testifies in Cuban custody case
News. By Laura Wides-Munoz, Associated
Press Writer. August 28, 2007.
MIAMI - A young Cuban girl at the heart
of an international custody battle was beaten
and abused by her mother, who also threatened
to kill herself with a knife, the girl's
older half brother told a judge Tuesday.
The boy, 13, told the judge that their
mother, Elena Perez, also abused him.
The boy was the first witness in a trial
to determine whether the girl's father,
Rafael Izquierdo, is fit to regain custody
of her and return to Cuba, or whether she
should stay in the U.S. with her wealthy
The battle is sparking memories of the
fight over Elian Gonzalez almost eight years
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen
must decide whether Izquierdo should have
known about the abuse and whether he failed
to protect the girl by letting Perez take
her to the United States legally in 2005.
Izquierdo, a farmer, wants to take the
girl home to the communist island, but Florida
child welfare officials are backing the
foster parents, sports agent Jose Cubas
and his wife, Maria.
The couple have already adopted the boy
and want to adopt the girl.
Perez "was always hitting me, beating
me up, kicking me on the floor, screaming
at me, so I was scared," the boy testified
in English. His mother also hit his sister,
the boy said. The children's names are being
kept secret by both sides.
The boy testified in the judge's chambers
with a video feed to the courtroom. The
girl has lived with the Cubases for about
18 months and calls them "Mami"
and "Papi," they have said.
"I would do anything for my sister
to stay here," the boy told attorneys,
his voice cracking.
The boy, who has a different biological
father, described Izquierdo as "not
a bad guy." Before they left Cuba,
he said, Izquierdo would visit Perez about
twice a month after the birth of his sister,
occasionally playing guitar with him.
The boy testified he once tried to tell
Izquierdo about the beatings with no success.
"She's giving it hard to my sister,"
he said he told Izquierdo, terrified his
mother would hit him if she overheard. But
it was not clear the boy ever said his mother
was beating him and his sister.
The boy also said that his mother told
him she wanted to leave her daughter with
Izquierdo when she went to the U.S., but
that he refused.
On cross-examination, Izquerdo's attorney
questioned how Izquierdo could have known
of the alleged abuse.
The boy said he told his grandparents,
whom he lived with for much of his life
and who saw some of the beatings.
But he acknowledged he visited the doctor
regularly and never mentioned the abuse
and didn't know if his grandparents ever
spoke about it to Izquierdo.
The boy described a volatile mother who
would beat him for simply spilling a box
His anguish came through as he spoke of
the night in December 2005 when she grabbed
a knife after a fight with her husband and
attempted suicide while his sister slept
in the bedroom. Perez and the children had
already moved to the U.S.
"I started crying and screaming, 'Please
stop. Please stop," he said. "After
25 seconds, I stopped crying and I got angry,
and I said, 'If you're going to do this,
please call the police first.'"
The mother did, and afterward, the boy
said he was relieved to finally know he
would not have to return to her.
After his testimony, Perez left the room
Outside the courtroom, she read a letter
she had written to him in Spanish, saying
that one day he would understand that she
had meant only to discipline him and that
she had grown up believing it was culturally
acceptable to hit a child with a belt.
The custody fight has been called "Elian
II" in Miami. The Cuban boy was 5 when
he was found at sea after his mother drowned
during an attempt to reach the U.S. in 1999.
The boy ultimately was returned to Cuba
with his father after U.S. agents seized
him from a Miami home at gunpoint.
But unlike with Elian, all parties in this
case have agreed to allow a family court
decide the girl's fate, and unlike the last
time, both the Cuban-American community
and the Cuban government have remained relatively
quiet on the issue.