The Miami Herald
Cuban dissidents freed after brief detention
By Frances Robles. frobles@MiamiHerald.com.
September 28, 2007.
Two dozen Cuban dissidents detained in
a roundup while trying to reach a protest
in Havana have been released, activists
Dissidents from Villa Clara and Havana
were trying to reach the Justice Ministry
in Havana Thursday to present a letter demanding
better treatment for political prisoners.
Some 27 dissidents from Villa Clara alone
were stopped during the early morning hours
on the highway en route or once they arrived
at their meeting point, the Havana home
of dissident Martha Beatriz Roque.
Roque was also detained and later released.
Dissident Jorge Luis ''Antúnez''
García Pérez, released in
April after 17 years in prison, was also
''All of those released were let go with
the warning that they could be charged at
any moment with disturbing the peace,''
opposition journalist Guillermo Fariñas
told The Miami Herald by phone from his
home in Villa Clara.
Fariñas said the whereabouts of
one dissident were still unknown.
The protest followed another small rally
Monday in Villa Clara to protest the treatment
of Carlos Luis Díaz Fernández,
who is currently being held in the El Pre
prison in Santa Clara.
''If they are going to mistreat prisoners,
we have to protest,'' Fariñas said.
"Tomorrow that could be me, and I'd
want people protesting for me.''
18 Cuban migrants arrive at gas station
Posted on Fri, Sep. 28,
Eighteen Cuban migrants -- three of them
children -- were picked up in the Florida
Keys by a trucker and dropped off overnight
at a gas station in South Miami-Dade.
The aptly named drop-off point: Freedom
Oil Station, Southwest 222nd Street and
South Dixie Highway.
All were seen by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue
workers and seemed to be doing well. They
munched on McDonald's food as they waited
for the Border Patrol to take them away
for processing. The children dozed.
The migrants said they had departed Cuba
from the port of Mariel.
Under the U.S. government's wet foot/dry
foot policy, Cuban migrants who make it
to U.S. shores are generally allowed to
remain in the United States.
Cuban dad wins ruling but not custody
By Tere Figueras Negrete,
Carol Marbin Miller and Andres Viglucci.
tfigueras@MiamiHerald.com. September 28,
A Cuban father fighting to remove his daughter
from her Coral Gables foster family is a
fit parent, a judge ruled Thursday -- but
that doesn't mean the little girl at the
center of the international custody dispute
will return to the island with him.
Before a courtroom packed with reporters,
attorneys, child-welfare advocates and therapists,
Circuit Court Judge Jeri B. Cohen said the
state failed to make its case that Rafael
Izquierdo had neglected or abandoned his
But Cohen said she will go forward with
a second chapter of what has seemed at times
a made-for-television courtroom drama: a
hearing to decide whether taking the girl
from the home of Joe and Maria Cubas, who
have cared for her for 19 months, would
''We're asking you, imploring you, begging
you today to transfer the child back to
her father,'' said one of Izquierdo's attorneys,
Answered Cohen: "I am not going to
return the child to Mr. Izquierdo today.''
Izquierdo and his legal team were nonetheless
jubilant as they left the county courthouse
Thursday, embracing on the steps before
''I am eager to be home,'' Izquierdo said.
"What I want is to have my daughter
Asked if there is a possibility he would
stay in Miami, he said: "No chance.''
A disconsolate Maria Cubas, who began to
cry silently after Cohen read her ruling,
bypassed the media scrum outside the courthouse
-- leaving with her husband through a back
''Of course we're disappointed,'' Joe Cubas
said later Thursday. "But we're looking
forward to the second phase of the trial
and pray it will protect the child from
In deciding whether the girl, now 5, will
go back to the rural Cuban town where her
father and his family lives, Cohen will
weigh claims that she has formed bonds with
the Cubas family. The judge also will consider
whether separating her from her half-brother
-- already adopted by the couple -- will
cause irreparable harm.
Attorneys for the Department of Children
& Families maintain that taking her
from the Cubas household constitutes "endangerment.''
Cohen, who has been critical of the department's
handling of the case, warned that DCF attorneys
will have a tough time proving the endangerment
claim at the hearing in October.
THE CASE IN BRIEF
The girl and her half-brother, now 13,
traveled with their mother, Elena Perez,
from Cuba in March 2005. Within a few months,
distraught and depressed, Perez attempted
The children were placed first with relatives
of their stepfather, then later at the Cubases'
home, where they have lived since April
The state's attorneys argued that Izquierdo
abandoned the girl by allowing her to leave
Cuba with her mother and showed little interest
in her well-being.
Izquierdo and his attorneys maintain he
did not know Perez was mentally unstable
and say he was misled by the girl's caregivers
in Florida that her mother was on the mend.
In the 47-page ruling, read aloud in a
crowded Miami courtroom, Cohen repeatedly
criticized Izquierdo, a farmer from the
small central Cuban town of Cabaiguán,
for being ''passive'' when it came to his
She said she was especially disturbed that
it took Izquierdo seven months after Perez
attempted suicide to apply for a humanitarian
visa, which would allow him to come to the
United States and claim his child. The judge
said Izquierdo could offer no adequate explanation
for the time lapse.
''While it is true Izquierdo is not sophisticated
and not highly educated, this alone does
not explain his inaction,'' Cohen said.
But, she said, "Florida law does not
require a father to be a perfect parent,
a sophisticated parent nor an assertive
A LEGAL SPECTACLE
The ruling capped a weeks-long courtroom
saga as dramatic at times as a prime-time
On one side are the wealthy Coral Gables
couple. Joe Cubas is a former sports agent
considered something of an exile hero for
helping Cuban baseball players prized by
Fidel Castro start Major League careers
in the United States.
On the other side has been a man portrayed
by his attorneys as a humble farmer caught
up in a politically charged custody case
who simply wants his daughter.
But Izquierdo's attorneys -- the husband-and-wife
legal team of Kurzban and Magda Montiel
Davis -- are no strangers to contentious
Miami politics. Both have been reviled by
many anti-Castro exiles: Kurzban previously
represented the Cuban government in commercial
litigation; Davis was pilloried in Miami
after kissing Castro on the cheek and calling
him ''maestro'' during a 1994 trip to the
The courtroom spectacle also included allegations
by the children's mother that Izquierdo
and Davis conspired to fabricate key pieces
of evidence and urged her to lie on the
witness stand, a bombshell that sidelined
the proceedings for several days.
Izquierdo and Davis have vehemently denied
In her ruling, Cohen addressed the allegations,
which centered on letters purportedly sent
by Izquierdo to the girl's mother while
she was in the United States. The issue
of Izquierdo's efforts to keep tabs on the
little girl after she left Cuba was a crucial
piece of the state's case against him.
Cohen said she had a ''strong suspicion''
that the letters were indeed fabricated,
noting Izquierdo wrote about photos that
were taken well after the correspondence
was supposedly sent. She also described
his demeanor under questioning as ''jittery''
Cohen said those concerns are outweighed
by Izquierdo's devotion to the girl, saying
that while she "believes Izquierdo
was dishonest with the court on key issues,
he appears sincere in wanting to regain
custody of his daughter.''
She gave Izquierdo credit for his efforts
to claim his daughter, given his 11th-grade
education and unfamiliarity with the American
''He has diligently participated in what
must seem to him a mysterious and daunting
legal process,'' she wrote in the ruling.
"While geographically, Cuba is only
90 miles from the United States shores,
the two countries are philosophically and
politically worlds apart.''
'SLAP ON THE WRIST'
Alan Mishael, attorney for Joe and Maria
Cubas, said the references to Izquierdo's
alleged perjury in the ruling constituted
a "slap on the wrist.''
The judge ''gave the benefit of the doubt
to a man she found had fabricated evidence
and lied to her,'' he said.
Mishael said he is confident an appeals
court would reverse Cohen's decision.
''We're going to prevail on appeal,'' he
Any appeal would have to be filed by DCF
attorneys. Gov. Charlie Crist was noncommittal
about that prospect late Thursday.
''I think we need to review the ruling,
get the rationale behind what the judge
determined and have a chance to digest that,''
Crist said. "It's going to take a little
Miami Herald staff writers Evan Benn, Elaine
De Valle and Gary Fineout contributed to
Two dozen dissidents rounded up in Havana
By Frances Robles. frobles@MiamiHerald.com.
Posted on Thu, Sep. 27, 2007.
Nearly two dozen dissidents from around
Cuba were detained Thursday in Havana when
they tried to deliver a letter to the Justice
Ministry demanding better treatment for
political prisoners, human rights groups
Dissident leaders from different provinces
throughout the island were believed to have
been picked up in Havana on their way to
the event, but no police station confirmed
their whereabouts, according to Directorio
Democratico, a Miami group that monitors
human rights in Cuba.
Among the reported missing: dissident Jorge
Luis García Pérez, known as
Antúnez, who was recently released
after serving a 17 year prison sentence.
Directorio said a total of 22 people were
unaccounted for by late Thursday.
The letter was delivered as planned by
activist Martha Beatriz Roque.
Cuban archbishop: Religious freedom
slowly spreading on island
By Matt Sedensky, Associated
Press Writer. Sep. 24, 2007.
MIAMI -- A top Catholic prelate in Cuba
says religious practice is slowly spreading
in the communist nation despite rigid restrictions.
Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo Garcia Ibanez,
named earlier this year to lead Catholics
in Santiago, Cuba's second-largest city,
said the church has been able to expand
its reach, though it will be years before
it achieves goals of even more openness.
"The faith of our community has manifested,
it has been reborn," he said in a recent
interview during a visit here. "The
Catholic faith in our community has resurrected."
Garcia would not pin the loosened restrictions
on Fidel Castro's decision to temporarily
hand over the government last year to his
brother Raul. He said he has witnessed piecemeal
improvements since his ordination in 1985.
Catholics once hoped simply to knock on
doors and spread the Gospel, Garcia said,
a dream that has since been realized. They
prayed they could hold religious processions
in the streets; he says there have now been
more than 90. They pushed for Catholic radio
broadcasts, which are now allowed once or
twice a year.
"Hope is relative," the 62-year-old
archbishop said after a Mass at Ermita de
la Caridad, the spiritual heart of Cuban
exiles here. "We always need to work
toward what we think is necessary, is fair."
Garcia was cautious in his statements and
steered away from any criticism of the Cuban
government, for which his predecessor, retired
Archbishop Pedro Meurice Estiu, became known.
One of Garcia's hosts, Bishop Felipe Estevez,
said he was encouraged by the changes the
archbishop noted, but said Catholics need
to understand Cubans are still living in
a closed society.
"That is a society that is not pluralistic,
it is unidimensional and somehow they have
to live with that reality," said Estevez,
an auxiliary bishop with the Archbishop
of Miami who was born in Havana and came
to the U.S. as a teenager. "They are
kind of talking out of adversity."
Despite huge expectations, Pope John Paul
II's 1998 visit to Cuba never brought the
transcendent changes many wanted. The pontiff
urged the island to "open to the world"
and called for Castro to increase liberty
for the church and society.
"Life in Cuba continues without greater
transformations," the archbishop acknowledged.
Cuba became officially atheist in the years
after the 1959 revolution that brought Castro
to power. Although diplomatic relations
between the Cuban government and the Vatican
remained intact, and religious observance
was never outlawed, practicing Catholics
and believers of other faiths were often
viewed with suspicion or amusement.
The Cuban government removed the constitution's
references to atheism more than a decade
ago and allowed believers to join the Communist
Party. But religious schools have remained
closed since the early 1960s, when hundreds
of foreign priests and religious workers
were expelled. Abortion remains free and
"We are in that process of finding
new roads for presence of the church, of
understanding that faith is not only something
private," Garcia said. "Many years
of experience have to pass for this state
to not only accept the beliefs of others,
of its citizens, but also to realize that
the sincere evidence of the faith signifies
a good thing for the country."
Estevez noted no new churches have been
built in Cuba in 50 years, that Catholics
still have no schools, newspapers or regularly
broadcast radio programs.
"If you are Catholic, you cannot study
law, you cannot study psychology, or you
cannot study political science," he
said. "They don't want that thinking
in the leadership."
Although John Paul's influence was considered
key to the collapse of communism in his
native Poland, the church has had much less
say in Cuba. Garcia said Catholics on the
island don't ask why they haven't followed
a similar path.
"Every country, every town has to
find their own road to reconciliation,"
he said. "Every country should find
with honesty their own way to find the way
for their people. It's not healthy to make
Associated Press writers Anita Snow
in Havana and Damian Grass in Miami contributed
to this report.
Cuban girl's rights to be next decision
By Carol Marbin Miller,
cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com. Posted on Fri,
Sep. 28, 2007.
The weekslong case against Rafael Izquierdo
has been mired in the legal intricacies
of what makes a father a fit parent and
in lawyerly definitions of abandonment and
Now that a judge has ruled in his favor,
a new battle is about to begin over the
heart of the case: Does his right as a fit
and loving father to raise his daughter
trump her right not to be torn from a family
she has come to love?
The noisy drama raises the specter of a
collision between cherished American principles:
the constitutional right of a fit parent
to raise his child free of government interference
versus the government's right to protect
a small child from potential emotional harm.
''We are treading on very dangerous borders
of the law,'' said Bernard Perlmutter, a
20-year children's advocate who heads the
University of Miami Law School's Children
& Youth Law Clinic. "We have to
be very careful.''
The case pits Izquierdo, who raises pigs
and grows malanga in central Cuba, against
foster parents Joe and Maria Cubas, a Cuban-American
couple from Coral Gables, in a struggle
for custody of a 5-year-old girl they both
want to raise.
The Florida Department of Children &
Families, together with the girl's court-appointed
guardian ad litem, are asking Miami-Dade
Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen to forever strip
Izquierdo of custody over his daughter by
granting Joe and Maria Cubas permanent guardianship.
They say the girl has so completely bonded
with her half-brother and foster parents
that separating from them now would endanger
''In this case, what it appears the state
is seeking to do is create a new jurisprudence
that focuses on potential harm to the child,''
Perlmutter said. "It is very novel,
and very untested.''
Florida law and the written interpretations
of it handed down by appeals courts through
the years offer little insight into what
Cohen -- who has often lamented in the case
that her hands are tied by precedent --
The state's child-welfare statute says
that in a custody dispute, a judge ''shall
place'' a child with a fit parent "unless
the court finds that such placement would
endanger the safety, well-being, or physical,
mental or emotional health of the child.''
A landmark 1996 Florida Supreme Court ruling
that essentially abolished the notion of
grandparents' rights declared that parents
have a "fundamental right under [the]
State Constitution to raise their children,
except where [the] child is threatened with
That standard allowed the First District
Court of Appeal in November 2002 to let
a Bay County grandmother continue raising
an 8-year-old boy, even though his mother
had complied with all the requirements of
a parental improvement plan and wanted custody.
The court said the child could be harmed
because the mother showed no interest in
learning how to care for his developmental
disabilities, while the grandmother had
been dealing with them for years.
Alan Mishael, attorney for Joe and Maria
Cubas, will rely on cases such as that one
and emphasize the state's right to protect
a child from imminent harm.
But Ira Kurzban, Izquierdo's attorney,
says that an even higher authority prohibits
the state from keeping a child from a fit
and loving parent: the U.S. Constitution.
''We believe the U.S. Constitution, [and]
the Florida Constitution say that parents
have a God-given right to raise their children,''
said Kurzban. "Mr. Izquierdo has been
found fit. . . . He has a right to not go
through another proceeding.''
Bruce A. Boyer, a law professor who heads
Loyola University's children's law clinic
in Chicago, called ''really, really scary''
the notion that a fit parent can be deprived
of his child. "Before a state can interfere
with the relationship between a parent and
child, it has to first establish that something
has gone wrong.''
'DRIVE A WEDGE'
Advocates for carving out a robust framework
of children's rights ''are trying to drive
a wedge in the long-standing case law that
derives from decisions of the U.S. Supreme
Court that makes a parent's interest --
a fit parent's interest -- ultimate in the
determination of custody,'' UM's Perlmutter
If Kurzban fails to sidetrack the inquiry,
Cohen will convene a new hearing almost
unprecedented in Miami's child-welfare history
to decide whether moving the little girl
from the Cubas home will cause her great
Florida lawmakers never defined ''endangerment''
in the state's child-welfare statute. But,
Perlmutter says, "I think the term
was deliberately chosen by the Legislature
to make the threshold very high.''
Judge Cohen agrees. She told the state
Thursday: "You are going to have a
steep mountain to climb, and you know that.''
The legal intricacies almost certainly
will make the new hearing a battle of experts.
Those supporting the Cubas family will try
to show that the girl is far too attached
to both her 13-year-old half-brother and
her foster parents to risk uprooting her.
Those for Izquierdo will say that small
children are resilient, and that the girl
already is forging a new bond with her birth
Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, a law professor
at the University of Florida who is completing
a book on children's rights, said Florida
has traditionally lagged behind other states
in creating a foundation for protecting
the rights of children.
That's changing, though, Woodhouse said.
She said a ruling in favor of the Cubas
family could help propel Florida closer
to other states that emphasize children's
interests over birth parents' rights.
''When there is a serious detriment to
the child, that should be taken into account,''
Woodhouse said. "You can't treat a
child like a piece of property. . . . Let's
not just look at blood. Let's look at actions,
In the 5-year-old's case, Woodhouse said,
the judge must consider: "Is the child
so bonded [with her foster family] that
she really doesn't have a relationship with
the person claiming parenthood?''
Roey Kirk, a Miami healthcare consultant
and adoptive mother who is on the board
of directors of Hear My Voice, an advocacy
group that supports prospective adoptive
families and longtime caregivers, said she
has faith that Cohen, and the state courts,
ultimately will do what is best for the
little girl, who has seen enough tragedy.
''Every time a bond is broken, it affects
the child,'' Kirk said. "What we would
like to see everyone do is focus all their
energy and love on creating an environment
for this child so that she doesn't have
to suffer any more loss.''
FAR FROM CERTAIN
Izquierdo's legal team will present evidence
that it's far from certain the girl will
be harmed by reunification with her father's
family in Cuba.
''For every medical or quasi-medical professional
who says the disruption will cause permanent
brain damage, there are equally credible
people who say children are flexible, go
through trauma all the time, and recover,''
said Boyer, the Loyola professor.
''I'm not saying children are not affected,
or traumatized,'' Boyer added. But the case
raises the specter of "giving judges
unfettered power to decide that a child
is better off being raised by some other
family. A judge could simply decide a child
would be happier in a nice house in the
suburbs, with a swing set and a puppy --
and maybe better schools.''
"That's never, ever a reason to take
a child away from a fit parent because you
think they will be better off somewhere
Cuban official assails Bush
By Edith M. Lederer, Associated
Press Writer. Sep. 26, 2007.
UNITED NATIONS -- Cuba's foreign minister
launched a blistering attack on President
Bush at a U.N. General Assembly meeting
Wednesday, a day after the U.S. leader spoke
of a Cuba no longer ruled by Fidel Castro.
Felipe Perez Roque told world leaders that
Bush "came into office through fraud
and deceit" and has "no moral
authority or credibility to judge anyone."
He also accused the American leader of authorizing
the torture of prisoners at the U.S. military
prison at Guantanamo Bay.
On Tuesday, Bush looked ahead to a Cuba
without Castro, who hasn't been seen in
public since undergoing emergency intestinal
surgery last year.
"In Cuba, the long rule of a cruel
dictator is nearing its end," Bush
said. "The Cuban people are ready for
He also urged "every civilized nation
... to stand up for the people suffering
under dictatorship," singling out "brutal
regimes" in Belarus, North Korea, Syria,
Iran, Myanmar, Cuba, Zimbabwe and Sudan.
The Cuban delegation walked out of the
General Assembly hall Tuesday to protest
Bush's remarks. During Perez Roque's attack
on Wednesday, the U.S. seat was empty.
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations
said the Cuban comments reflect a tragedy.
"We find it tragic that the people
of Cuba and Zimbabwe cannot enjoy the same
freedom to speak out that their own leaders
take at the podum of the General Assembly
in denouncing other countries," said
mission spokesman Benjamin Chang.
In his comments, Zimbabwe President Robert
Mugabe - whose government is frequently
criticized by Western nations for alleged
human rights abuses - claimed that the U.S.
leader "imprisons and tortures in Guantanamo,
he imprisons and tortures at Abu Ghraib,
he has secret torture centers in Europe."
Perez Roque accused Bush of winning his
office through fraud. "We would have
been spared his presence yesterday, and
we would have listened to President Al Gore
talking about climate change and the risks
to our species."
Perez Roque, who spoke on behalf of the
118-nation Nonaligned Movement, said Bush's
comments forced him to respond.
"It was an embarrassing show,"
he said. "The delirium tremens of the
world's policeman, sprinkled with the mediocrity
and the cynicism of those who threaten to
launch wars in which they know their life
is not at stake."
In his speech, Bush also saluted nations
"that have recently take strides toward
liberty, including Ukraine, Georgia, Liberia
and Sierra Leone. He said the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 60
years ago, "must guide our work in
Referring to these comments, Perez Roque
said, "He talked about human rights,
but we know that he is lying."
"He has been the most selfish and
reckless politician that we have ever seen,"
he said. "President Bush has no moral
authority or credibility to judge anyone."
Associated Press writers Slobodan Lekic
and Sarah DiLorenzo contributed to this
Photo shows heavier-looking Fidel Castro
standing, meeting with Angolan president
By Will Weissert, Associated
Press Writer. Posted on Sun, Sep. 23, 2007.
HAVANA -- Cuba published a photo Sunday
of a standing, smiling Fidel Castro looking
heavier but still gaunt as he met with Angola's
president, the first head of state to see
the ailing 81-year-old since June.
The picture, which appeared on the front
page of Communist Party youth newspaper
Juventud Rebelde, shows Castro in a track
suit, athletic pants and tennis shoes. The
Cuban leader appears to have gained weight
and wears a warm half-smile as he shakes
hands with Angolan President Jose Eduardo
Dos Santos, who was in Cuba since Thursday
on an official visit.
The image was released two days after Castro
gave a surprise hourlong interview on state
television, during which he answered rumors
about his death that have swirled recently
in the United States by saying simply, "well,
here I am."
Sunday's photo was the first time Castro
has been seen standing in months. He stayed
seated during the interview, which aired
Friday evening just hours after officials
said it was taped.
Held in an undisclosed location, the meeting
between Castro and Dos Santos reportedly
took place Saturday afternoon and lasted
an hour and 45 minutes.
"I could see him recuperating,"
Dos Santos told Cuba's state news agency,
Prensa Latina. "He's strong, with good
Castro has not appeared in public since
announcing on July 31, 2006, that emergency
intestinal surgery was forcing him to step
down in favor of a provisional government
headed by his 76-year-old brother, Raul.
The younger Castro addressed reporters
Sunday on a tarmac in the province of Matanzas
after seeing Dos Santos board a flight off
the island. "There is a magnificent
photo on the front page" of Juventud
Rebelde, he said.
In an interview broadcast Sunday night,
Castro's friend and ally Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez said that "Fidel isn't
"Fidel is fine," said Chavez,
who when asked about Castro's condition
described it as intestinal problem and said
"it isn't terminal."
Chavez said he has talked to the Cuban
leader frequently by phone.
"The last time I talked with him personally,
we talked six hours," Chavez said in
the taped interview, which was conducted
last week in Manaus, Brazil.
Fidel's condition and exact illness are
state secrets, and before Friday it had
been more than three months since Cuba's
government released images showing his recovery
- prompting rumors in Miami and elsewhere
that he had died.
Dos Santos is the first head of state to
visit with the elder Castro since June 12,
when Chavez made a surprise visit to Havana.
Cuba and Angola have had close relations
for more than three decades. The Caribbean
nation sent as many as 350,000 military
and technical personnel between 1975 and
1988 to help the Angolan government and
the Namibian Liberation Movement defeat
U.S.-supported rebels and South African