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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK
Gore changes stance on Elian
Elian Gonzalez
Al Gore breaks ranks with his boss on Elian
By BBC Washington Correspondent Paul Reynolds in Washington

When a candidate, in the middle of a fierce election campaign suddenly switches policy, it might well be, as he or she will invariably claim, a "principled" decision, but it might equally be a political one.

For Vice President Al Gore, Florida is an important political battleground in the presidential election, and the Cuban American voters there are an important component, which might explain why he has changed his mind on the how to handle the case of Elian Gonzalez.

Al Gore and Bill Clinton won Florida in the 1996 election. This time round, the state governor, Jeb Bush, is no less than the brother of the Republican candidate, George W Bush, and Florida could go Republican.

Being on the wrong side of the Cuban American vote would not be a smart move for Mr Gore.

So there is little argument that Al Gore has a strong political incentive. But there are principles at stake here too - and high passions.
The mayor of Miami said he won't lift a finger to help the government take Elian
Miami Mayor Alex Penelas said he will hold the federal government responsible for violence
Local mayors have said that Washington will be "responsible" for any disorder.

Is there an echo here of American revolutionary days, with the central authorities, like the British before them, trying to batten down the locals by telling them to "obey the law".?

At odds with his boss

Mr Gore has now joined in to say: "So, let's change the law." His intervention came a day after his own boss, President Clinton, said that the law should be followed and that the case should not be politicised.

Vice President Gore now says that the law "is not broad enough", and of course the only way to change that is in the most political body in the land, the Congress.

Mr Clinton's pleas have been spectacularly ignored by his deputy.

The polite, public position of the White House is that this is one of those "occasions" on which Mr Gore, as candidate, might take a different view from the president.
Janet Reno appeals for calm in the Elian Gonzalez case
Al Gore now does not support the position of Attorney General Janet Reno
Up until now, Mr Gore had supported the Attorney General Janet Reno and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service, which is under her authority in the Department of Justice.

Their line has been that they have the legal authority to act, that Elian should be reunited with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez and that only Juan Miguel could speak for the boy.

This approach was supported in a ruling by Judge Michael Moore in the US District Court in Miami on 21 March.

Elian's family in Miami has appealed against this ruling to the Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Far from resolved

Now Mr Gore is supporting moves in Congress to grant Elian, his father and his immediate family, the status of "permanent resident" of the United States.

This would have the effect of removing them from the control of the Immigration Service and allowing the case to be decided by a family court in Florida.

It does not mean that Elian would necessarily stay in America - after all, the father might win in the family court - but it gives the Miami relatives a far better chance of prevailing.

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See also:

30 Mar 00 | Americas
US delays Elian deadline
30 Mar 00 | Americas
Gore says Elian should stay
30 Mar 00 | Americas
Battle for Elian heats up
30 Mar 00 | Americas
Tensions high over Elian case
31 Mar 00 | Entertainment
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