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Lessons of Elian may go unlearned


VICTORY in the Elian Gonzalez drama, if any, went to family values. Juan Miguel Gonzalez is Elian's surviving parent, a responsible and loving father. That was deemed in U.S. law to be more important than political values.

It took too long. Every day that Elian remained away from parent or home was a day too many. Delay was the tactic of obstructionists who tried to keep Elian from Juan Miguel, to create new facts, to play on a 6-year-old's ability to learn and to forget.

The courts, from beginning to end, were hostage to the tedium of their own processes, but impervious to the mob. If something like this should happen again, it will probably take too long to resolve again. To recognize a problem such as delay is not to correct it, when that might jeopardize due process.

Attorney General Janet Reno is right to look at whether regulations can serve in the future where none applied here. Clearly, 6 was too young for a traumatized boy to speak for himself in seeking political asylum. But what is the right age? That may always need to be judged case-by-case.

Fidel Castro learned something. Having shamelessly exploited the boy as a political token, just as the Cuban American National Foundation did, he put on the damper for the arrival home. That welcoming was properly subdued. But exploitation of the child continues in Cuban state media.That can only impede Elian's return to normal life.

It might be nice if this tragedy brought Cuba and the United States together. Fidel Castro and President Clinton agree that it did not. Just as it is wrong to make the little boy a trophy of anti-communism or of communism, no one should cast him as a symbol of international understanding. He is a symbol of no one else's cause.

The Cuban American National Foundation learned that its hold on U.S. policy and public opinion is finite. CANF weakened itself by going too far. The diverse community of Miami got a harsh look at its own divisions, and understands the need for healing.

But an over-arching lesson to justify the pain of the Elian affair? It isn't there. In the end, he's a little boy who looked death in the face, lost his mother and returned to his father and home.

Is he doomed to a life under communism? Certainly not. While opposition to Fidel Castro is off the island, not on, communism has about played out as a viable system. Elian Gonzalez has a better chance of helping bring democracy to Cuba, being there, than he would have had growing up in Miami. Let that console opponents of the courts' decision.

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