By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
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By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
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The recent arrest of one of those cousins, Luis Cid, is likely to cause embarrassment to the Cuban exile community for the second time in four months. The crime Cid is alleged to have committed made national news this past September, long before anyone had heard of young Elian Gonzalez. At that time, however, Cid was not the center of media attention; the focus was on the man alleged to have been his accomplice, Manuel Angel Chiong.
Chiong was newsworthy because, prior to his arrest, his mother had participated in a highly publicized, 47-day hunger strike aimed at forcing the release of her son from the Krome detention center, where he was being held by the INS as a criminal detainee. (The 29-year-old Chiong previously had been incarcerated for armed robbery, aggravated battery, and cocaine possession. Under the terms of a federal law, he should have been deported to his native Cuba, but the island nation's refusal to accept such deportees has led the INS to hold them indefinitely.) Five other mothers and a father, whose sons also were being held at Krome, joined Mireya Cortes, Chiong's mother, in the liquids-only fast until the INS agreed to review their sons' cases and consider them for release into the community.
Because of his mother's advocacy, Chiong was one of the first to be freed. But within two months of being released from a halfway house, he was arrested with Cid. According to police reports, Chiong and Cid were standing near a parking lot at 3090 NW Seventh St. at about 3:00 a.m. when a lost tourist pulled up to ask them for directions. Chiong and Cid allegedly directed the tourist, Gordon Farrell of New Haven, Connecticut, to pull into the parking lot. When Farrell emerged from his car, Chiong reportedly grabbed him from behind and held him as Cid struck him in the head and grabbed two chains from his neck, according to the arrest affidavit.
Two City of Miami police officers patrolling the area heard Farrell's screams for help and saw him waving his arms. When the officers pulled into the parking lot, Chiong and Cid fled on foot but were quickly caught. Cid was found hiding under a nearby parked car. Police report they recovered Farrell's jewelry under that same car.
Farrell was not badly hurt. He suffered scratches on his neck from Cid allegedly tearing off his gold chains, but he was not seriously wounded by the blow to his head. Cid was released on a $7500 bond, declared by the court to be indigent, and assigned a public defender. His case is scheduled to go to trial in early February. If convicted, he faces up to fifteen years in prison.
Will Cid's robbery arrest have any effect on the proceedings relating to Elian Gonzalez? Bernard Perlmutter, director of the Children and Youth Family Law Clinic at the University of Miami, doesn't think so. "It is hard to say how much this would taint the family's claim that they can provide the best home for Elian," he remarks. Because Cid does not actually live in the house with Elian, his arrest would have only a "remote" chance of influencing any court action. And since José Cid's arrests are all at least five years old, Perlmutter sees no reason for legal concern there either.
As Perlmutter interprets applicable laws, nothing about the Miami family's ability to care for Elian should play a role in deciding whether the boy should be returned to his father. The only issue, Perlmutter says, is whether the father is fit or unfit to care for Elian. Absent strong evidence that the father is abusive or a threat to Elian's well-being, he adds, no court in the United States should sever a father's ties to his son, regardless of the father's nationality.
This week Elian's Miami family is expected to go to federal court in an effort to block the INS from enforcing its decision to return the child to Cuba. A lawsuit by the lawyers for the Miami relatives is expected to be filed Wednesday, January 19.
Once that lawsuit is filed, New Times has learned, the Miami chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is expected to intervene in the case in support of Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, should that need arise. The ACLU has assigned Miami attorney Brenda Shapiro the job of writing a legal brief and arguing, if necessary, that the boy should be returned to Cuba. "This is a constitutional issue," Shapiro says. "The lawyers for Elian's relatives in Miami must be ready to prove that the government has a compelling reason to take a child away from his parent. A parent's right to raise their child is sacrosanct, and nobody has challenged the notion that Juan Miguel Gonzalez has always been a hands-on father who cares for and loves his son."
Ironically the ACLU's actions in defense of Elian returning to Cuba would come at the same time the group is investigating claims by dozens of Cuban exiles who say they were abused by police during demonstrations to keep Elian in the United States. John de Leon, president of the ACLU in Miami, sees no conflict. One case, he says, deals with the right of people to protest and to be treated with respect and dignity by police. The other defends the right of a parent to raise his child. "They are really two separate issues," he maintains.