Family Feud Resolved, for Now

Faced with intransigence, Reno had no choice but to forecefully reunite Elian, father

For Elian Gonzalez, finally some peace and quiet. Ending five months of traumatic public scrutiny, federal agents quickly and painlessly whisked the six-year-old Cuban boy from his relatives' house in raucous Miami to an air base near Washington, D.C., where he spent Easter Sunday with his father. Thankfully, there he will stay, insulated from the violence in Little Havana and games of political football, until a court rules on his application for political asylum on May 11.

The use of federal agents could have been avoided. By all accounts, it was not the ideal decision for Attorney General Janet Reno, who repeatedly extended deadlines for the Gonzalez family. But Elian's relatives showed no intention of ever turning over the boy to his father, even though immigration law clearly gives custody to the surviving parent. While negotiations stalled, a team of expert psychologists and pediatricians charged by the government to monitor Elian's health concluded that the boy would suffer tremendous emotional strain if he was not returned to his father. Even more troubling was a video released by the relatives that showed Elian saying he did not want to return to Cuba--a transparent political gambit that seemed more like a hostage video than a genuine plea.

Left without any options, Reno ordered an armed operation that succeeded on many fronts. It was quick: Only eight federal agents were inside the house for three minutes. It was nonviolent: Outside, officers used tear gas to subdue the crowd, defusing a potentially ugly situation and leaving no serious injuries. And, it accomplished its primary objective: Elian is now with his father.

No doubt about it, whatever trauma Elian experienced before and during the raid is clearly the fault of the boy's Miami relatives. Had they shown any reasonable willingness to compromise with federal authorities, Reno would not have been forced to use federal agents to retrieve the boy. But now that the dust has settled, the urgency of the situation has been alleviated, and Elian can now wait for his hearing comfortably and in peace.

House Republican whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has called the raid a "frightening event." What is truly frightening is that, for five months, the rule of law was replaced by the rule of the mob. It is frightening that such irresponsible behavior would continue with the tacit support of local authorities. And it is frightening that a community could let its political agenda cloud its best judgment by preventing a boy from being reunited with his father.