By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Three years after Elián was born, in February of 1997, almost 12 years after they were first married, the boy's parents, who had already been formally divorced since 1991, decided to separate. A close relationship, as between brother and sister, and the dedicated care of the child by both of them did not change in the slightest. The same was true of the child's relationship with his grandparents.
Four months after their separation Elizabeth commenced a relationship with a young man from Cárdenas named Lázaro Rafael Munero García, who will later be better known. In August of 1997, Munero moved into the home of Elizabeth's parents, where the couple maintained apparently normal relations.
Barely 10 months later, on June 27, 1998, Lázaro Munero illegally left the country on a boat to the United States. He tried to take Elizabeth and her son with him, but she categorically refused. Almost exactly four months later, on October 26, Munero returned to Cuba, in an equally clandestine manner with another Cuban citizen living in the United States. He entered the country at a point called Cádiz Bay, in the municipality of Corralillo, Villa Clara province, but ran into a coast guard post and was arrested.
The double and unusual violation of an illegal departure and return combined with a previous criminal record that will be exposed later led to his preventive detention pending investigation and trial. He was thus held under arrest for approximately eight weeks in the city of Santa Clara. On December 31, 1998, he returned to Cárdenas, where he had been living before he left Cuba illegally, and was placed under house arrest.
Thus he returned once again to the home of Elizabeth's parents. This time there were serious disagreements between Munero and his in-laws, which went as far as physical aggression on Munero's part against the couple. After this made it impossible for him to continue living with that family, Munero rented a house in another neighborhood in Cárdenas. He had the money to do so. He took with him Elizabeth -- with whom he had reconciled after his return -- and her son, who spent almost equal amounts of time living with his father and mother.
The general view among Elizabeth's closest friends, and those who knew her best, is that Munero, with his dominating and violent personality, exerted a strange and fatal influence over Elizabeth. It is only under threat, they say, that Elián's mother would have risked her life on this misadventure, especially taking her son with her, as she adored him in the same measure that she had so badly wished for him so many years. She did not even go to work the last few days she was here because she would not have been able to hide her torment from the many co-workers and friends with whom she had shared almost ten years as an exemplary worker.
What follows here are a few of the testimonies literally provided by friends who knew Elizabeth well: YOSLAYNE LLAMA GARROTE, a resident of Cárdenas: "I met Elizabeth Brotons when she married Juan Miguel González Quintana, and became closer to her when she was pregnant with Elián. To tell the truth, I must say that although they were separated, they continued to have the same affection for their son. It was a while after they had separated that I found out about Elizabeth's relationship with Lázaro Munero García. Now, when I remember what she was like before, what comes to mind is her quiet, serious disposition and her good relations and social behavior in the community. Later the constant fights and arguments with Munero García would change that. I think that was when he started assaulting and battering her. "One day I went to her house and found her with a black eye; another time she had a swollen wrist, but whenever I asked her about it she tried to hide the truth. She was a mother highly devoted to her son and family in general, although in more recent times, if Munero García told her she couldn't take something to her mother, she wouldn't do it, apparently because she was afraid of getting into an argument with him. I used to have long conversations with her, some very intimate, and she never said she wanted to leave the country, much less to risk the life of her son, who she truly adored."
LOURDES MARTELL GONZáLEZ, a resident of Cárdenas: "I am a first cousin of Elián González Brotons' father. Because of this, when Elián was born, he became like a godson to me. I remember that when Juan Miguel and Elizabeth Brotons were divorced, I started to visit her at her house to see Elián. It was then that I met that man named Lázaro Rafael Munero García. I was particularly able to observe a change in Elizabeth's behavior, in that she seemed fearful, withdrawn, as if she were afraid of offending Munero García." DAVID MUÑiz PÉREZ, a resident of Cárdenas: "I have known Elizabeth Brotons since she was a little girl, and she was known as being a good student. Later, when she grew up, she married Juan Miguel González Quintana, with whom she had a son, Elián González Brotons. They both craved to have a child, and so their son spent his first years in a positive family atmosphere. I met Lázaro Munero García when he began a relationship with Elizabeth, who appeared to change due to her constant arguments with him caused by his antisocial behavior. Elizabeth had to leave her home because of problems between Lázaro and her stepfather, Rolando, who did not understand why Lázaro did not work for a living and lived off of Elizabeth."