Love and Cuba

Jorge Mas Canosa says a Miami woman tried to smear his reputation and extort millions from him. She says he is the father of her child. Both have sworn they are telling the truth.

According to the court, the identity of Peter's father was irrelevant to the proceedings. "Court after court in the United States has held that the presumption [of legitimacy] and its related policies are so weighty that they can defeat even the claim of a man proven beyond all doubt to be the biological father," the court stated in HRS v. William Privette. "It is conceivable that a man who has established a loving, caring relationship of some years' duration with his legal child later will prove not to be the biological father. Where this is so, it seldom will be in the childrens' best interests to wrench them away from their legal fathers and judicially declare that they must now regard strangers as their fathers. The law does not require such cruelty toward children."

The ruling led to something that became known as a "Privette hearing," in which a determination must be made as to whether a lawsuit would be in a child's best interests A before a blood test could be ordered to establish paternity. It explicitly gives the legal father the right to participate in the proceedings, and specifies that children must be represented by guardians ad litem.

By early 1995, David Puig had been convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. He eventually was sentenced to more than twelve years in prison. From his prison cell, Puig energetically entered the paternity case on the side of Jorge Mas Canosa. Meanwhile his lawyer, Laura Fabar, submitted a separate motion in the unexpectedly reopened divorce case stating that Puig was indigent and could not pay child support.

If Puig was broke and in prison, then who was paying Fabar? Mac Melvin, Beatrice's attorney, wondered about that. The answer raised even more questions, for it turned out that the money to pay Fabar had come from Mario Miranda, the director of security for the Cuban American National Foundation and Mas's bodyguard. Miranda had loaned Puig $9000. (Miranda did not return phone calls seeking comment about the loan.)

During Puig's deposition, taken July 13, 1995, at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in South Dade, Melvin's queries about the loan provoked tears from Puig, plus a rambling, extemporaneous address on the meaning of manhood, and then a medical emergency.

When did Puig receive the money? Melvin asked. "When this thing started," Puig answered, growing more and more upset as he continued to speak. "Which is even shameful to discuss. That a son that I'm told is mine that now, that I took him from his mother's -- I took him out of his mother's womb, that now they want to take him away from me and tell me he's not mine. That's ridiculous.

"I do know her well," he said of Beatrice. "Better than her mother and her father. I'm not going to speak of her because that is not something a man would do." Puig began to weep. He did not answer Melvin's question. "I need to go to the physician and take a pill," he announced.

Puig was given an electrocardiogram, and the prison's staff psychiatrist recommended that the rest of the deposition be postponed. It was never resumed. During a recent phone interview from prison, Puig said he decided to enter the case on Mas's side because Beatrice was "a whore and a prostitute who will go to bed with anyone.

"The only thing she is looking for is money," he seethed. "She doesn't care anything about how I feel for the child or what the child feels for me." Puig insisted that Mario Miranda was an old friend who had offered to help him out and that he had not made any deal with Mas. He said that neither Mas nor Miranda has made further contributions to help him pay for a lawyer to appeal his criminal conviction. (His appeals lawyer, Marcia Silvers, says she has never heard of Jorge Mas Canosa. Puig's current wife says she and Puig's friends and family members pitched in to come up with Silvers's $12,500 fee.)

Regardless of how it was initiated, Puig's decision to oppose Beatrice's paternity suit represented an incontrovertible stroke of luck for Mas. According to legal experts, the presence of a legal father who strongly argues in favor of retaining his parental rights can be the determining factor in how a Privette hearing is decided.

Underscoring his own opposition to the paternity suit, Mas submitted a brief affidavit that read: "1. I have never known Peter Puig, I have never spoken to Peter Puig, and I did not know of his existence prior to this lawsuit. 2. I have never had a relationship of any kind with Peter Puig and will never have a relationship of any kind with Peter Puig in the future."

That left only the guardian ad litem to argue, on behalf of Peter Puig, that it was in the boy's best interest to know whether Jorge Mas was his father. But Stephen Butter, the 55-year-old attorney who was appointed by Judge Fierro, quickly concluded that Peter would be better off not knowing.

Less than one month after his appointment, Butter filed a lengthy memorandum of law advising Judge Fierro to dismiss the paternity suit. He adopted a similar stance in his 30-page Privette report, filed on March 6, 1995. The report, replete with colorful observations about fatherly love, urges the judge to halt the paternity proceedings and to strengthen the gag order to prevent Beatrice, David, or anyone else from discussing the issue of paternity with either child.

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