Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

With Elian Case, History's View of Reno May Shift

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

With Elian Case, History's View of Reno May Shift

Article excerpt

Jose Basulto is no cream puff in the Cuban-exile community. The leader of the Brothers to the Rescue organization strongly advocates keeping Elian Gonzalez in the United States.

But that wasn't always his position.

"Elian could have gone back to Cuba in the first few days," he says, if Cuba President Fidel Castro and the Clinton administration had not each moved to use the case for their own political gain.

Hindsight, the saying goes, is always 20/20, and many analysts in Miami and Washington now claim to see clearly how Attorney General Janet Reno should have handled Elian's case differently - especially early on.

While the weeks of standoff in Miami's Little Havana might well have been averted, the outcome - a successful reunion of father with son - may change history's assessment of one of America's most visible - and embattled - attorney generals.

"You have to have great sympathy for her in this episode," says Dale Schwartz, an Atlanta attorney and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "I believe she honestly and sincerely wants to do the right thing."

Indeed, as the standoff in Little Havana ended over the weekend, polls show as many as 66 percent of Americans thought the raid was justified.

Still, many observers agree that if Reno had treated Elian's case like that of any other foreign child arriving in the US without a parent, the international custody dispute could have been averted altogether.

"The real lesson here is you have to make a good decision, and you have to make it early. She didn't do that," says Bruce Rogow, a constitutional-law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Critics point out it was Reno who decided to turn over the boy to Lazaro Gonzalez and who suggested to the Miami relatives that they file for custody of the boy in family court. And it was Reno who encouraged Lazaro to file suit in federal court to challenge her eventual determination that Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, had exclusive authority to determine whether his six-year-old son would seek political asylum in the US or return to Cuba. …

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