Monday, August 27, 2007

US-Cuba Custody Battle Heats Up - Elian Pt II?

Joe Cubas - infamous "sports agent" specializing in bribing Cuban baseball players to defect for promises of corvettes, blonds and millions. He's since had to quit that gig after he was found to have abused the very players he was supposed to "help."

Rafael Izquierdo, a part-time fisherman and malanga farmer who wants his child back in Cuba. The mother agrees. This should be an open and shut case. But with Cuba, it never is. And when money and power are against you, you can never trust the law.

Expect this case to heat up in the media now that a gag order was lifted by the judge in the case. Beyond the blatant injustice involved, where a mother and father lose their rights to act in the best interests of a child, I was struck by this quote from the mother of the children, who left Cuba in 2005: “I know it goes wonderfully for some people, but I’m very disenchanted in this country,” Ms Pérez said. “My experience here has been abysmal. My two children and I experienced nothing but hard times.

Judging from some comments from the Miami Cuban exile community, it appears they have learned their lesson about looking like anti-family extremists in front of the nation. Unfortunately the State of Florida has not.

Times UK - August 28, 2007
Cuban fisherman fights celebrity sports agent for tug-of-love daughter
James Bone in New York

A Cuban man’s struggle to retrieve his young daughter from a prominent Cuban-American foster father in Miami threatens to start a new tug-of-war between the two nations, reminiscent of the battle over Elian González.

Rafael Izquierdo, 32, a part-time fisherman who farms malanga and other crops in the small town of Cabaiguán, went to court in Miami yesterday to seek the return of his four-year-old daughter, who was taken to America by her mother.

But the state of Florida argued that the girl should remain with her foster father, Joe Cubas, 46, a controversial former sports agent who made a career out of representing defecting Cuban baseball stars.

The custody battle had been proceeding quietly in family court until the judge lifted a gagging order on both sides before the trial. “It’s going to explode,” Judge Jerri Cohen said. “I know that as sure as I sit here. I can’t prevent that.”

Mr Izquierdo’s daughter arrived in Florida in 2004 when her mother, Elena Pérez, won a visa lottery allowing her to move to America with her son and daughter, each of whom has a different father. Both fathers gave their permission for their children to go with Ms Pérez, but she lost custody of them when she was taken to hospital after a suicide attempt in December 2005.

“I know it goes wonderfully for some people, but I’m very disenchanted in this country,” Ms Pérez said. “My experience here has been abysmal. My two children and I experienced nothing but hard times. One horrible night, I decided that my kids would be better off without me and did something stupid. I’m not crazy. I have been depressed and had many sleepless nights, but I’m fine.”

The two children ended up in foster care with Mr Cubas, who became something of a folk hero in Miami’s “Little Havana” because of his career. He reportedly lost his certification as a sports agent in 2005 after one defector accused him of refusing to return his immigration papers unless he paid triple the standard fee. Mr Cubas now works in real estate. Ms Pérez agreed to allow the Cubas family to adopt her son, now 13, but not her daughter.

Mr Izquierdo says that he will not return to Cuba until he can take his daughter back home, where she has a room with a bed and toys waiting for her. “When I let her come, it was with the understanding that she was coming with her mother. Now she belongs with me,” he told reporters.

Mr Cubas insists that the two half-siblings should remain together. The state of Florida agrees. Florida officials have filed court papers alleging that Ms Pérez told fellow residents in Cabaiguán that Mr Izquierdo beat her, including once with a coat hanger, and “did not want Ms Pérez to carry her pregnancy to term”. Ms Pérez denies that she was the victim of abuse.

The Cuban exile community in Miami is bracing itself for the little girl to be sent back to the communist island, as Elian González was.

“If the mother is saying she should be with the father, and the father is saying he wants his daughter, it would be very difficult for her not to go with him,” said Ninoska Pérez Castellón, a popular local Spanish-language radio host. “Cubans understand that the right of parents should be above all.”



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