A custody hearing over a 4-year-old Cuban girl in the U.S. focused Friday on whether letters purportedly written to her by her father from the communist country had been faked.
A relative of the girl took the stand and denied claims made Thursday by the child’s mother, Elena Perez, that Perez had agreed with the father’s attorneys to fake loving letters to the child in Texas.
The girl, her half brother and their mother legally entered the U.S. in 2005, but Perez gave up custody after she attempted suicide. The girl’s father, Cuban farmer Rafael Izquierdo, wants her back, but state officials favor adoption by her foster parents, a Miami former sports agent and his wife.
The letters are important because state officials claim that Izquierdo abandoned the girl after she emigrated to the U.S. in 2005. Perez testified Wednesday that Izquierdo had sent her the letters, but on Thursday she reversed herself, saying that she hadn’t seen the letters until last month and that Izquierdo’s legal team had come up with the idea of fabricating them.
Perez’s cousin, Noelia Leal, testified Friday that she sat in on Perez’s entire meeting with attorneys and never heard of such a plot.
“Did (Perez) ever tell you that she and the father’s attorneys would try and use letters not sent to Texas to try and get the children back?” Judge Jerri B. Cohen asked.
“No, never,” Leal said.
“She said she always communicated with her family and sent letters and that her daughter’s father would always stay in touch with her and she would send him birthday photos,” Leal told the judge.
Izquierdo’s attorney Ira Kurzban has angrily denied that his office was involved in any fabrication. He says Izquierdo agreed to let his daughter seek a better life in the U.S. but had no way of knowing she would have to give her up.
Case compared to Elian
Although the facts are different, the case is drawing comparisons to the custody dispute eight years ago over Elian Gonzalez, who was eventually reunited with his father in Cuba.
Perez and the girl, whose name both sides have agreed to keep confidential, have clearly had troubled lives. The half brother said the mother beat him and the girl. Perez testified that her father and an ex-husband beat her and that she was abandoned by another husband after arriving in the U.S. She has changed her testimony on several occasions.
Earlier, Perez testified that the girl always appeared happy when her father’s name was mentioned and that she sent photos to Cuba so he could see her.