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Cuban Child Custody Trial Resembles Elian Fiasco

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Cuban Child Custody Trial Resembles Elian Fiasco

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Cuban Child Custody Trial Resembles Elian Fiasco

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Miami, a child custody trial begins this week that evokes reminders of Elian Gonzalez. That was the case of a Cuban boy who was sent back to Cuba to live with his father after a standoff with Florida relatives who wanted to keep him in the United States.

In this new instance, the child is a 4-year-old girl. Like Elian, she has a father on the island, and the Cuban-American family that wants to adopt her.

From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: The 4-year-old girl at the center of this case came here from Cuba with her brother and mother, Elena Perez, in late 2005. Shortly after arriving, Perez fell on hard times. After she attempted suicide, she agreed to give up control of her children to the state. The children eventually were put by the state in the temporary custody of a wealthy Cuban-American couple.

Joe Cubas is a well-known Miami sports agent who has already adopted one of the children, a 13-year-old boy. He's now seeking permanent custody of the boy's 4-year-old half-sister. Cubas is being challenged by the girl's father, a farmer and fisherman who is never married to Perez, but who traveled here from Cuba to fight to regain custody of his daughter.

Last week, outside of court, Joe Cubas said after months of living with the child, the 4-year-old is one of his family.

Mr. JOE CUBAS (Foster Father; Sports Agent, Miami Herald): I get to see this child relay to me the fact that I'm - she feels I'm her father; the fact that my wife - she feels is her mother. So, you know, I live it on a daily basis. We see it on a daily basis. We see how happy they are. We see how happy they are together.

ALLEN: He's supported in his bid for custody by the Florida Department of Children and Families. In deciding to award Cubas' custody, the agency charges the girl's father, Rafael Izquierdo, with neglect, abuse and abandonment for allowing her to come to America and for now trying to remove her from her foster family.

In court today, Izquierdo's lawyer, Ira Kurzban, asked the court to reject that argument.

Mr. IRA KURZBAN (Rafael Izquierdo's Lawyer): It's hard to understand how the Department in Children and Families could take the position that a parent in Cuba, who wants his child to maybe have a better life in the United States, would be charged with abandonment simply because he agreed to allow his child to come to the United States.

ALLEN: This custody battle has actually been going on now for more than a year. It was held up in large part because of Izquierdo's inability to receive permission from Cuba and the U.S. to travel here.

Outside the courthouse today, Izquierdo said he wanted to bring his daughter back to his home in a rural part of Cuba, a house he shares with his parents, his wife, and his other daughter, a 6-year-old.

Mr. RAFAEL IZQUIERDO (Biological Father): (Spanish spoken)

ALLEN: I'm working hard to get my kid back, he said, because she's my child. I claim my daughter. I want her, and the correct thing, all over the world, is parents and children together.

From the beginning, the parallels between this case and that of Elian Gonzalez has drawn media attention. It led Judge Jeri Cohen to impose a gag order on all participants, one just lifted last week.

But unlike Elian, this case, so far, has not become a cause celebre in South Florida's Cuban-American community. That episode was a tumultuous and traumatic time for Miami's Cuban Americans. One, many say, they're not eager to repeat.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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