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Reno Hoped Elian Would Stay

Attorney General Janet Reno said Thursday she had harbored hopes right up to the end that Juan Miguel Gonzalez would choose to remain in the United States with his son Elian rather than return to Cuba.

"In the end, he is with his father, and I am glad of that. I just wish he were with his father in a democratic, free country," she told a weekly news briefing.

Asked whether she had held out some faint hope that Elian's father might change his mind and remain in the United States with his family, Reno said, "One can always hope."

CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports Elian disappeared from public view after his arrival at Juan Marti airport Wednesday.

Security forces blocked access to the house in the upscale Miramar district where Elian is undergoing what Cuba calls his "readaptation." The curious and the press were kept six blocks away.

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Whither U.S.-Cuba relations in the aftermath of the Elian Gonzalez affair?

Click here to read background and analysis by CBS News State Department Correspondent Charles Wolfson.

Elsehwere in Havana, Reno's disappointment was matched with Cubans' glee.

"Back in the fatherland at last!" proclaimed a red banner headline on the front page of Granma, newspaper of the ruling Communist Party which turned the boy's case into the biggest patriotic crusade of President Fidel Castro's four-decade rule.

A government statement inside Granma proclaimed: "Immediately, and without a truce or a minute of rest, the battle will continue" against what Cuba calls the U.S. "war."

However, to prevent the boy from suffering "excessive emotions, tiredness or bother," no street celebrations were planned, a Cuban statement said.

Nearly a quarter of a million Cubans would rally in the eastern port of Manzanillo at the weekend, and daily televised round-tables on the Elian case—which Castro calls "the university of the people"—were to continue.

State TV repeated footage of Elian's landing in Cuba, while radio stations swapped the "Free Elian!" jingles of the last seven months for new ones proclaiming "Elian is back!" and "Welcome back, little prince!"

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However, in the government communique Granma, Cubans were urged not to brag. The return of Elian, it read, was only one chapter in the long struggle.

In many ways, it is the struggle over food and medicine, causalities of the forty-year U.S. embargo. On the streets of Havana, people pleased with Elian's return scoffed at the efforts by the U.S. Congress to allow only the sale of food and medicine to Cuba.

"Now that Cuba has been on the front page of all the newspapers and magazines, people will have the chance to know about us and think how stupid is the policy of the United States," said Carmen Canosa, a Cuban resident.

Indeed, the return of Elian represents a major political victory for President Fidel Castro, who launched an unprecedented patriotic campaign to support the demand of the boy's father that he be returned to Cuba.

Elian, his father and the rest of his family and entourage left Dulles Airport at 4:41 p.m. ET Wednesday, just hours after the Supreme Court refused to hear a last-ditch appeal of the case from the boy's Miami relatives.

The Miami relatives wanted the high court to hear their arguments for overturning a Circuit Court decision upholding the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's decision to deny Elian an asylum hearing.

That ruling, by the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta, came Friday. The Atlanta court at that time announced the injunction keeping Elian in the U.S. would expire at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

When the Supreme Court took no action on the appeal, the injunction was allowed to expire.

The Paper Trail
Key documents of the Elian Gonzalez case:

  • U.S. Supreme Court statement denying hearing. June 28, 2000
  • 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling denying rehearing. June 23, 2000
  • 11th Circuit Court ruling favors INS. June 1, 2000
  • 11th Circuit Court accepts case. April 19, 2000
  • U.S. District Court ruling favors INS. March 21, 2000
  • INS decision. January 3, 2000

  • The relatives' appeal sought the court's intervention on two issues of contention. The first was whether the court could overrule the INS on immigration matters. The Miami relatives thought a court could. The second was whether U.S. immigration law allowed minors to apply for political asylum. The Miami relatives believed it did.

    While legal issues that dominated the case in its last days, the case was as much about international relations and politics as anything else.

    Elian was found floating off the U.S. coast on Thanksgiving Day and sent to live with his great uncle, who then applied for asylum on his behalf. The U.S. government denied that request.

    The Elian case polarized the city of Miami, led to violent demonstrations in the streets and a one-day general strike in Cuban neighborhoods, and exposed a rift between the city's mayor, it's city manager and police chief. The police chief resigned.

    It also pitted Reno, who took heat for ordering the April 22 raid that took Elian from Little Havana, against many Congressional Republicans, some of whom wanted to declare Elian a citizen to prevent his return to Cuba.

    ©2000, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report