The Miami Herald
Cuban dad asked in court about sex life
Birthday cards, presents
and a father's sex life: A Cuban father
spends his third day on the witness stand
fielding questions about his relationships.
By Carol Marbin Miller,
cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com. September 11, 2007.
On the third day of his testimony, Rafael
Izquierdo got grilled Monday on his sex
On the witness stand for more than 20 hours
over three days, Izquierdo was asked Monday
to name all the women with whom he had ever
been ''intimate.'' A malanga and pig farmer
from Cabaiguan in Central Cuba, Izquierdo
is in a downtown Miami courtroom seeking
custody of his 5-year-old daughter.
Opposing him is the Florida Department
of Children & Families and the Guardian-ad-Litem
Program in Miami. Attorneys for the agencies
say Izquierdo is unfit to raise the girl
because, among other things, he allowed
her to emigrate to the United States with
a mother he knew was emotionally unstable.
Attorneys for DCF and the guardian program
are asking a Miami judge to order that the
5-year-old remain permanently in the home
of Joe and Maria Cubas, the Coral Gables
couple who have cared for her the past 18
months. The little girl celebrated her fifth
birthday this weekend at the Cubas home.
During questioning by Shelby Tsai, an attorney
with the law firm Hogan & Hartson who
is representing the guardian program, Izquierdo
was peppered with queries about the women
with whom he married or had been intimate
with in Cuba.
Izquierdo said he considered himself married
to both Elena Perez, the 5-year-old's mother,
and Yanara Alvarez, the mother of his 7-year-old
daughter, with whom he now lives. He said
he also had a marriage-like relationship
with another woman.
''You had at least three intimate relationship?''
''Yes. Married like that. Yes,'' Izquierdo
''Apart from [the three], have you had
intimate relationships with any other women?''
''That I remember, I have not had any other
intimate relationships,'' Izquierdo answered.
When Tsai persisted, Miami-Dade Circuit
Judge Jeri B. Cohen interrupted.
''Is there a point to this?'' the judge
''Impeachment, your honor,'' Tsai said.
''If he went out with other women and had
sex with them, I don't care,'' the judge
The morning began with Tsai questioning
Izquierdo about efforts he made to keep
in touch with the little girl after she
left Cuba for Miami in March 2006. Attorneys
for the state say Izquierdo cared so little
about his daughter that he failed to send
birthday cards, letters or presents.
''You've recorded cassettes of your singing,
yet you never sent a single one of those
tapes to [your daughter], did you?,'' Tsai
asked, noting that Izquierdo had testified
he liked to sing.
''Never,'' the father said.
''You could have told a good night story,
and put that on tape, couldn't you?'' Tsai
"Yes. It's true that I did not send
''Didn't you want [her] to hear your voice
more?'' Tsai continued.
''I wanted my daughter to know everything,''
Izquierdo said. "But the idea did not
occur to me.''
When Tsai asked Izquierdo why he never
called the girl after he came to Miami in
May, she ran afoul of the judge.
''I think that's an extremely unfair question,''
Cohen said. "If he had called on his
own, you would have been screaming.''
Both DCF and the guardian program have
sought repeatedly, the judge said, to limit
Izquierdo's court-approved visits with his
daughter. Several of the visits have generated
controversy in court.
''He can answer the question,'' the judge
said, 'but I think this is a case of 'You're
darned if you do, and darned if you don't.'
Cuban dad breaks down in custody case
By Carol Marbin Miller,
cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com. Posted on Tue,
Sep. 11, 2007
Rafael Izquierdo, the Cuban farmer at the
center of an international custody dispute
over a 5-year-old girl, left the witness
stand Tuesday morning after about 25 hours
of testimony -- but not before rendering
a tearful plea to take his daughter home.
Under an emotional interrogation by Miami-Dade
Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen, who is presiding
over the trial, the Cuban father broke down
in tears, wiping his face with a blue handkerchief
and hanging his head in his hands.
The drama began when Cohen accused the
father of offering testimony she found untruthful.
She said the father's ''lies'' were not
enough to strip him of custody of his daughter,
but his testimony did bother her.
''Sir, I have to tell you, I've found a
lot of your testimony evasive and dishonest.
I've watched you, and I've heard you,''
Cohen said. "It doesn't mean you are
a bad guy. It doesn't mean I don't believe
other parts of your testimony. It doesn't
mean you don't love [your daughter].
"But I've got to tell you: I've watched
your testimony, and I've found some of your
''I am honest and sincere,'' Izquierdo
said, becoming visibly emotional, his hands
''I am asking you to not decide on that,''
Izquierdo said. "If I was not a competent
father, I would not have come [from Cuba].
I would not be standing here. We are a very
humble family. A family of working people.
I love my daughter. I love her very much.''
At that, Izquierdo's face turned red, and
the questioning stopped for a few minutes
as he regained his composure, and apologized
for breaking down.
''You have nothing to apologize for, and
you don't have to be embarrassed about crying,''
the judge said, leaning closer to the witness
box. "But I needed these answers from
''I hope you don't feel I've ganged up
on you,'' the judge said.
Izquierdo, a pig and malanga farmer from
the central Cuban village of Cabaiguan,
has been in Miami since May seeking to regain
custody of his daughter, who turned 5 last
The Florida Department of Children &
Families and the Guardian-ad-Litem program
in Miami, which is advocating for the girl,
are asking Cohen to order that Izquierdo
permanently lose custody of the girl. They
say he essentially abandoned the girl by
allowing her to emigrate to the United States
with a mother he knew was mentally ill.
Lawyers for the state want Cohen to order
that the girl remain permanently with Joe
and Maria Cubas, a Cuban-American family
in Coral Gables that has been caring for
the girl the last 18 months.
Izquierdo had been on the witness stand
since Friday, being questioned first by
a lawyer for DCF, then an attorney for the
guardian's office and, finally, by Cohen.
He took the stand after the girl's mother,
Elena Perez, had been on the witness stand
for four days, creating controversy with
allegations that Izquierdo and his legal
team had concocted evidence and encouraged
her to lie.
Both Izquierdo's attorneys, Ira Kurzban
and Magda Montiel Davis, have strenuously
denied the charges. Berta Rodriguez, a private
therapist who has worked with the girl,
was next to testify Tuesday, and DCF attorneys
say they will call Perez's lawyer, Greer
Wallace Davis, to testify later Tuesday.
Cuban girl's mother is pressed: Why
On her last day on the witness
stand, the mother at the center of a custody
dispute talked once again about her lies
and her life.
By Carol Marbin Miller,
cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com. Posted on Thu,
Sep. 06, 2007
Testimony in the international custody
trial involving a 4-year-old Cuban girl
shifted Wednesday from a discussion over
when the girl's mother lied in court to
an examination of why.
On the witness stand for the fourth day,
Elena Perez again acknowledged that she
lied numerous times in her testimony over
the fitness of her one-time lover, Rafael
Izquierdo, to raise the little girl at the
center of the dispute. State child-welfare
lawyers claim Izquierdo is an unfit parent
and should lose his right to raise his daughter.
The state Department of Children &
Families wants the girl to remain with Joe
and Maria Cubas, a Cuban-American family
in Coral Gables that has been raising the
girl the past 18 months.
Attorneys for Izquierdo attempted to show
that Perez has a motive for saying Izquierdo
and his legal team fabricated evidence and
falsified testimony -- claims Perez made
last week that rocked an already tense trial.
Perez's accusations have been leveled mostly
at attorney Magda Montiel Davis.
''You were jealous of Magda because, unlike
you, she had a husband, children, grandchildren
and a house to live in, correct?'' lawyer
Steve Weinger asked during cross-examination,
referring to a visit Perez made to the home
Davis shares with her husband, Ira Kurzban,
another attorney for Izquierdo.
''Never. No, never,'' Perez replied.
''You resented Magda Davis because you
felt she could have helped you before?''
asked Weinger, noting that Davis had given
Perez help with rent and food.
''She could have done it last year. I fought
tirelessly, struggled tirelessly to keep
not only my daughter, but both of them,''
Perez answered, referring to both the 4-year-old
and the girl's older half-brother, who has
since been adopted by the Coral Gables foster
family seeking to raise both siblings.
''You blame Magda Montiel for losing your
children, correct?'' Weinger asked.
''I blame everybody,'' Perez replied.
''You lie to be spiteful sometimes, correct?''
''I lie out of necessity,'' Perez said,
a moment later. "I don't lie out of
spite. I lie out of necessity. Just to help
the father of my daughter. There is no spite.
There is hurt.''
An attorney for the Guardian ad Litem Program
then quizzed Perez on the provenance of
a series of photos that Perez said she sent
to Izquierdo -- and then said she didn't
send. Wednesday, once again, Perez said
she did send some of the photos to Izquierdo
Following a brief recess, Miami-Dade Circuit
Judge Jeri B. Cohen announced that social
workers had found an apartment at Lotus
House, a sanctuary for homeless women, for
Perez. During her lengthy testimony Tuesday,
Perez mentioned that she was living with
one of Davis' secretaries.
Perez's living arrangement prompted concern
from attorneys for both the DCF and the
Guardian ad Litem Program. They said they
were unaware Perez was staying with an employee
of the opposing counsel.
Perez had been staying with Davis' secretary
since Friday, the same day Cohen said she
was concerned about Perez's apparently shaky
mental state. The judge was not aware that
Perez, who had been living in a rented efficiency,
was staying with Davis' secretary.
Late in Wednesday's session, Perez told
the judge she wanted to say something. What
followed was a half-hour monologue that
began with: "It has to do with my life,
since I was born.''
Perez recounted many years of struggle,
beginning with the physical abuse she said
she endured at the hands of her father in
childhood, and ending with her decision
to leave Cuba with her two children in search
of a better life. Much of the narrative
was not new; Perez had described the miseries
of her life last week.
Some of the story included fresh details,
however, including descriptions of beatings
she received from a brother -- ''he beat
me to a pulp'' one night, she said -- and
the story of how Perez had moved to a neighboring
town to escape such abuse, only to end up
''I left,'' she said. "I went out
of town for two months to a place where
I sold my body.''
When Perez was through, Cohen leaned closer
''Elena,'' the judge said, "I'm very
sorry. Nobody should have to live the life
you have lived. Nobody. There is nothing
you did to deserve it. I know you are suffering
and in a lot of pain.
''You got dealt a very difficult hand in
life,'' Cohen continued. "There is
no rhyme or reason for it. I'm so sorry
. . . I don't believe your spirit is completely
Miami Herald staff writer Tere Figueras
Negrete contributed to this report.
For Dad's neighbors, dispute not complicated
Neighbors of Rafael Izquierdo
in Cuba say his 4-year-old daughter, caught
in a custody dispute in Miami, should live
with him in their town.
By Miami Herald Staff, cuba@MiamiHerald.com.
Posted on Sat, Sep. 08, 2007
CABAIGUAN, Cuba -- At the end of a tree-lined
dirt road and around the corner from a playground
with a small Ferris wheel sits a modest
single-story home with whitewashed walls
and a polished cement floor.
The house is where Rafael Izquierdo --
the man battling for custody of his 4-year-old
daughter in a Miami courtroom -- lives with
his wife, sister and mother. It's where
he says he has readied a room for his daughter,
and where the little girl may grow up if
Florida child-welfare lawyers fail to convince
a judge that Izquierdo is an unfit parent.
In the dead center of Cuba, Cabaiguán
lies about 250 miles southeast of Havana.
With a population between 30,000 and 50,000,
the town is surrounded by government-owned
ranches and farmland. As in many rural towns
on this island, bicycles outnumber cars.
As lawyers battle in court, villagers here
struggle to understand how custody could
even be an issue.
''If the mother can't handle the child
and here's the father -- who is decent,
honest and hard-working -- this is where
the child belongs,'' said a neighbor who
knows Izquierdo from working with him in
the fields. "If it wasn't for politics,
the child would be back here in two minutes.''
Attorneys for the Florida Department of
Children & Families argue that Izquierdo,
32, is unfit because he allowed the girl's
mother, Elena Pérez, to take the
child to the United States despite knowing
that Pérez was emotionally unstable
and abusive. When Pérez tried to
kill herself in December 2005, the girl
and her half-brother were taken into state
custody and now live with Joe and Maria
Cubas, a well-to-do couple in Coral Gables.
But people here who know Rafael Izquierdo
-- and who are largely unaware of the heated
case unfolding in Miami -- described him
as a caring father and a hard worker who
divided his time between working in potato
and malanga fields and fishing for bass
in the nearby Zaza reservoir.
''He used to come by all the time and bring
[the child] things,'' said a woman who lived
near the one-room house that Pérez
shared with her children before taking them
to the United States. "Nobody can say
he wasn't a good father.''
Izquierdo's family in Cabaiguán
refuses to talk to the press and discourages
journalists from lingering in the community.
During a recent visit to the town, a woman
who identified herself as his sister challenged
the status of a reporter's travel documents
before shooing the writer out.
Despite the flood of press the case has
generated in South Florida, people in this
town, far off the tourist trail, appeared
to have only the vaguest notion about the
battle in a Miami courtroom.
There are no T-shirts here emblazoned with
the little girl's face. People are not marching
down the Havana Malecón demanding
her return. Unlike in the case of Elián
González, the little boy whose custody
case in 2000 gripped South Florida for seven
months, the Cuban government has not created
a website about her, and the state-controlled
media has not covered her case.
''This isn't like it was with Elián,''
said one neighbor. "The only reason
we know about it is because Rafael is our
Speculation as to why the Cuban government
has stayed on the sidelines this time runs
the gamut. Cuba watchers said the government
may be concerned that Izquierdo will decide
to stay in the United States with his daughter.
Others think it may be a reflection of interim
leader Raúl Castro's low-key management
Some experts suggest Raúl is concerned
about antagonizing Washington during such
a critical moment for the Cuban revolution.
''Raúl is not the showman that Fidel
was,'' said Bernardo Benes, a Cuban-American
activist who met with Fidel regularly in
the 1970s and '80s. "That could certainly
be a factor.''
Despite the differences in the two custody
cases, back in Cabaiguán, neighbors
said the core lessons of the Elián
saga also apply now.
''Politics should never get in the way
of family,'' one neighbor said. "Blood
ties are sacred.''
The Miami Herald has withheld the name
of the correspondent who wrote this dispatch
because the reporter lacked the required
Cuban visa to work on the island.
Senate restores aid to Cuban opposition
By Pablo Bachelet, pbachelet@MiamiHerald.com.
Posted on Fri, Sep. 07, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The Senate agreed Thursday
to restore President Bush's requested $47
million funding for Cuban opposition groups
in a foreign operations spending bill.
Until now, the Senate had not made any
pronouncements on Cuba policy. With the
House and Senate in agreement on the levels
of dissident aid for Cuba, the increase
in funding is almost certain to become law.
Earlier this year, senators in charge of
appropriations cut the aid to $15 million,
only a modest improvement from the $10 million
a year Cuba democracy programs got in the
The Senate approved an amendment to increase
the funding by unanimous consent.
It was presented by Florida Republican
Sen. Mel Martinez and co-sponsored by Republican
Sen. John Ensign of Nevada and Democratic
Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Bill
Nelson of Florida.
The increase is the latest setback for
opponents of U.S. policy toward Cuba, who
argue that the aid is ineffective in bringing
democracy to the island and that more engagement
with the Castro government stands a better
chance of producing democratic changes.
The House defeated a similar measure before
the summer recess in a sign that Democrats
in control of Congress were not eager to
change U.S. policy toward Cuba as Cuban-American
lawmakers and their allies stepped up their
Menendez, speaking on the Senate floor,
said Cuba's democracy activists deserved
more support as their work was ''powerful
and meaningful.'' He cited a rise of ''civil
resistance'' actions in Cuba as evidence
that groups there were more active.
Democrat Chris Dodd would end Cuba embargo
if elected president
By Jessica Gresko, Associated
Press Writer. Posted on Sat, Sep. 08, 2007.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Democrat Christopher
Dodd pledged Saturday that as president
he would end a decades-old trade embargo
with Cuba and lift travel restrictions to
the communist island.
The Connecticut senator also said he would
open an embassy in Havana and shut down
the 17-year-old TV Marti, a U.S. government-run
station that broadcasts to Cuba.
"Other than the war in Iraq, no other
American policy is more broadly unpopular
internationally," Dodd said of American
policy toward Cuba.
Dodd called the policy an "abject
failure." As president, he said he
would seek a repeal of the 1996 Helms-Burton
Act, which strengthened the U.S. embargo
against Cuba. He also said taxpayers should
not spend millions of dollars annually on
TV Marti, which virtually no one in Cuba
sees, and that he would reform its companion,
The senator, who trails better known rivals
in the race for the Democratic presidential
nomination, said he would work to establish
U.S. mail service to Cuba. He added he would
make staying in touch with family on the
island easier for Cuban-Americans, by allowing
U.S. companies to lower prices for phone
Dodd answered several questions in the
Spanish, a language he honed while serving
in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.
He said he has faith in the Cuban community,
and in their willingness to take a look
at his policy, though Cuban-Americans generally
oppose any lifting of the trade embargo.
Dodd sidestepped a question on whether
he would meet leaders like Cuba's Fidel
Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez if elected.
"Presidents don't run around and meet
with people automatically," Dodd said,
without directly answering the question.
Meeting with leaders without preconditions
is an issue Dodd's fellow Democratic candidates
Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton
have sparred over. Dodd said of his opponents'
answers: "One was far too rigid and
one was far too simplistic."
Alfredo Mesa, a spokesman for the Cuban
American National Foundation, a Miami-based
political lobby, said he wasn't surprised
Dodd wanted to repeal the embargo with Cuba,
something he said Dodd has been "consistently
wrong" about. Mesa said the foundation
would also disagree with shutting down TV
Marti. But Mesa added the foundation does
support facilitating communication between
Cuban-Americans and their families in Cuba.
Alberto Mascaro, chief of staff for the
Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which oversees
TV and Radio Marti, said he had no comment
on Dodd's announcement Saturday.
Dodd was in Florida for a Democratic debate
Sunday sponsored by the Spanish-language
Univision Network at the University of Miami.
Because only Dodd and New Mexico Gov. Bill
Richardson are fluent in Spanish, questions
will be translated into English for the
Dodd joked it's a shame the debate won't
be entirely in Spanish.