The Miami Herald
For Cubans, a movie title may be a reference
Posted on Fri, Aug. 24, 2007.
HAVANA -- (AP) -- It's not big or famous
and it's certainly not close, but Yuma,
an Arizona desert town near the borders
with California and Mexico, is Cuba's most
talked-about American locale.
''La Yuma'' is Cuban street lingo for the
United States, and ''Yumas'' can be Americans
or foreigners from any non-Spanish speaking
Many trace the term to 3:10 to Yuma the
cowboy classic based on an Elmore Leonard
short story that arrived here after it hit
U.S. theaters in 1957. The slang should
get a boost with the release of a remake
of 3:10 to Yuma, starring Russell Crowe
and Christian Bale, opening Sept. 7 in the
''A new movie could mean Yuma is used more
by young people who know nothing of the
original,'' said Fernando Carr, who writes
a column on language for the official magazine
Washington's embargo prohibits most U.S.-Cuba
trade. But American films are commonly shown
on state TV and in crumbling 1950s theaters
where tickets cost less than a U.S. nickel.
A thriving black market for pirated DVDs
and videos also likely will ensure some
Cubans see the 2007 version of 3:10 to Yuma.
Cubans rarely use gringo, slang for Americans
heard in Mexico and throughout Latin America.
While some here refer to Americans as yanquis
in a derogatory way, ''Yuma'' generally
is not meant to be offensive.
Larry Nelson, mayor of Yuma, Ariz., said
it was "hard to imagine Yuma as the
''At least we're known internationally
now,'' laughed Nelson, whose city of about
90,000 is some 2,400 miles northwest of
Carr said Cuban teenagers began using ''Yuma''
for the United States shortly after Fidel
Castro took power in 1959. The term became
widespread in 1980 when Cubans seeking asylum
crashed a minibus through the Peruvian Embassy
gates in Havana, and thousands more joined
'People said, 'I want to go to La Yuma,'
and it became common,'' Carr said, adding
that the term eventually expanded to include
all non-Spanish speakers.
Some believe the slang comes from Cubans'
heavily accented pronunciation of ''United
States,'' roughly ''YOOH-nyh-head-STEHZ.''
Others insist its origin lies not with one,
but dozens of popular U.S. westerns filmed
''Hey Yuma!'' Rafael, an artist who sells
sketches of tourists in Old Havana bellowed,
grinning at an American passerby. Like many
Cubans, he was happy to chat but wary of
letting a ''Yuma'' reporter publish his
''Where'd it come from? You'd have to call
a conference of all Cubans and ask each
one what they think,'' he joked. "How
long would that take?''
Finding Cubans who can find Yuma on a map
can also take a while.
''It's an island out there somewhere. Near
the United States,'' said a clerk selling
fried ham sandwiches by Havana's coast.
Yomal, a bookseller in the leafy Plaza
de Armas, said he didn't know Yuma was a
''Is it in the United States?'' he asked.
Bridget, a Minnesota native who flew to
Havana through Mexico without U.S. government
permission, said she visited Yuma as a child.
''It doesn't have much to do with Cuba,''
said the 20-year-old, asking that her last
name not be published to avoid American
fines. "Maybe Miami or somewhere close
would be better.''
Anti-corruption laws toughened in Cuba
Acting leader Raúl Castro has ordered
harsher penalties for public officials who
break labor rules.
By Wilfredo Cancio Isla, , El Nuevo Herald.
Posted on Fri, Aug. 24, 2007.
Ratcheting up his fight against corruption
and mismanagement in Cuba, interim leader
Raúl Castro has signed a decree requiring
tough, swift and long-lasting punishment
for public officials who violate labor rules.
Decree 25½007, published Wednesday
in the Official Gazette, covers the enforcement
of earlier decrees designed to counter official
corruption and illegal but widespread workplace
activities, including petty thievery of
public supplies, 4-hour work days and hiring
friends for good jobs.
The decree brands as ''a collaterally responsible''
any official whose job is on the same level
as violators but doesn't punish them or
report them to authorities, saying they
are guilty of a ''lack of exigency'' or
Disciplinary measures also will be taken
against any official who hires or promotes
"subordinates or equals . . . for the
mere reason of friendship or familial relationship
or any other motivation other than social
Those who allow subordinates to do so will
also will be disciplined. Administrators
also will not be allowed to demote or accept
the resignation of violators before the
allegations against them are settled.
Sanctions include dismissal and a total
ban on any official employment. Punishment
will be meted out ''directly and with immediate
effect,'' and authorities will track violators
to ensure the punishments are being observed.
Penalties will be applied ''independently
from any criminal process,'' and any appeals
will not delay the start of the sanctions,
the decree indicates.
STARTS SEPT. 1
The decree will take effect Sept. 1, six
months after the enactment of a new resolution
aimed at cracking down on some aspects of
the notorious labor inefficiencies in Cuba's
government-dominated economy: workers who
show up late or leave early, who filch supplies
from their jobs or accept bribes to help
According to a government report, more
than half of the 22,692 audits of state
enterprises and service centers conducted
between January and August 2006 unearthed
problems and legal irregularities.
During his 13-month interim mandate, Raúl
Castro has stepped up -- with fewer speeches
and greater pragmatism -- the campaign against
corruption launched by his brother Fidel
in November 2005.
The government has acknowledged corruption
to be a problem that could eventually undermine
the revolution, but it has run into problems
enforcing the new labor regulations.
Cubans have argued that they often cannot
show up for work on time because of the
broken public-transportation system, and
that their extremely low salaries -- average
of $16 a month -- force them into illegal
activities to survive.
2 fathers speak out in Cuban child custody
A 4-year-old Cuban girl's birth father,
foster father and birth mother spoke publicly
for the first time about her case.
By Carol Marbin Miller, Tere Figueras Negrete
and Luisa Yanez, [email protected]
Two men, one a Coral Gables businessman,
the other a farmer from central Cuba, squared
off publicly for the first time Thursday
to make their case why each should be the
one to raise a 4-year-old girl.
On one side: Joe Cubas, 46, a nationally
known sports agent, investor and real estate
developer who is the girl's foster father.
On the other: Rafael Izquierdo, 32, a malanga
and plantain farmer and sometime fisherman
who is the girl's birth father.
In the middle is a precocious auburn-haired
youngster with a fondness for ice cream,
swimming and playing hide-and-seek.
Outside Miami-Dade's juvenile courthouse,
Izquierdo said he was eager to bring his
daughter back to Cabaiguán, the small
village he calls home.
''Children belong with their parents, and
parents belong with their children,'' said
Izquierdo, whose current wife brought their
6-year-old daughter to the United States
for the custody proceedings.
Cubas is equally determined that the girl
should remain with him.
''There are two children who have been
through thick and thin together, who have
been through the most difficult times together,''
Cubas said. "They are in a safe, nurturing,
loving home. They spend all their time together,
and now they are faced with the possibility
Cubas refers to the girl and her 13-year-old
half-brother -- whom he has adopted -- as
''my children.'' The little girl calls him
''Papi'' and calls his wife, Maria, "Mami.''
Cubas' involvement in the dispute became
widely known for the first time Thursday
when he spoke openly with reporters. Though
he says he no longer represents sports figures,
Cubas earned admirers -- and some critics
-- when he helped some of Cuba's finest
baseball players defect to the United States.
GAG ORDER LIFTED
The custody battle over the girl has raged
before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri B.
Cohen since March 2006, mostly behind closed
doors. Thursday, the judge lifted a gag
order that had barred all participants from
discussing the case publicly.
Saying she had erred by granting the secrecy
order in the first place, Cohen lifted it
during a crowded 2 ½-hour hearing,
the second this week.
''I was wrong; I didn't realize it. I don't
have a lot of experience with this,'' Cohen
said. The judge, who has been on the bench
for 16 years, cited a 1997 legal ruling
as the basis for her decision to lift the
The judge said she wouldn't lift the order
if she had a choice.
''I just work here,'' she said. "I
have to follow the law. If I don't, I shouldn't
After ruling in Cubas' favor on the gag
order, she told him: 'Once you start speaking
to the press, it will be extremely difficult
to keep the kids' identity a secret.''
To protect their privacy, The Miami Herald
has not revealed the names of the children.
Ira Kurzban, Izquierdo's attorney, bitterly
opposed the lifting of the gag order, saying
it set the stage for a "free-for-all.''
He criticized Cubas for changing his mind
and asking that the order be lifted after
the Gables businessman a few weeks ago called
it ''despicable'' to expose the children
to press scrutiny.
''You'll see when he's allowed to go on
Spanish- and English-language radio and
enflame this community -- and we have seen
it before,'' Kurzban told the judge. "There
is a potential for this to turn into another
Elián González case.''
Elián's saga created a political
firestorm nearly eight years ago when he
washed ashore in South Florida on an inner
tube after his mother drowned crossing the
Florida Straits from Cuba. Federal agents
seized the boy from the home of Miami relatives
after a prolonged custody dispute that sparked
international headlines. He returned with
his father to Cuba.
Also weighing in for the first time was
Elena Perez, the girl's birth mother, whose
suicide attempt in 2005 prompted state child-welfare
officials to take custody of the children.
Perez, who relinquished her right to raise
both of her children, supports her ex-boyfriend's
wishes to gain custody of the girl and take
her back to Cuba.
''If she can't be with me -- her own mother
-- then she should be with her own father,
who wants her,'' Perez, 35, who lives in
Miami, said following the hearing.
Asked if she thought her daughter would
have just as good a life on the island as
in the United States, she replied: "Material
things don't matter in life, but being raised
and loved by your real parents does. You
don't treat real parents like nothing; they
are the most important thing.''
Izquierdo also made clear he would not
stay in the United States.
''I want to go back to my homeland. I miss
my family, I miss my mother. My wife misses
her family,'' he said. "My other daughter
misses her grandmother.''
He said he has a room ready for the 4-year-old
at the rural home he shares with his parents.
''It's a big house, and she already has
her own room, with her own little bed and
toys,'' Izquierdo said.
Cubas said the little girl has made up
her own mind and desperately wants to remain
with her new family.
The girl's half-brother, Cubas said, acted
as her caregiver and emotional anchor during
their mother's emotional distress. ''He
has been her father,'' Cubas said, describing
the girl as "astute and bright.''
''She has made very clear what her wishes
are, which are to stay with her brother
and stay with us,'' Cubas said. ''The child
is extremely happy and extremely bonded
to her brother'' and her new family, he
The long-awaited trial over the birth father's
fitness begins Monday, but the preliminary
hearings have already offered a window into
the bickering and legal wranglings that
On Thursday, at the final pretrial hearing,
lawyers on both sides were quick to pounce
on the opposition's slightest turn of phrase
-- at one point quibbling over how to characterize
the physical relationship that produced
the girl at the center of the dispute.
''They had sex,'' said the judge, raising
her voice and momentarily silencing the
courtroom full of lawyers. "We at least
agree on that.''
Fidel Castro stays silent on health,
but not U.S.
From Miami Herald Wire Services. Posted
on Fri, Aug. 24, 2007
HAVANA -- A new newspaper column signed
by Fidel Castro and published Thursday again
attacks U.S. policies toward the island
but does not address his health.
Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque
told journalists in Brazil on Thursday that
the 81-year-old Castro is determined to
fully recover from intestinal surgery last
year that forced him to cede power to his
''Fidel is doing very well and is disciplined
in his recovery process,'' Pérez
Castro has not been seen in public since
the emergency surgery in July 2006. The
state of his health remains a ''state secret''
but has been the subject of repeated rumors
The Thursday column signed by Castro said
Washington's ''perfidy'' toward Cuba was
in evidence in an Atlanta courtroom Monday
when lawyers for five Cubans appealed their
conviction on charges of spying for Havana
and other crimes.
Cuba considers the five ''hero fighters
against terrorism,'' claiming they were
spying on South Florida's exile community,
not the U.S. government, to avert terror
attacks on the island.
It was the fourth of Castro's so-called
''reflections'' in newspapers in two weeks.
The last time his image was seen in public
was June 5.
The column made no mention of his health.
His birthday on Aug. 13 passed without any
sign of the man who ruled Cuba for 47 years.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
later said he had spoken with Castro on
Hungary agrees to take in 29 Cubans
By Alfonso Chardy, [email protected]
Posted on Thu, Aug. 23, 2007.
Twenty-nine of the 49 Cuban migrants held
by the United States in a detention center
at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo,
Cuba, will be resettled in Hungary -- a
move that elicited a sharp rebuke from the
Cuban government and praise from some Cuban
exiles in Miami.
Exile activist Ramón Saúl
Sánchez, head of the Democracy Movement
in Miami, said it could be several weeks
for the Cubans to be sent to Hungary. One
couple in Guantánamo refused the
offer, he said, because they did not speak
the language and the woman is pregnant.
Hungary's decision to take some of the
Guantánamo Cubans came after 22 of
the migrants began a hunger strike last
month to protest what one former detainee
called ''cruel'' treatment.
Sánchez praised the U.S. government
and the migrants in Guantánamo who
staged the hunger strike. ''It took a lot
of courage for the protesters to carry out
the 20-day hunger strike, but it also took
a lot of courage for the United States,
being the most powerful country in the world,
to listen to those who do not have a voice,''
The Cuban government bristled at Hungary's
''The government of Hungary is acting like
an accomplice of the empire,'' according
to a Cuban foreign ministry statement published
in the Cuban government-run newspaper Granma
in Havana. "It insists, in a servile
way, in showing the all-powerful and aggressive
master that it can count on its abject loyalty.''
But Sánchez said those being sent
to Hungary were ''activists'' in Cuba who
''would have faced persecution had they
been repatriated to Cuba. We profoundly
appreciate the offer of Hungary to take
these Cuban refugees,'' he said.
Cuba's communist government disputes that
the Cubans were activists and maintains
that the transfer to Hungary would amount
to a violation of the U.S.-Cuba migration
accords from the mid-1990s because migrants
interdicted at sea are generally to be repatriated
to Cuba. Those who land on U.S. shores are
generally allowed to stay.
However, since the agreements have been
in effect, dozens of Cubans picked up at
sea have been taken to Guantánamo
and then given third-country asylum and
Cuba has not objected. Cuban migrants who
demonstrate a fear of persecution if repatriated
are rerouted to Guantánamo and held
there while the U.S. government negotiates
with other countries to grant them asylum.
The Hungarian news agency MTI reported
on its website that the Cubans would be
admitted as refugees. Separately, the Voice
of America -- the U.S. government's international
broadcast service -- quoted the MTI dispatch.
''We cannot comment on resettlement to
third countries,'' a U.S. government official
Among complaints by the hunger-strikers
was an alleged incident in which a 4-year-old
girl was said to have been inappropriately
touched during a search in front of her
parents -- but that later proved false,
Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said
Wednesday that such an incident never happened.
After a review of the allegation, officials
established that it involved a 16-year-old
who was searched with his parents' consent
and in front of them. She said the search
was done by a male officer.
TEEN WAS SEARCHED
The search was triggered by the discovery
of knives, large scissors and pornography
in the center, Gonzalez said. None of those
items was found on the youth who was searched,
''These random searches are conducted for
the safety and security of all the protected
migrants living at the base,'' she said.
Havana: Most Americans feel like Obama
By Vivian Sequera, Associated Press. Posted
on Wed, Aug. 22, 2007.
BRASILIA -- U.S. presidential candidate
Barack Obama's criticisms of Washington's
restrictions on travel and sending money
to Cuba echo the sentiments of the majority
of Americans, the Cuban foreign minister
Felipe Pérez Roque said Obama's
"declarations express a sentiment shared
by the majority of people in the United
States, that the draconian measures adopted
by the government of President Bush violated
the constitutional rights of North Americans
and constitute an anachronism and barbaric
Pérez Roque made his comments upon
arriving at the Brazilian Foreign Ministry
for a meeting of Latin American and East
In an article published Tuesday in The
Miami Herald, Obama criticized tighter U.S.
restrictions on travel to the island by
relatives of Cubans and on their shipment
of money to family members. He said he would
reverse the measures.
''The primary means we have of encouraging
positive change in Cuba today is to help
the Cuban people become less dependent on
the Castro regime in fundamental ways,''
the Illinois senator wrote.
''Unfortunately, the Bush administration
has made grand gestures to that end while
strategically blundering when it comes to
actually advancing the cause of freedom
and democracy in Cuba,'' he added.
While the U.S. embargo has limited travel,
trade and money transfers with Cuba since
the early 1960s, Bush's restrictions made
visiting and shipping gifts to Cuba more
Cuban Americans can only visit the island
once every three years and can only send
quarterly remittances of up to $300 per
household to immediate family members. Previously,
they could visit once a year and send up
The United States also tightened restrictions
on travel for educational and religious
Cuba blasts Hungary over asylum for
Posted on Wed, Aug. 22, 2007.
HAVANA -- (AP) -- Cuba branded Hungary
an ''imperial accomplice'' of Washington
on Wednesday for granting political asylum
to 29 Cubans who were held at the Guantánamo
Bay naval base.
Those given Hungarian visas were among
44 Cubans picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast
Guard. Because authorities deemed them at
risk of persecution if repatriated, the
group was held at the base while officials
sought a third country to take them. Many
were dissidents, and some were at the base
more than two years.
The Cubans at the Guantánamo base
included 17 who staged a hunger strike to
protest conditions at the base. That strike
ended Friday when Hungary announced it would
take 29 migrants.
A third country was expected to take seven
more and five others were approved to go
to the United States. One chose to return
to Cuba for family reasons, and the status
of a couple who were offered Hungarian visas
but apparently refused them, was unclear.
Cuba's Foreign Ministry issued a statement
that ''the government of Hungry acts as
an accomplice to the empire,'' and said
it would be later rewarded by the U.S. government.
It said that ''servile'' Hungary "insists
on demonstrating to its powerful and aggressive
master that it can count on its abject loyalty.''
The statement also accused U.S. officials
of flouting international law by sending
the migrants to Guantánamo and said
that arranging asylum for them will encourage
more unsafe sea voyages by Cubans leaving
It accused the United States of failing
to repatriate 16 percent of the Cuban migrants
now intercepted at sea, even though American
policy mandates that Cubans caught on the
water are sent home while most making it
to U.S. territory can stay.
By contrast, Cuba says, Washington is ''organizing
armies to combat mass exodus'' off the island,
a reference to U.S. authorities training
for a possible onslaught of Cuban migrants
trying to leave after Fidel Castro dies.
The 81-year-old Castro has not been seen
in public since emergency intestinal surgery
forced him to cede power to his younger
brother more than a year ago, and his condition
remains a state secret.
Green cards now easier for Cubans born
By Alfonso Chardy, [email protected]
Posted on Wed, Aug. 22, 2007.
A recent decision by federal immigration
authorities will make it much easier for
people born outside Cuba to obtain a U.S.
green card if at least one of their parents
was born in Cuba.
Under the decision, U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services will no longer require
that those born outside Cuba file documents
specifically saying they are Cuban citizens.
Cuban consular papers saying they are children
of at least one Cuban parent will be enough
to prove Cuban citizenship.
The July 31 decision is likely to benefit
thousands of foreign nationals born abroad
of Cuban parents -- particularly Venezuelans
whose parents fled Cuba shortly after Fidel
Castro seized power in 1959.
The Cuban expatriate community in Venezuela,
numbering between 25,000 and 50,000 people,
is one of the largest after the one in Miami.
Increasing numbers of Venezuelans are leaving
their homeland as President Hugo Chávez
steers the South American country toward
The new green card decision is based on
a Miami case in which the application of
a Venezuelan born of Cuban parents was rejected
by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
in May 2006 on the grounds he could not
conclusively prove he was a Cuban citizen.
Venezuelan-born Armando Vázquez
was elated at the decision.
''I've been waiting for this for a long
time,'' said Vázquez, 42, who works
in the construction industry. He and his
wife arrived with their 8-month-old daughter
in 1999, one year after Chávez was
His parents fled Cuba in 1961 and resettled
eventually in Venezuela.
They have now left Venezuela and are living
in South Florida, Vázquez said.
''I'm so happy this decision went in my
favor because I don't want to go back to
Venezuela the way things are going there,''
Vázquez's Miami immigration attorney,
Larry Rifkin, appealed the government's
denial in his client's case to the service's
administrative appeals office -- and won.
''This decision will benefit thousands
of people, mainly Venezuelans of Cuban ancestry,
who desperately need this,'' Rifkin said.
He added that the effort to reverse the
previous immigration service position was
''unnecessary'' because the Cuban Adjustment
Act already contained language that enabled
Cubans born abroad to qualify for U.S. green
The Vázquez case reverses a June
2006 decision that restricted green cards
to foreign nationals who could produce Cuban
documents specifically saying they were
The 2006 case revolved around a green card
application filed by Liliana Lozano Buschini,
a Venezuelan whose mother had been born
in Cuba. Buschini's application, however,
was denied because she did not have a Cuban
passport, birth certificate or government-issued
She had only certified letters from a Cuban
Buschini's attorney, Stephen Bander, appealed
the denial to the immigration service's
administrative appeals office and won, arguing
a consular document saying the person was
a Cuban citizen was sufficient to prove
Rifkin, Vázquez's attorney, also
appealed his client's case and won the July
31 decision, which eliminates the Buschini
Now all applicants need to show is a Cuban
birth certificate, a passport or a consular
paper saying they are the children of Cuban
parents or at least one Cuban parent.
In the case of Vázquez, he had a
Cuban birth certificate issued by a Cuban
consulate in Venezuela -- but it did not
say he was a Cuban citizen.
Candidates bring Cuba into race
One day after Democrat Barack Obama called
for lifting limits on family travel to Cuba,
rival Hillary Clinton expressed support
for current restrictions.
By Beth Reinhard And Lesley Clark, [email protected]
Posted on Wed, Aug. 22, 2007.
The leading Democratic presidential contenders
Tuesday staked out contrasting positions
on family travel to Cuba, injecting the
island dear to hundreds of thousands of
South Florida voters into a race mostly
consumed by the war in Iraq.
In an opinion column in The Miami Herald,
Sen. Barack Obama assailed President Bush's
policy -- which restricts Cuban Americans
to visiting relatives once every three years
and sending only $100 per month -- as "strategic
blundering when it comes to advancing the
cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba.''
Rival Sen. Hillary Clinton said she would
continue the Bush administration's hard-line
stance, for the most part. Clinton's campaign
said she agrees that exiles should be able
to freely send money to their relatives
but said she does not favor ''any wholesale,
broad changes'' to the travel restrictions
until Fidel Castro falls. Clinton did vote
with Obama in 2005 -- unsuccessfully --
to ease restrictions on family travel in
''She supports the embargo and our current
policy toward Cuba, and until it is clear
what type of political winds may come with
a new government -- if there is a new government
-- we cannot talk about changes to U.S.
policy,'' Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee
Two of the major Republican candidates,
Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, said Obama's
proposal would bolster the Castro regime.
Cuba's prominence on the presidential agenda
reflects Florida's newfound clout in the
primary season, under a new law that bumped
up the state's vote from March to January,
right behind Iowa and New Hampshire. The
dispute over travel to the island extends
a foreign policy battle between the two
leading Democrats that started last month
when Obama said he would be willing to meet
with leaders of Cuba and Venezuela.
Clinton seized on his comment to portray
herself as more seasoned; Obama stood by
what he characterized as openness to change.
The two senators also parted ways in 2005
on federal aid to TV Martí, with
Clinton voting with the majority to preserve
American broadcasts to the island. Obama
spokesman Jen Psaki said he thinks that
funding for TV Martí -- routinely
jammed by the Castro regime -- would be
better spent on other democratic ventures.
''Ultimately, this election is a choice
between staying with the failed policies
of the past and the Bush administration
or turning the page and taking a new approach
to global diplomacy,'' Psaki said.
The other major Democratic candidate, John
Edwards, said in a statement Tuesday that
promoting travel by family members to Cuba
''can help spread the promise of freedom
and democracy within Cuba and strengthen
families across the waters.'' He favors
the cap on remittances to use as leverage
against the regime.
In the past few months, Republican candidates
addressing Cuban-American voters in Miami-Dade
have embraced the GOP tradition of railing
against Casto's repression. Obama's proposal
to allow Cuban Americans ''unrestricted
rights'' to visit relatives and send them
money gave the Republicans another shot.
''Rudy Giuliani believes America must stand
ready to help the Cuban people reclaim their
freedom, but decreasing sanctions on Cuba
will only serve to boost the Castro regime,''
said a campaign statement.
Romney's campaign said: "Unilateral
concessions to a dictatorial regime are
counterproductive, helping to secure a succession
of power and repression instead of a transition
Hopes that the new Democratic majority
in Congress would be willing to challenge
U.S. policy toward Havana fell flat over
the summer as Cuban-American lawmakers and
their allies argued that U.S. policy shouldn't
change until Cuba adopts democratic reforms.
In June, the House rejected efforts to reverse
a Bush administration plan to boost aid
to Cuban opposition groups and declined
to even allow amendment votes on travel
Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director with
the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action
Committee, which lobbies Congress to keep
U.S. sanctions against Cuba in place, suggested
that Obama's strategy was a ''redo'' of
2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry's endorsement
of ''principled travel'' to Cuba.
''Here's what he's betting on: that somehow
he can reach out and gain support from Cuban
Americans who support the embargo but think
family travel restrictions went too far,''
Some polls suggest that most Cuban Americans,
weary of waiting for Castro's death, are
frustrated with the current policy. But
outspoken exile leaders say allowing Cuban
Americans to support the island's economy
would prop up the ailing dictator's authority.
Judge defends impartiality in Cuban-child
Her reelection effort will play no part
in her ruling, said the judge who will decide
the fate of a 4-year-old Cuban girl caught
in an international custody dispute.
By Carol Marbin Miller, [email protected]
Posted on Tue, Aug. 21, 2007.
A week before she is to preside over one
of the most controversial child-custody
trials held at Miami's juvenile court, the
judge at the center of the dispute vehemently
defended herself Monday against allegations
she might be susceptible to political pressure.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen,
who has been on the bench since 1992 --
mostly in dependency court -- will decide
whether a 4-year-old girl will return to
Cuba to live with her birth father or be
raised in the Coral Gables home of the foster
parents who have cared for her the past
Reacting to an e-mail sent last week to
the attorney for the girl's birth father,
the judge insisted in a hearing Monday that
she would hear the case impartially, and
would rebound and find a new legal challenge
if the outcome of the case proved unpopular.
Cohen is up for reelection in 2008.
''I am not worried about reelection; I
am worried about doing the right thing for
everybody involved,'' Cohen said. "Anyone
who thinks I would make a decision based
on an election doesn't know me.''
In the e-mail to attorney Ira Kurzban,
Andrew Lagomasino, the father's therapist,
suggested the father's legal team consider
finding someone to write a letter to the
editor to ''generate community support''
for the father's side.
''I have thought of some creative things
to see if we can show the judge that she
won't be defeated in the election if she
sends [the girl] back to Cuba,'' Lagomasino
wrote in his e-mail.
Jason Dimitris, the Department of Children
& Families' chief of staff, who is spearheading
the state's case against the father, gave
Cohen a copy of the e-mail, calling it ''very
disturbing to us.'' The DCF is seeking to
prove the birth father is unfit to raise
Cohen immediately dismissed the e-mail
and the notion that she was under any ''pressure''
to rule against the girl's father, a farmer
and fisherman from Cabaiguán in central
''The election plays no part in the way
I rule in this job,'' Cohen said. "The
only thing I have is my integrity. I am
intellectually honest, and I have integrity.
You all have to understand that.''
The curly-haired girl at the center of
the battle made a surprise appearance of
sorts Monday when Cohen agreed to play two
short home movies videotaped during two
overnight visits the girl had with her father.
The birth father is in Miami with his wife
and another daughter to fight for custody.
The first video, shot about two weeks ago,
opens with the girl and her older half-sister
playing with the camera. The video shows
a white tile floor and two little girls'
toes, and jerks wildly for a few minutes
before an adult takes hold of the camera.
''Whoever shot this video better not quit
their day job,'' the judge quipped.
In the next scene, the girl, dressed in
a pink print shirt and shorts, is playing
in a bedroom with her half-sister and father.
''What do you see?'' the father asks. ''I
see you're chubby,'' she responds.
Later, the camera rolls as the father plays
hide-and-seek with the two girls.
HALF-SISTERS AT PLAY
In the second video, taken during the girl's
first overnight visit earlier this month,
the two girls frolic in a pool with the
birth father's wife, singing songs in Spanish
and pushing each other repeatedly into the
The tape contrasted sharply with the testimony
of two court-appointed psychologists, Miguel
Firpi and Julio Vigil, who expressed some
concerns last week that the girl appeared
hostile to her father during an overnight
visit. The girl had a cold, they said, and
resisted attempts by the father to interact.
''The child did not come to the meeting
in a good mood,'' Vigil said. The girl,
he added, "was not pleasant. She said
she didn't want to meet [her father]. She
said she didn't love him. She said she didn't
want to go to Cuba.''
Nevertheless, both of the therapists agreed
that the visits, even the unsupervised sleepovers,
should continue, because the girl needs
to acclimate herself to her dad if they
are to be reunited in the future.
In other developments Monday:
o Alan Mishael, the attorney for the girl's
foster parents, filed a motion asking the
judge to lift a gag order that prevents
anyone involved in the case from speaking
to reporters. He said the secrecy order
violated constitutional protections of free
speech and had resulted in ''manipulative''
coverage by The Miami Herald.
His request will be argued in court Thursday.
Mishael also thanked the judge for allowing
his client -- the girl's foster father --
to be a party to the upcoming custody trial,
which means Mishael will be able to take
statements and cross-examine witnesses.
o Kurzban, the birth father's attorney,
complained to Cohen that advocates for the
child, including her foster-care caseworker,
had failed to alert the judge when the girl
showed up for a visitation with a ''hematoma''
on her head.
The caseworker, Maria Zamora, insisted
in court that the injury was no more than
a ''bump'' that resulted when she fell off
a sofa and hit her head.