The Miami Herald
Castro essay criticizes U.S. presidential
Posted on Tue, Aug. 28,
HAVANA -- (AP) -- A new essay signed by
ailing leader Fidel Castro accused U.S.
presidential candidates of "submission"
to his exiled foes in Florida and offered
a favorable assessment of only one of the
10 presidents he has known: Jimmy Carter.
Candidates for the U.S. presidential election
in 2008 "are totally absorbed by the
Florida adventure," Castro said in
the column published Tuesday by the Communist
Party newspaper Granma and other official
Castro said that both Hillary Clinton and
Barack Obama 'feel the sacred duty to demand
'a democratic government in Cuba' "
-- something Cuban officials insist already
Obama last weekend called for loosening
restrictions on how often Cuban Americans
can visit family on the island and how much
money they can send them.
"It can help make their families less
dependent on Fidel Castro. That's the way
to bring about real change in Cuba,"
Obama told more than 1,000 people in Little
Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, last
week reiterated her support for current
U.S. policy: "Until it is clear what
type of policies might come with a new [Cuban]
government, we cannot talk about changes
in the U.S. policies toward Cuba."
The column -- the second published so far
this week -- made no reference to recent
rumors that Castro had died or was dying.
Nor did it reveal any information about
his exact ailment or condition. Castro has
not been seen in public in the 13 months
since he announced he had undergone intestinal
surgery and temporarily ceded power to his
younger brother Raúl.
Castro also described his relations with
other U.S. presidents he had dealt with
"I only knew one who for ethical-religious
reasons was not complicit to the brutal
terrorism against Cuba: James Carter,"
Tuesday's essay read -- though it noted
that a law banning U.S. attempts to assassinate
foreign leaders such as Castro took effect
during President Gerald Ford's administration.
Castro noted that Carter opened the U.S.
Interests Section in Havana and supported
an agreement on maritime limits.
Despite his efforts, Castro said, "the
circumstances of that time impeded him from
Castro said former President Bill Clinton
was "really friendly" during a
brief encounter at a U.N. summit and said
he was "intelligent in demanding that
rule of law be followed" in the case
of castaway boy Elián González,
who was returned from the United States
to Cuba in 2000 after an international custody
He also acknowledged that Clinton apparently
tried to stop flights by exile pilots who
had enraged the communist government by
repeatedly scattering anti-communist literature
But he criticized Clinton for backing legislation
to tighten the U.S. trade embargo after
Cuban jet fighters shot down the civilian
planes off the island's coast during a repeat
visit in February 1996.
"It was an electoral year, and he
took advantage of that," Castro said,
noting that Clinton invited exile leaders
to witness his signing of "the criminal
Killings spotlight Cuban migration via
By Alfonso Chardy, achardy@MiamiHerald.com.
Posted on Tue, Aug. 28, 2007
CANCUN, Mexico -- Luis Lara arrived in
Hialeah from Cuba five years ago and led
a largely quiet life -- until he left last
year for the city of Mérida on Mexico's
Lara's bullet-riddled body turned up four
weeks ago in an isolated spot more than
15 miles from Cancún, the beach resort
where gunmen had earlier kidnapped him and
his wealthy Mexican girlfriend. Her body
was discovered four days later, along with
those of two Mexican men.
The four murders, believed linked to smuggling
rings responsible for bringing growing numbers
of Cubans to the Yucatán Peninsula,
have shaken Cancún, an international
beach resort normally associated with sand,
sun and fun.
They have also cast a spotlight on the
growing number of undocumented Cuban migrants
detected by U.S. authorities. If current
trends continue, the number of illegal departures
from Cuba will have grown about 14 percent
since about the time ailing Fidel Castro
handed over power to his brother Raúl.
Members of the U.S. intelligence community
say the increase is causing them concern
about a potential mass exodus, but add that
it's too early to speculate on what is behind
The four abductions and homicides have
not altered the happy rhythms of beach partying
along Cancún's glitzy hotel strip.
Mexican officials insist they were isolated
cases that do not compromise the security
of foreign tourists.
"Tourists are safe," said María
Antonieta Salmerón, spokeswoman for
the state prosecutor's office in Cancún.
"These episodes are likely the result
of a settlement of accounts among criminal
But longtime Cuban residents say they are
now fearful -- and don't want to talk to
journalists -- because of the rising stakes
on the Cuban-smuggling route that ends in
the Yucatán Peninsula.
The route -- which sidesteps U.S. Coast
Guard patrols along the Florida Straits
-- starts in parts of western Cuba like
the province of Pinar del Río and
the Isle of Youth, crosses the 135-mile-wide
Yucatán Channel, and winds up in
the Mexican ports of Isla Mujeres, Cancún
Earlier this month, a report from Cuba
said border guards were closing down some
beaches on the Isle of Youth in an apparent
effort to thwart landings by smugglers.
It added that the guards were looking for
one particularly fast boat -- outfitted
with four outboard engines -- known as Reina
del Caribe, or Queen of the Caribbean.
Last year, the Cuban coast guard shot one
smuggler to death and captured another who
Havana media reported had confessed to helping
a Mexico-based smuggling ring that charged
him $20,000 to arrange his wife and child's
The head of the Mexican Immigration Institute's
regional office in Cancún, Eusebio
Romero Pérez, told The Miami Herald
that the flow of undocumented Cubans to
Mexico is clearly rising -- 413 in the first
seven months of this year, compared with
339 in the same period last year.
"There is concern on the part of our
service on how to deal with this new phenomenon,"
Romero said. He added that his agency had
asked the navy to step up its patrols.
If the Cubans are intercepted at sea, Mexican
authorities often return them to the communist
island, Romero said. But if they land and
are caught, they are released after paying
a 10,000-peso fine (about $920), which essentially
gives them 30 days to leave the country.
Dozens still waiting to pay the fine are
now in detention at facilities in Cancún,
Mexico City and Tapachula, on Mexico's southern
border with Guatemala. Authorities did not
allow The Miami Herald to interview some
Ramón Saúl Sánchez,
head of the Miami-based Cuban migrant advocacy
group Democracy Movement, said he is getting
an increasing number of calls from relatives
of undocumented Cubans desperate to find
out if they have arrived in Mexico.
"There is a silent exodus taking place
from Cuba into any nearby country,"
Sánchez said. "People have lost
hope, even if Fidel Castro is indeed fading
Mexican officials familiar with the issue
say smugglers are charging up to $10,000
a Cuban for their full service -- the boat
ride from Cuba to the Yucatán Peninsula
and then overland transit to the U.S. border.
How the slaying of 30-year-old Lara fits
into the profitable but risky business is
now under investigation in Mexico.
Mexican newspaper reports say Lara told
friends that he had fled Cuba through the
Yucatán Peninsula and then made his
way to South Florida. But a woman who identified
herself as the mother of Lara's wife, Alely
Acosta, 31, said the couple arrived legally
in Miami in 2002.
The couple have two young children, but
it's not known if they were born in Cuba
or South Florida. The woman who said she
was Acosta's mother insisted that her daughter
was Lara's "ex-wife" but declined
to comment further.
Mexican media accounts said Acosta flew
to Cancún soon after Lara was kidnapped
to pick up the children, who had been staying
with him, and flew back to Miami with them.
UNDER U.S. SCRUTINY
Lara was under investigation by the Treasury
Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control,
which enforces U.S. economic sanctions on
Cuba, according to a U.S. government official
who asked not to be identified because he
was not authorized to speak about the case.
Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise would
not comment on Lara.
Lara left South Florida late last year
for unknown reasons and headed to Mérida,
the largest city on the Yucatán Peninsula,
where he met María Elena Carrillo
Saénz, a member of a prominent family.
Her family owns the luxury El Conquistador
hotel along the leafy Paseo de Montejo,
one of the city's principal thoroughfares.
They began to date and eventually lived
together. The Mérida newspaper Diario
de Yucatán quoted one of Carrillo's
relatives as saying that the family did
not like Lara, but had no details.
Lara and Carrillo went to Cancún
last month to vacation and stayed at a moderately
priced hotel, Cancún police told
Mexican reporters. On July 19 or 20, police
said, they left the hotel ostensibly to
go to a nearby supermarket and left Lara's
children with a maid. When the couple did
not return, the maid called authorities.
Lara's body was found July 30, dumped off
the road to Mérida. Carrillo's body
was found nearby Aug. 3, along with the
bodies of two other Mexicans, Edwin Park
and Jesús Aguilar. Police in Cancún
told Mexican reporters that the two men
were involved with migrant smugglers, but
gave no details.
While Mexican authorities are continuing
to investigate the four homicides, the migrant
smuggling route that Lara is accused of
fostering is continuing to make headlines.
The Cancún tabloid Périodico
Quequi Quintana Roo carried a front-page
story this month outlining the Cuba-Cancún
Lara's body, meanwhile, remains unclaimed
in the Cancún morgue.
Miami Herald staff writers Pablo Bachelet
in Washington and Casey Woods and Frances
Robles in Miami, and researcher Monika Leal
contributed. Joaquín Chan and Carlos
Gebhardt of Diario de Yucatán also
Cuban father scores crucial victory
in custody case
By Carol Marbin Miller.
Posted on Tue, Aug. 28, 2007
A child welfare judge Monday threw out
a key piece of the state's case against
a Cuban father seeking to regain custody
of his 4-year-old daughter: the claim that
his desire to raise her constitutes child
abuse because she has "bonded"
with a foster family.
Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen, a 16-year
veteran of the bench, tossed out the allegation
against Rafael Izquierdo, the father of
the auburn-haired youngster at the center
of a contentious custody dispute spanning
the Florida Straits.
'We often have situations like that. A
parent says, 'I understand there may be
some bonding, but I want my child. I love
my child. I will fight for my child.' That's
basically what you're [saying]: If a father
does that, or a mother, it constitutes prospective
abuse," the judge said. "I've
never seen anything like this in all my
years of doing dependency."
The judge's decision leaves two claims
remaining in the state's dependency petition
against Izquierdo, and the judge left little
doubt she is not impressed by one of those
-- that Izquierdo abandoned his daughter
by allowing her to move to the United States
and not sending her birthday cards or money
after she arrived.
"With everything you have, even if
you pull a rabbit out of a hat, I just don't
see how" the state can prove Izquierdo
intended to abandon his daughter, the judge
told Department of Children and Families
attorney Rebecca Kapusta.
"With everything I have seen so far,
you do not have abandonment. I am telling
you: I don't see it. It doesn't rise to
what the courts need," Cohen said.
"I don't think you meet the legal standard."
In the third count, the state is arguing
that Izquierdo erred by allowing the girl's
mother to take her to the United States
even though he should have known she was
Signaling her frustration with DCF's legal
team, Cohen urged the lawyers to take a
second look at their entire case, a theme
she has returned to frequently during weekly
hearings. "You need to listen to what
I'm telling you," she told Kapusta
and the two other lawyers representing DCF.
"You need to be intellectually honest
with yourselves. . . . Or are you just so
locked into something because you are state
employees and attorneys, and you can't see
the forest for the trees?"
Cohen's suggestion that attorneys reconsider
their case marked the second time Monday
that the judge criticized the state for
its handling of the case. Earlier in the
day, Cohen scolded DCF for failing to notice,
until the last minute, that they lacked
a crucial court order.
The record, documenting the girl's mother's
decision to give up custody, was not in
the official court file of the case, which
had disappeared months earlier. Cohen said
she believes the state simply failed to
get the order signed. "You need to
take responsibility for that," she
The case concerns the fate of a girl who
was taken into DCF custody in December 2005
after her mother, Elena Perez, called 911
in the throes of depression.
The trial was set to start Monday, but
lawyers spent the day arguing motions.
Izquierdo's attorney, Ira Kurzban, argued
that the DCF case, contained in a petition
seeking to declare the father unfit, should
be dismissed before the state even begins
to present its evidence against the Cuban
farmer and fisherman.
DCF attorney Kapusta strongly urged the
judge to allow the state to proceed and
make up her mind only after the state had
presented its case.
"You have to hear the evidence in
the case before you decide," Kapusta
said. "We have a right to go forward
with our case, your honor."
The judge's dismissal of the state's claim
of "prospective abuse" gutted
what was a cornerstone of DCF's theory of
For months, DCF attorneys, a court-appointed
guardian and two court-appointed therapists
have dissected in minute detail a series
of visits between Izquierdo and his daughter.
The two therapists, Miguel Firpi and Julio
Vigil, have warned several times that the
girl has failed to attach to her father.
She now lives with Joe and Maria Cubas,
the Coral Gables foster family that has
cared for her the past 18 months. Joe Cubas
has told Cohen he and his wife wish to raise
the girl, a position DCF supports.
Firpi said the girl cried during much of
a visit last week because Izquierdo refused
to allow her to phone Cubas. Firpi said
the girl also complained that Izquierdo
used an ugly word to describe Cubas.
The state says the youngster enjoys an
extremely good bond with the Cubas family.
The girl, Kapusta said, "stands to
suffer severe abuse if she is removed from
this custodian, and from her brother. By
all accounts, the [foster] parents are providing
a loving, caring and nurturing place for
Kurzban blasted the state for suggesting
a father should lose his daughter because
he wants to raise her.
"Seeking to reunify with a child cannot
be prospective abuse," Kurzban said.
"If so, it would end the dependency
Kurzban dismissed the state's claim that
Izquierdo abandoned the girl by failing
to send her money in the United States.
The state, he said, claimed that Izquierdo
had "$8,000 in the bank."
They really meant pesos, Kurzban said,
which would be equivalent to $400 -- money
he could not really send her, given Cuba's
relationship with the United States.
Reacting to another of the state's claims,
Kurzban said: "He failed to send birthday
cards and presents. . . . Are they serious?"
DCF chief calls Cuban dad case 'unusual'
By Marc Caputo, mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.
Posted on Tue, Aug. 28, 2007
TALLAHASSEE -- The head of Florida's child
welfare agency said Tuesday that the agency's
case to take away a child from a Cuban national
is ''unusual'' and is the most expensive
to occur on his watch.
Department of Children & Families chief
Bob Butterworth made his statements to a
reporter shortly after he appeared before
a state legislative committee that is tasked
with cutting his budget.
But despite a lack of cash and a tough
time in court, Butterworth said he has no
regrets over the estimated tens of thousands
of dollars DCF has spent trying to keep
Rafael Izquierdo from gaining custody of
his 4-year-old daughter from a Coral Gables
''This is one case that I guess occurs
every eight years,'' Butterworth said, referring
to the world-watched Elián González
case. "This case is now in trial. It
will be over very, very shortly. Hopefully,
the judge will make her decision. Hopefully,
that will be it.''
Asked if that meant the state would drop
any further action if a judge ruled against
DCF, Butterworth said that the agency would
''have to assess'' that.
Castro signs political essay, sidesteps
Without hinting about his
health, Fidel Castro signed a new political
essay that appeared in print on Sunday.
By Will Weissert, Associated
Press. Posted on Mon, Aug. 27, 2007
HAVANA -- Fidel Castro signed a lengthy
essay published Sunday saluting a Cuban
political figure but giving no hint of how
he is feeling, even amid rampant rumors
of his death.
The 81-year-old Castro has not been seen
in public in over a year and has not even
appeared in official photographs or video
footage since taping an interview with Cuban
state television June 5.
The lack of images has fueled speculation
among the Cuban exile community in Miami
and elsewhere that Castro might have died.
He announced on July 31, 2006, that he had
undergone emergency intestinal surgery and
was temporarily ceding power to his younger
Officials in Havana have refused to speak
about Castro's condition, but Foreign Minister
Felipe Pérez Roque told reporters
in Brazil last week that ''Fidel is doing
very well and is disciplined in his recovery
process.'' He insisted the gray-bearded
leader maintains ''permanent'' contact with
top government officials.
Castro's essay, the latest in dozens of
Reflections of the Commander in Chief columns
he has published several times a week since
late March, was signed Saturday evening
and appeared in the Communist Youth newspaper
Juventud Rebelde on Sunday.
Verbose but clearly stated and easy to
follow, Castro wrote of Eduardo Chibas,
the president of Cuba's Orthodox Party,
who was born 100 years ago this month. Chibas
campaigned against corruption that plagued
Cuba's government before Castro toppled
dictator Fulgencio Batista in January 1959.
Tensions flare at Cuban custody trial
By Carol Marbin Miller,
cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com. Posted on Mon,
Aug. 27, 2007
The fireworks began immediately Monday
morning on the first day of a trial that
will help decide the fate of a 4-year-old
girl caught in a tug of war between two
families -- one from Cuba, one from Coral
Gables -- seeking to raise her.
Lawyers for the girl's birth parents contend
that the girl's mother, Elena Perez, did
not freely agree to give up custody of the
girl in February 2006, shortly after child-welfare
workers took the girl into state care.
The girl and her older half-brother were
sheltered by the state after Perez called
911 in the throes of depression.
Though the transcript of a hearing read
in court Monday morning by Circuit Judge
Jeri B. Cohen shows Perez agreed to accept
services from the state Department of Children
& Families, the judge who was hearing
the case at the time, Spencer Eig, did not
sign an order declaring Perez unfit to raise
Eig later recused himself from the case
because he had represented relatives of
Elián González seven yaers
ago in a case that was strikingly similar.
Cohen said Monday morning that Eig would
sign a dependency order to document what
occurred in court 18 months ago. That prompted
a tense hourlong argument with lawyers for
the girl's birth parents.
Cohen at first declined to discuss the
''Can we be heard?'' asked Ira Kurzban,
a lawyer for Rafael Izquierdo, the girl's
birth father. "This is outrageous.
This is Alice in Wonderland.''
Cohen read long passages from the transcript
of the Feb. 21, 2006, hearing, in which
Perez described in detail her struggles
in the United States after she legally emigrated
from Cuba with her two children.
''I was coming here with great ideas, thinking
only positive things for me and my children,''
she said, according to the transcript.
But as soon as Perez arrived at Miami International
Airport her husband, Jesus Melendres, abandoned
her. ''My dream [was] to stay in the U.S.,''
Perez said. "His desire [was] to go
back to Cuba.''
With the help of Catholic Charities, Perez
said, she resettled in Houston, where she
found a job at a shampoo factory. Months
later, struggling for work and help with
the children, she returned to Miami.
Perez said she called 911 because she desperately
''I did this looking for protection for
my children,'' she said.
Both Kurzban and Greer Wallace, Perez's
lawyer, said the transcript shows Perez
did not give up custody voluntarily. For
one thing, they said, Perez did not have
a court interpreter. A relative of Perez's
estranged husband, who may have had motives
of his own, they said, translated.
The transcript shows Perez appeared confused:
''It's just that I don't understand,'' she
said at one point.
Kurzban asked Cohen to stop the proceedings
Monday morning to give him time to ask a
Miami appeals court to overrule her decision
to allow the missing record to be re-created.
Cohen refused to halt the trial, which
is likely to begin Monday afternoon.
The pretrial proceedings Monday morning
also became heated when two court-appointed
therapists, Miguel Firpi and Julio Vigil,
briefed Cohen on ongoing visits between
Izquerido and his daughter.
Firpi said the girl cried during much of
a recent visit because Izquierdo refused
to allow her to phone her foster parents,
Joe and Maria Cubas, the Cuban-American
couple from Coral Gables.
Firpi said the girl also complained that
Izquierdo had used an ugly word to describe
''The father made a rather negative comment
about Mr. Cubas. She said Mr. Cubas was
her father, and he answered Joe Cubas was
un mierda,'' -- a shit.
Castro death rumors crop up again
For the third week in a
row, rumors of Fidel Castro's death spread
across South Florida.
By Lydia Martin. lmartin@MiamiHerald.com.
Posted on Sat, Aug. 25, 2007.
The rumors heated up again Friday for the
third week in a row: Fidel Castro's death
would be announced, first at 2 p.m., then
at 4, then at 5.
In the year since the Cuban government
announced Castro had ceded power to brother
Raúl following intestinal surgery,
rumors he's on his deathbed keep boiling
over and dying down, creating a roller coaster
of emotion for exiles and islanders.
Tearful callers told Ninoska Pérez
of Radio Mambí they were sure this
was it, and Pérez, as usual, said,
"The moment will come, but this is
not the moment.''
At Aaction Home Health in Hialeah, office
workers were abuzz because one heard that
people in Havana were taking to the streets
in anticipation of the news. At the University
of Miami, media relations officers worked
the phones in search of confirmation. And
celebrity blogger Perez Hilton posted an
entry insisting Castro was dead.
Friday's round of rumors, like those before
them, didn't seem to be panning out.
Castro has written several recent newspaper
columns, but he has not been seen in public
in more than a year. For many, waiting for
proof of his demise resembles the low-grade
anxiety of bracing for a hurricane that
may or may not hit. Even though it seems
clear there won't be any real change on
the island immediately after Castro's death,
the exile community is preparing for something
The rumors reached fever pitch last weekend.
Calls flooded Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's office.
UM's Cuba experts were on high alert. The
community started rumbling anew, parents
reaching out to children, friends calling
''Last Friday, when the rumors started
again, my phone rang off the hook,'' says
Andy Gomez, senior fellow at UM's Institute
for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. "It
was everybody. Friends, family, the State
Department. People went nuts. ''
Another false alarm. Which, in an ironic
way, was a relief to many who yearn for
the end of Castro but know they'll have
to put their lives on hold to deal with
'Every time I buy a plane ticket to go
somewhere with my family, I always say,
'If Fidel doesn't die,' '' says Maria Elvira
Salazar, host of WSBS-SBS 22's talk show
Polos Opuestos (Opposite Poles).
"In a way, this is going to be like
Hurricane Andrew times 10. We don't know
what's going to happen, besides the idea
that there will be a Pharaonic funeral.
But we know when he dies, everything will
revolve around his death. [Mega TV will]
be on 24-7 for God knows how many days.''
Many South Florida Cubans jokingly say
they hope Castro will make it through another
'I did say last week, 'If he's going to
die, let him do it on a Monday,' '' says
Bárbara Gutiérrez, a media
relations officer at the University of Miami
and former editor at El Nuevo Herald.
'When the new rumors started, I felt like,
'Oh no. Here we go.' Because when this happens,
it won't be just dealing with work. It'll
be dealing with my mother, who will want
to go out and celebrate.
"It will be dealing with my own feelings.
It will be dealing with the fact that in
my family there are a lot of older people
who we will have to be careful with, because
the emotion of it all could make them sick.''
For now, though, the older generation in
particular is coping, says Radio Mambí's
Armando Perez Roura, a longtime Cuban radio
personality who has been poised to break
the news of Castro's demise for decades.
''This is definitely the calm before the
storm,'' Perez Roura says.
After all, he says, it was a younger, more
recently arrived Cuban crowd that jumped
the gun and swarmed Calle Ocho to celebrate
Castro's death when news of his ceding power
broke at the end of July last year.
''The rest of us have spent a lot of years
in this process,'' Perez Roura says. "Waiting
for something to happen, hearing rumors
that never turn out to be true. We're not
going to react until we know for sure.''
''Both in Cuba and in exile, you can breathe
a very tense calm,'' says Ramon Colas, who
helped start Bibliotecas Independientes
(Independent Libraries) in Cuba and left
the island in 2001.
He now runs a Cuba race-relations project
in Mississippi but still has regular exchanges
with people on the island.
'Everybody is waiting to be able to say
with certainty, 'El viejo se fue' [the old
man is gone], but we know how much the Cuban
government manipulates the truth. We know
they can be the ones to launch rumors that
he is dead in the first place, just to gauge
our reaction. So we stay guarded.''
That emotional limbo can be damaging, says
Dr. Julio Licinio, chairman of UM's psychiatry
"With Castro, there is nothing concrete.
He keeps lingering. When something is unresolved,
it makes you emotionally unsettled.''
Which is why Sonia del Corral was glad
that her father, Victor del Corral, founder
of the famed Victor's Café in New
York, died when he did.
'It might seem weird to say, but my father
was fine when he heard that Fidel was sick
and had ceded power to Raúl. The
next day he had a heart attack and slipped
into a coma. So he died thinking Cuba was
about to be free. He didn't have to stick
around for another year of the waiting game
and then maybe not outlive Castro. I'm happy
that he was able to say to me, 'Ya, hija,
ya.' '' (It's over, daughter, it's over.)
Oscar Haza, host of WJAN-America TeVe Channel
41's popular A Mano Limpia (The Gloves Are
Off) hears the anxiety in the voices of
viewers who call in to check on the rumors.
Knowing how desperate the Cuban exile community
is for confirmation of Castro's death, Haza
has tried to find a way to calm people whenever
new rumors get them riled.
'I say, 'Don't pay attention to all the
rumors. When you tune in and you hear me
say 'Ya,' you will know that means 'Ya.'