined not to be outdone, blamed Fidel Castro for everything, and said that "a full and fair hearing based on due process where all the parties can present the facts" was still needed to determine "what is in the best interest of this child".

As it did when it refused to enforce its own, belated January 5 decision to repatriate Elian, the Administration is again sending confusing signals.

"We are going to do everything that should be done, with proper consultation, to ensure the child is reunified with his father in an orderly, fair, and prompt way," said Janet Reno, reacting to Judge Moore's ruling. The lawyerly "with proper consultation" could open new vistas of governmental procrastination, unless it is a meaningless sop to Cuban-American sensibilities.

An unnamed official told NBC News that the Justice Department would soon contact Elian's Miami relatives and inform them that they would have time—two or three weeks—to get in touch with the father and make arrangements for the boy's return. Once more, the fox was being asked to guard the chicken coop.

Any Pollyanna-ish hope that the Miami relatives might now be ready to cooperate were dashed when, within hours of Judge Moore's ruling, their lawyers filed an appeal before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and vowed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. "As a family, we're going to protect the boy so that he doesn't lose his freedom," said great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez.

Elian's dadNow as before, the Justice Department can send Elian home to his father in Cuba any time it wants. It does not have to wait for the appeals process to run its course, but chances are it may, so that the final decision can be blamed on the courts, and not on Al Gore. Appeals could tie up the case in court for months, even years. That is their objective.

So far, the Administration's strategy has been to let the Miami relatives and their powerful anti-Castro political handlers set the timetable and play out their hand. It sees a win-win outcome in waging a kid-gloved war of attrition against them: either the ornery Cuban-Americans tire and hand the boy back to his father or, at the very least, Al can point in November to the drawn-out process as proof that the relatives had not just their day, but literally, their months in court.

One of the problems with this strategy is that, without a credible enforcement stick, the Administration is not likely to get any cooperation from the Miami relatives and their patrons. In fact, the Administration's perceived weakness may even incite extremist anti-Castro militants to take matters into their hands if the appeals don't go their way.

There has been talk in the past of creating "human chains" to prevent Elian from being removed by Federal marshals, and dark suggestions of other more radical, unnamed alternatives. Provoking an incident with the Castro government to prevent Elian's return, a well-worn technique, could begin to look good to some.

However, the biggest problem is, as Judge Moore eloquently put it in his 50-page ruling, that "each passing day is another day lost between Juan Gonzalez and his son." But who cares, when the White House Open, the biggest tennis game in the universe, is at stake?

Related links:

For Judge Moore's ruling.

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