Closing arguments in Cuban custody case
By Rasha Madkour, Associated Press, September 19, 2007.
MIAMI - A Cuban farmer fighting for custody of his 5-year-old daughter made virtually no effort to be a parent when the girl left the island nation with her mother, state child welfare attorneys said in closing arguments Wednesday.
Rafael Izquierdo denies abandoning the girl, but he did not speak on the phone or write letters to her for nine months after she moved to the U.S., said attorneys for the Florida Department of Children & Families and the girl's state-appointed legal guardian.
During the defensive's closing argument, attorney Ira Kurzban said his client did communicate with his daughter. Kurzban referred to testimony by the girl's half brother, who said the girl spoke to her father at least once a month via telephone.
If Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen decides Izquierdo did not abandon his daughter, she must then rule on whether the 5-year-old is better off with him or with her Cuban-American foster parents, who live in the Miami area and want to keep her.
The case has been compared to the one of Elian Gonzalez, who returned with his father to Cuba after armed federal agents took him from relatives in Miami. But unlike that case, the girl's mother wants her to be with the father and Miami's Cuban-American community has largely stayed quiet.
The state has taken an unusually active role in this case, which the judge acknowledges is playing out under the specter of tense U.S.-Cuba relations.
The girl has been in foster care since her emotionally troubled mother, Elena Perez, tried to commit suicide almost two years ago. Her testimony was marked by her admitting she lied on the stand, but attorneys for the state tried to focus on Izquierdo's behavior toward the girl.
"He left her — like Elena — out to dry," said John O'Sullivan, the attorney for the girl's legal guardian.
The judge called that argument the strongest one from the prosecution side, but blamed DCF for not making more effort to contact the father in Cuba after the girl went into foster care.
"They're usually falling all over themselves calling fathers," Cohen said. "The difference in this case is that the father lived in Cuba."
Defense lawyer Kurzban said the father was courageous coming to the United States from Cuba when the countries have not had diplomatic relations for decades.
"For this man to come, I think you don't appreciate what a heroic act this is," Kurzban said.
Prosecuting attorneys said the girl was in foster care for months, and the father should have come sooner. They said the daughter was emotionally damaged when her father failed to come to the United States and take her out of foster care.
The judge said she would make a decision by Friday or early next week.