Editor's note: Nowhere has the battle over the fate of Elian Gonzalez been waged with more ferocity than in Cuba. And no Cuban media outlet has been more persistent than Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba's Communist Party. Since Elian's rescue at sea on Thanksgiving, the paper has published more than 120 stories on the subject. Its online editions have added even more articles, drawn from around the globe.
Tuesday through Saturday 500,000 copies of Granma's print edition are distributed throughout the nation, from major cities to rural hamlets. The cost per issue is 20 centavos. It is by far the most widely read periodical on the island.
On February 8 the paper published an extraordinary 11,000-word report examining the lives of four people who were intimately involved in the Elian saga: the boy's mother, Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez; her boyfriend, Lázaro Rafael Munero García, who organized the fateful boat trip that resulted in eleven deaths; and the two adult survivors of that tragedy, Arianne Horta Alfonso and Nivaldo Vladimir Fernandez Ferran. According to Luis Fernandez, spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., the report was prepared by the newspaper's editorial board, and as such was unsigned.
In light of the intense interest in the subject, we are reprinting that report in its entirety. It was translated from Spanish to English by Granma staff members, and is posted on the Granma Internacional Website (www.granma.cu/ingles). We have made no substantive changes to that translation. Nor have we critically examined the factual assertions it contains; the accuracy of the paper's reporting is unknown. By printing it here we do not intend to imply that any of Granma's claims are true. Our purpose in publishing it is simply to provide readers with unfiltered access to a provocative document produced by the Cuban Communist Party.
THREATS AND VIOLENCE LEAD TO TRAGEDY
Although all of the testimonies included here have been signed and authorized for publication by their authors, for fully justified reasons in some cases their names will be omitted to protect their identity and therefore their personal prestige. There will be no overly crude words used to describe the behavior of young people who could be marked for life, or others treated with severity who have family ties with decent people who have cooperated in the investigation and deserve consideration. There is still something most worthy of taking into account: children who will one day be adults and learn about this painful story showing close family members involved in shameful activities.
There will be neither essential information left out, nor will a single piece be exaggerated or a word written out of hate or vengeance. The purpose is to provide the national and international public with information, sometimes in detail, on rigorously documented truths and facts. Where the smallest crack is left open, desperate people who lack the slightest notion of ethics promptly fabricate the most hateful intrigues and lies. However, nothing is more powerful than truth.
When Elián's courageous grandmothers arrived in New York airport, an hour and a half late, at 3:35 p.m. on Friday, January 21, they faced several hundred reporters and cameramen for an improvised press conference. When explaining the reason why her daughter Elizabeth, Elián's mother, had traveled with her child on that illegal and fatal voyage, the dignified grandmother declared, in such heartfelt and resolute terms that left no room to doubt the sincerity with which she was expressing her deep conviction: "Many will be wondering about this and saying that what Elián's mother would want is for the boy to stay here. But I speak for her because I knew her well, because I was her mother and I know how she felt, how she behaved, and if she took this step it was because she had a husband who was very violent and threatened her, and this is what led to this tragedy."
A number of despicable individuals have tried to disclaim the words of this noble grandmother who lost her only daughter under really tragic circumstances, and who has additionally had her grandson most unfairly and ruthlessly snatched from her, because it was essential and highly convenient for their political aims to destroy the reputation of this young mother. For the traitors to their homeland it would be a threefold counterrevolutionary victory, while for our people it would be a threefold crime: against the child, against the family, and against the homeland. For their evil purposes it was crucial to keep the abducted child in the U.S. territory at any cost, even if it meant tearing his soul out, by sustaining the ridiculous and outlandish myth that "Elián's mother sacrificed her life so that her son could grow up in a free country."
They did not even question whether it was worth the sacrifice of a mother's life for a child to be educated in a country that tolerates such crimes and monstrosities. The same country that for the last 40 years has attempted to force that young mother's homeland into submission through hunger and disease, and has waged a relentless economic war that does not spare the millions of children and adolescents who are nonetheless educated without a single exception, without the slightest possibility of growing up to be illiterates. We have not only the highest education rates in Latin America but also the lowest risk of infant mortality, even if the United States is included in our region.
Let us move on to the facts we wish to state.
WHO WAS ELIZABETH BROTONS RODRÍGUEZ?
From the very first days after the kidnapping of the child, the revolutionary authorities have undertaken a concerted effort to investigate and seek out precise information and data on essential features of this case, as well as gathering news related to the individuals and families who are in some way or another involved in or victims of this episode.
In the first place, after receiving letters on November 27 and 28 requesting the government's support through the Ministry of Foreign Relations, signed by the father and maternal grandmother of young Elián González Brotons, who was not even six years old yet, and was being illegally detained in the United States, action was immediately taken to investigate, as is only logical, the identity of the father, the only person eligible for paternal rights.
Information was sought out on the degree of his attachment to the child, his care for him, his relations with the maternal and paternal grandparents, his social and moral conduct, his personal character, the degree of affection he showed for the child, and all the other elements that it was necessary to learn about before the country would undertake a struggle that could not be based on the illusion that a Florida judge would rule in favor of a Cuban claim, which has never happened in over 40 years of Revolution. Blockade, crimes, and aggression are the only things our people have received from there. The only alternative was to wage a battle of national and international public opinion for the child's return as could only be based on the soundest legal and moral foundations.
As fate would have it, in this particular case, we not only had a good father, honest, sincere father who fulfilled his obligations to the child, but rather an exceptionally good father, one extremely attached to his son who was the victim of an atrocious crime. In addition to the father, there were two humble, honest, closely united families who are respected and liked by all of the residents in the community where they live, who were also victims of this crime. Those first impressions of both families were confirmed throughout days and weeks of intense and painful struggle: their natural talent, moral strength, and the courage to fight placed reason and right on their side. Four direct grandparents on the maternal and paternal side and the only surviving parent, with the aforementioned characteristics, and all of them, for reasons that will be more clearly understood later, closely united to the kidnapped child, furnished an unshakable legal, moral, and human basis for demanding his return back by all the reason and energy in the world.
By pursuing this line of action, we managed to gather a large amount of information that would serve not only in the struggle to free Elián, but also for all our people and all those outside Cuba who are following the case to have access to the evidence needed to objectively judge the principal characters, living or dead, involved in this drama. This is especially true with regard to the child's mother as well as to the person mainly responsible for organizing the misadventure that ended in tragedy, and the two survivors who have become instruments in the despicable campaign that the counterrevolutionary mob and their allies in the U.S. Congress are waging to prevent the return of the Cuban child.
Was Elián's mother, Elizabeth Brotons, a "gusana," a delinquent, a counterrevolutionary, a prostitute, an indecent and corrupt young woman? Actually, what do we know about her upbringing, character, behavior, ideas, her work, social prestige, and history as a young Cuban mother whose life was so prematurely cut short?
Elizabeth was born in Cárdenas, Matanzas province, on September 10, 1969, almost 11 years after the triumph of the Revolution, into a revolutionary and hardworking family. Like all Cuban children, she was able to go to a school, perhaps modest in material terms but with dedicated and increasingly qualified teachers to educate her.
She began studying at "Roberto Fernández" Elementary School in the municipality of Cárdenas, which she attended from kindergarten through fifth grade. She finished sixth grade at Emilia Casanova Elementary School in the same municipality. She then moved up to "Capitán Guillermo Geilín" Junior High School. During this nine-year period she maintained an outstanding attitude in terms of discipline, educational performance, and behavior. She had responsibilities as Head of Detachment and Geography Monitor. She actively participated in marches, cultural and sports activities, and agricultural work.
She continued her studies at "6 de Agosto" Polytechnic Institute in the municipality of Calimete, entering a secretary skills vocational program. She was unable to complete her studies due to poor health. She later enrolled in the "José A. Echeverría" Adults School in Cárdenas, where she completed her high school education with good academic results. She then went on to enroll in the Hotel Management and Tourism Polytechnic Institute in Varadero, where she graduated as a chambermaid with first-level English language training. She satisfactorily met all the requirements of this center.
From a political and revolutionary standpoint, it is known that Elizabeth joined the Federation of Cuban Women and the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution in 1983, at the age of 14. There she had responsibilities in the areas of Education and Vigilance, took part in meetings, assemblies, voluntary work, etc., and had good relations with all of her neighbors. She also took active part in the trade union local at her workplace and in the Territorial Militia.
In 1991, at the age of 22, she joined the growing tourist industry with a job at the Paradiso-Punta Arenas Hotel, in Varadero. She was a member of the staff there from the time the hotel was opened until just days before her death.
The following year she was admitted as a member of the Young Communist League based on her attitude towards both her work duties and political activities. In the unanimous opinion of her co-workers, she was an excellent worker, very professional and diligent in the fulfillment of her duties, uncompromising, active, and serious who had good relations with the rest of the staff. As a result of all of this, five years later, in 1997, she was admitted as a member of the Communist Party of Cuba; she maintained double membership by continuing to lead the Young Communist League grassroots committee of chambermaids at the hotel. This responsibility she carried out until the time of the tragic voyage that cost her life.
Elizabeth married Juan Miguel González Quintana in August of 1985. They had been going steady since she was 14 years old. According to her parents, Juan Miguel had been her first and only boyfriend. They divorced six years later, in May of 1991. Repeated attempts to have a child had ended up in failure, which is considered the main cause of their formal divorce. However, their relations as a couple were not interrupted. They continued to try to have a child. Then, after seven pregnancies, which had all ended in miscarriage and only one surpassed six months, their efforts were finally rewarded with success.
Having appealed to the genetic counseling services of the "Ramón González Coro" Gynecology and Obstetrics Hospital in Havana, one of the highest specialized in the country, where the couple was examined in depth, they were assured of the possibility of having children, and Elizabeth was instructed on the measures she should adopt under the care of the gynecology and obstetrics specialists in Matanzas. Her eighth pregnancy was successful and Elián was born on December 6, 1993, after eight years of anxious waiting.
The painstaking work of the Cuban Revolution in the care of expectant mothers and children made the miracle of Elián's birth possible. It was not doctors from a U.S. hospital who provided Elizabeth with encouragement and thorough care. In that country, humble families cannot afford these costly services, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars there but which are absolutely free in Cuba. It is doubtful that Elizabeth would have ever thought of giving her life so that her child could live in a country where he would have never been born.
As evidence of what we have just stated here, in case anyone were to have any doubts, we believe it would be useful to illustrate it with information contained in Medical History Summary 1640, written up after Elizabeth's and Juan Miguel's first genetic counseling appointment at the "Ramón González Coro" Gynecology and Obstetrics Hospital, reproduced here with the consent of Elián's father and grandparents:
"Reason for appointment: Repeated miscarriages and an induced abortion due to severe Oligoamnios incompatible with the continuation of the pregnancy and suspicion of fetal deformity. Personal and family history: No personal or family history of genetic disorders or congenital deformities in either member of the couple. Exposure to radiation: No. Exposure to virus: No. Infection or other diseases: No. Previous toxoplasmosis studies: Yes (in all pregnancies). No previous treatment with any medication. This young couple is attending this appointment in search of genetic counseling due to a great interest in having a normal child.
"Procedures recommended: Determination of folic acid in mother's blood. Complement fixation for toxoplasmosis study in both members of couple. Karyotype (study of chromosomes in peripheral blood of both members of couple).
"Results of studies undertaken on the couple: Complement fixation: negative. Karyotypes in peripheral blood: mother: 46, XX (normal); father: 46, XY (normal). Determination of folic acid in maternal serum: normal. Conclusion of studies is that miscarriages were due to non-chromosomal causes. Next appointment 04/05/1989. Requested because of another miscarriage on March 23, 1989. Recommendation to come in for examination during next pregnancy."
Juan Miguel and Elizabeth rigorously followed the specialists' instructions until that pregnancy five years later which culminated in the birth of the son who has now been stolen from his father and his maternal and paternal grandparents by distant relatives (as far as a fifth-degree relationship) who had only seen him once in their lives.
The new mother who, according to a "venerable neutral nun," has purportedly served as a surrogate for the one that Elián lost, is a young woman only 22 years old, the same age as Elizabeth when she took a hard and honest job, which she carried out dutifully and irreproachably despite those frustrated pregnancies and her yearning to give birth to a child, which she finally did after trying with impressive tenacity and sacrifice, and not by stealing him from anyone else.
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."
WHO WAS LÁZARO RAFAEL MUNERO GARCÍA?
The organizer and the person most responsible for Elián's tragedy and the death of Elizabeth and others, adding up to a total of 11 Cuban citizens who lost their lives in that absurd misadventure -- the direct result like many others of an insane and genocidal law against Cuba imposed by the U.S. 33 years ago and still in effect -- was in this case a young man whose illustrative history as a student and citizen is worth knowing and reflecting upon to come to the relevant conclusions.
He was born in Havana on January 12, 1975. In 1979, when he was four years old, his family moved to the oil mining zone in the municipality of Varadero, where his father worked as a mining equipment operator. His family environment was known to be unfavorable. In his home there were constant arguments and disagreements among family members and also with the neighbors. Some believe that this could have greatly influenced the subsequent development of his personality.
Like all children, adolescents, and young people in Cuba, he also had the opportunity for a free education. Upon reaching school age, he entered "13 de Marzo" Elementary School in the municipality of Cárdenas. He studied there for six years. Although his grades were acceptable, at the end of this stage of his education the teachers described him as a restless child who often got into fistfights with his schoolmates and broke other school rules.
He moved on to "Capitán Guillermo Geilín" Junior Secondary School in the same municipality. No progress was made in his social conduct. Upon completing his studies there, the evaluation of his conduct was similar to the last. He increasingly displayed characteristics and reactions that worried and drew the attention of his teachers. Nevertheless, like all ninth grade graduates, he received a scholarship to undertake senior high school studies, and was enrolled in "Héroes de Playa Girón" Senior High School in the municipality of Jagüey Grande, Matanzas province. His social behavior continued to deteriorate, particularly his discipline.
According to testimony from his teachers, during the time that Lázaro Munero attended this school, he was characterized as an aggressive youth, particularly towards the girls, whom he physically and verbally abused. He was expelled from this school for taking part in throwing cans and jars full of excrement into the school courtyard.
In order to prevent him from dropping out of the educational system, he was enrolled in "Emilio Roig" Senior High School, where he continued his tenth grade studies. But his fist-fighting continued there as well. He used his knowledge of judo techniques, which he had learned in junior high school, to strike and abuse others.
His teachers particularly remember an occasion when he used truly excessive and traumatic violence against another student, causing him physical injury. He went even further when already attending "Emilio Roig" Senior High School. During a students school function at "Héroes de Playa Girón" Senior High School, from which he had been expelled, Lázaro Munero started a disturbance and wounded a student with a sharp tool.
He dropped out of school in tenth grade, during the 1989-1990 school year, to undertake a criminal career.
We will let the following testimonies tell us more about this man:
ENRIQUE RAMÍREZ MENDOZA, a native of Havana City, assistant director of production at "Cecilio Miranda Díaz" Junior High School, in the municipality of Jagüey Grande: "I met the man named Lázaro Rafael Munero García when he was transferred from "Héroes de Playa Girón" Senior High School to "Emilio Roig" Senior High School, where I was the principal at the time. He had been transferred due to bad conduct. I remember that he was a student who liked to stand out from the rest by negative attitudes and tough demeanor. I also remember an occasion when a students' school function was being held at "Héroes de Playa Girón" Senior High School, and Munero left the school along with another student named Michel González and went to the aforementioned school, where he started a disturbance that ended with Munero wounding another student with a sharp tool. "That same night two officers from the National Revolutionary Police went to "Emilio Roig" School to investigate the incident, and they spoke with both Lázaro Munero and Michel González, who immediately conceded their involvement in the events. After this, Munero García continued to attend school but did not finish the school year due to his negative attitude."
ZAIDA ELISA IZQUIERDO MOREJÓN, a teacher at "Héroes de Playa Girón" Senior High School: "I have been working since 1985 at 'Héroes de Playa Girón' Senior High School, where one of my students was the youth named Lázaro Rafael Munero García, who was in the tenth grade at the time. I remember that he was characterized as being an aggressive person, particularly against the girls, who he physically and verbally abused. He was undisciplined. "Thinking back, I also remember a time when there were a number of incidents of cans and jars of excrement being thrown into the school courtyard, and it was finally determined that Lázaro Munero was the ringleader. I spoke with him personally on various occasions to try to change the way he acted, without any results whatsoever, since he was not receptive to criticism, and as a result was finally expelled from the school."
LUCÍA BACILIA PÉREZ PEÑAFUERTE, a native of Corralillo and a teacher at the Carlos Marx School in the village of Agramonte, municipality of Jagey Grande: ÒI met the individual named Lázaro Rafael Munero García when he was attending 'Héroes de Playa Girón' Senior High School. At the time I was the head teacher for the 1989-1990 school year. I remember that he had an average academic performance and also that he was introverted. He liked to stand out from the rest of the students by telling jokes to get everyone's attention. I also remember that Munero García had a girlfriend that he physically abused. I think he had severe behavioral problems, although I never met his parents because they never visited the school. After he left this school, he was transferred to 'Emilio Roig' Senior High School, where he also had problems that led him to drop out before the end of the school year.
ORESTES MARRERO DE LA HORDA, a student at the Tourism Polytechnic School in Varadero: "I can say that when Munero Garca was in junior high school he began to practice judo, and this led to a major penchant towards a bullish behavior, which shows in all the fights he got into, both in school and on the street. I remember one of them, which was very talked about, the fight he had at the students center in this city, where he took on various people, and another one at the Oil Company club, which led to him being thrown out. In other words, this individual was almost always getting into fights and disturbances because of his own personality."
ILIÁN ABEL RODRÍGUEZ FORMOSO, a neighbor of Lázaro Rafael Munero García: "With regard to this man, I can say that he never worked in his life. He was always involved in illegal business deals, which is how he earned the money to live beyond his means. I can also say that he did not get along with his neighbors, I never saw him socialize with any of them. He was a bully who liked to live that kind of life."
DAGOBERTO MUNERO MOLINA, a brother of Lázaro's father, a native of Caibarién and assistant at the Cárdenas Oil Drilling and Extraction Company: "Lázaro always acted like a bully and treated his own family badly [his father, brother, and wife]. He only spared from such treatment his mother, María Elena García García, who had a very strong character, and so she and my nephew did whatever they wanted around the house. I also know that Lázaro and his father had violent arguments. I can also say that Lázaro paid little attention to his son [a son that, as will be seen later, he had had with a young classmate], which is why the child's grandparents had to demand that he paid his alimony. "I remember that whenever my nephew spoke to Elizabeth, he did so roughly and she submitted to him because she was a better person. In the neighborhood where he lived, Lázaro didn't put up with anything from anyone. He was very loud and always thought he was right. He always wanted to have his way.
"Finally I would like to point out that my nephew Lázaro Rafael was the one who encouraged and incited his parents, brother, wife, and stepson to become involved in the illegal departure from the country on November 22, 1999, because I know my brother Ramón Rafael didn't want to go and if he did it was because of Lázaro's insistence."
YOSLAYNE LLAMA GARROTE: "I knew the individual named Lázaro Rafael Munero García and can say that he was a bully, which he demonstrated through his abuse of the women with whom he had sexual relations. I remember once that the girl who had a child by him told me that Lázaro didn't even love his own son, that he never cared for him. He made a living by wheeling and dealing, selling alcoholic beverages, cigars, or anything else that came along. I found out that when Lázaro got out of jail and went to Elizabeth's house he went around beating everyone. He didn't treat the boy well either. Often, when Elizabeth got to her house she found Elián crying because he wanted to go to his father Juan Miguel's house and Lázaro Munero wouldn't let him, arguing that he spent too much time with his father. "I can also say that a few days after Lázaro and Elizabeth illegally left the country, I happened to be at the Matanzas Children's Hospital, where my son had been admitted, and I heard a group of women commenting that Arianne Horta, one of the survivors of the boat wreck, had said during a telephone conversation that while they were still on shore, Elián started to cry and Lázaro told Elizabeth that if she didn't make him shut up, he would do it.
"To everything I have already said I can add that Lázaro had love affairs with other women behind Elizabeth's back, using the money he got from his illegal dealings and the money she earned by working." Lorenzo Oceguera Pesqueira,
"With regard to Elizabeth Brotons, I can say that she was easy to get along with, good-natured and modest, that she greeted me and asked about my grandson whenever she saw me. She was involved in a relationship with Munero García before he illegally left the country in 1998." Regla Hernández González,
"I also want to say that Lázaro used a car that he had as a taxi cab without the corresponding license. I was also aware that he had been in prison, though I did not know why.
"I remember that on Thursday, November 19, 1999, Lázaro Rafael Munero García went to my daughter's house and told her that he would come the next day to pick up the child and take him out, something which was very unusual on him, so I said to my daughter that I would take the child with me on Saturday so that Lázaro could not take him out, since as he was always drunk and I thought something bad might happen. The following day, in the early hours of the morning, I took the child to my mother's house, where we stayed for the rest of the day. I am saying that we did this because we thought it was very strange that Lázaro should insist on taking the child out, without suspecting that he was actually going to leave the country illegally." Dayana Oceguera Hernandez, a resident of Cárdenas, currently studying at the "José Smith Comas" Hotel Management and Tourism School, in the municipality of Varadero: "In 1993 I began dating the man called Lázaro Rafael Munero García, a relationship that lasted until 1996. A child was born that we named Javier Alejandro Munero Oceguera. I can responsibly say that the relationship failed, among other reasons, because of Lázaro Munero's domineering and violent character, which even led him to argue constantly with his parents, mainly his father Rafael Munero. I hardly knew Lázaro to have any jobs, well almost none. Once he worked as a barman in the Hotel Internacional in Varadero, where apparently he had a contract to sell beers on the beach, and the other job he had was in the oil company's social club, where he worked as a waiter, according to him. "Otherwise, Lázaro spent his whole life involved in all sorts of illegal dealings, from the illegal sale of alcoholic beverages, for which he was once locked up for several days at the Jovellanos Police Station, to other activities that brought him easy money. On various occasions we argued for the simple reason that Lázaro did not belong to any organization and I am a member of the Young Communists Union. He tried to stop me from improving myself culturally, which is what led to the breakdown of our relationship. I remember that during the last months, Lázaro Munero turned up drunk at the house to see the child, causing arguments with me on these few visits.
"On the other hand, I can say that Lázaro liked to lead a most comfortable life, which is what led him to commit a burglary in 1992 in Varadero, for which he was jailed. I met Elizabeth once when Lázaro brought her with him to my house and at first sight she seemed to be a sincere, affable and civilized person.
"On Friday, November 19, Lázaro went to my house in his car and told me that he would come back on Saturday to pick up the child and take him to his mother. I said no since he never took him out and I thought that something could happen because he was such a heavy drinker. Since I refused we had an argument during which he told me that as a father he had rights over the child. The next day he came in the early hours of morning to pick up the child, but the boy had already left; I had handed him over to my mother, for her to take him out so that Lázaro could neither see him nor take him out, and also so that the child would not see us arguing again, but I had no idea that that very day he was going to illegally leave the country. All of this struck me as rather odd, bearing in mind that two months had passed without Lázaro coming to see the boy, and if he happened to see him in the street with me, even from a distance, he would tell me that he did not need visiting because he had already seen him."
These last three testimonies show better than any other facts this man's perfidious character and abusive nature. He wanted to take the child with him behind the mother's back while he did not care for him at all. He had never showed any interest in him. The child would have actually been an obstacle for his dissolute and irresponsible lifestyle. Nobody knows who was going to look after the child. However, he tried to snatch him from the mother.
Why did he do that? Perhaps a despicable desire for vengeance, for the way Dayana and her family had always reacted to the demands and impositions of someone who resolved everything by using force. Psychologists could try to find an explanation.
The truth is that the boy had a miraculous escape. It is almost absolutely certain that he would have died, or if he had survived the shipwreck, Javier would be today another Cuban child held captive in Miami, and the mob would have done everything possible to prevent his return to Cuba. Pedro Pablo Brotons Estrada, a resident of Cárdenas and Elizabeth's half-brother: "The relationship between Lázaro Rafael Munero García and my sister Elizabeth was tense, since the former had an impulsive, domineering character. When the two of them began their relationship in 1997, my family was not happy about it, due to what people said about Lázaro. It was said that he never had a job, that women who lived with him had to support him, that he was a bully, and for this reason my family was opposed to the relationship. Later, when he illegally left the country in 1998, we saw this as the solution to the problem, but Lázaro's mother visited my sister to get her to speak to Lázaro on the phone, which caused an argument between Lázaro's mother and Elizabeth's. However, despite that, my sister talked with him several times and said that Munero told her that life in the United States was very difficult and that he could not adapt to the system. I think that he really returned to Cuba to take my sister with him, so that she could carry on supporting him in that country. "Later, when Munero came back, the family allowed him to live in Elizabeth's house again, but he subtly worked on her, to turn her against the entire family, causing a rift with her mother and stepfather, which was very difficult and unexpected. With regard to this, I think that Munero used threats and coercion because since they had resumed living together, my sister's character changed completely, she was always aloof and withdrawn. On two occasions, when we unexpectedly met in the street, I noticed that she had scratches and bruises on her body and she told me that the dog in her house was responsible.
"As far as Lázaro's treatment of Elián is concerned, I can confirm that at times he was tyrannical and domineering with the boy, although I have no evidence of physical abuse against him.
"I believe that what Elizabeth did, that is, leaving the country illegally, was motivated by her fear of Lázaro and his bad influence over her, since my sister loved Elián very deeply and she would never have got involved in an adventure that would put his life in danger."
Ever since Lázaro Munero had dropped out of the school system and avoided all chances for a technical education, he had not looked for a useful and relatively well-paid employment as many young people in Cárdenas had, who made great efforts in their education and prepared themselves to embark on their working life in the prosperous, nearby tourist zone of Varadero. Instead he got involved in activities that had nothing to do with productive work and services, that benefit both the individual and society, for which our country prepares its young people.
For ten years he is not known to have had even one steady job. It was only for two brief periods that he worked as a waiter, once in a hotel and once in a social club, where they soon discovered his penchant for theft and fraud. He kept looking for ways to lead a comfortable, parasitic life on easy money. Testimony: "I [name is omitted] born in Cárdenas, employed as a chambermaid in the hotel [name is omitted], in Varadero, had an intimate relationship with Lázaro Rafael Munero García, from 1991 to 1994, during which time he served a sentence for burglary. During the time I was with him, I knew him as a restless, whimsical, and socially irresponsible person. When he got an idea in his head, nothing would stop him till he had done it, even if it could cause problems." The burglary referred to in that testimony took place on May Day, 1993. Sentence No. 347, pronounced in the month of October 1993 by the Fifth Court of the People's Provincial Penal Court of Matanzas, indicates in its first paragraph that defendants Lázaro Rafael Munero García and Julio César González Caraballo, by common agreement, set off during the night of May Day, 1993, for the municipality of Varadero [...], for the hotel Siboney, and decided to break into room number 120 to take whatever they could from there. The German tourist Milhelen Kalan was a guest in that room with his granddaughter. Finding no one in the room at that time, they broke three panes of glass, which made up the window [...]."
A long narrative follows. After numerous paragraphs and whereas clauses, it concludes with the sentence stating that: "We should punish, and we will punish defendant Lázaro Rafael Munero García, to two years imprisonment, and defendant Julio César González Caraballo to three years imprisonment, both of them as perpetrators of the crime of burglary," with the corresponding accessories. Furthermore they are ordered to compensate Milhelen Kalan Van Hofe for the amount of 236 pesos and 55 cents in local currency [actually the amount is in dollars, at an exchange rate of 1 to 1]. Another significant testimony: "I [the name is omitted] was born in Jagüey Grande and I am employed as [position and workplace and municipality where she is based are omitted]. I met Lázaro Rafael Munero García in 1999, when we began a sexual relationship while I was visiting the village [name is omitted]. Regarding this relationship, I can say that it ended in the month of August that year since Lázaro no longer wanted to see me, and I then got involved in another relationship. "I remember that finding myself in that situation, and though I cannot remember the exact date although I am certain it was at the end of September, several people came up to my house to tell me that Lázaro was in the cafeteria [the name of the cafeteria and the street where it is located in the village are omitted], and wanted me to go and see him, which I did. However, when I arrived he asked me to walk with him out the back of [the name of the place is omitted, to not indicate the village]. Among other things, he said that I was betraying him and he slapped me on the face again and again while telling me that when he sent for me I had to come immediately, which I agreed to do so that he stopped the beating. When this was over, he took me back to the cafeteria [the name is omitted] and left. I have not seen him again."
Even when this and the previous statement are signed, and their authors, with moral courage worthy of praise, are prepared to expose themselves, it does not seem to us appropriate to do it due to the sensitive nature of the issue and the advisability to preserve their identities in circumstances that could lead to more disgraceful personal situations.
The important thing about that last statement is that it refers to events that took place relatively far away from Cárdenas, eight weeks before the fatal journey in which Lázaro Munero left the country in a fragile boat, taking Elizabeth and Elián with him.
During that period he showed his aggressive, threatening, and abusive nature more than ever, in this case directed at a young, modest, and helpless girl, simply because she refused to give in to the passing whim of someone who was about to leave the country and would very soon stop seeing her all together.
How did he treat Elizabeth during that period and what threats was he making to her, resigned, docile, and almost certainly terrified as she was?
The investigators have managed to gather all the material and documents, police files and legal proceedings, accusations, fines, convictions for armed robberies, fist-fighting, felonies, swindle, the crime of buying and selling stolen goods, all sorts of illegal activities, alcohol abuse and others; a long list of common crimes of various degrees of seriousness accumulated in his short and troubled life as a criminal; whole pages of fingerprints and evidence that describe and demonstrate Lázaro Munero's illegal and immoral conduct.
In his irresponsible adventure to Florida, Lázaro Munero sacrificed his own mother, who was convalescing from a recent heart attack. Everybody knows that people like Lázaro Rafael Munero García would never have been given a visa by the U.S. Interests Section to live in the United States. The U.S. society would have indignantly rejected him, there would have been a huge scandal. However, if he traveled illegally, he received all honors, no matter who dies as a result of such adventures. How noble and humanitarian is the Cuban Adjustment Act!
WHO ARE THE SURVIORS?
When the boat sank, apart from the child, two adults survived: a young woman of 22 and a man of 33 who were traveling as a couple. Their names: ARIANNE HORTA ALFONSO and NIVALDO VLADIMIR FERNANDEZ FERRAN. They were the only ones who could know the secret about what exactly happened. Both of them had vanished after the news of their arrival broke out and they had been released by the police. While in Cuba not a single word was heard from these people, American sources reported that the authorities were considering it a smuggling of people operation. They could only have found that out from the two surviving adults, who were immediately questioned.
As early as November 26, two days after the possible time of wreckage, the well-known El Nuevo Herald, well connected in [Cuban American National] Foundation circles, published the following text:
"The authorities are considering the crossing by the Cubans as an illegal smuggling operation. After questioning the survivors, the authorities have a first idea of what happened from the time the boat left Cárdenas on Sunday.
"Presumably the operation was planned by Lázaro Moreno [that is how they described him], Elián's stepfather, who was trying to take his family, along with seven other people, who would have paid a thousand dollars for the journey to the United States."
Nobody heard another word about what they had found out. For the moment it was clear that they had both paid a thousand dollars each for that fatal journey. People were being smuggled, a crime severely punished by the United States' own laws and international conventions. Nothing else was said about the matter. It is unknown whether or not the survivors told Immigration about the criminal record and appalling conduct of the journey's organizer. They certainly did not tell everything they knew about Elián, and if they did, nobody repeated a word of it.
Then the powerful mob and their allies launched a propaganda campaign against our country based on the drama of the child who survived after so many hours in an inner-tube. Of course, Cuba would be entirely to blame for what had happened. Yet there were too many ugly sides to that affair. It was better that no journalist contacted the two survivors. Both of them mysteriously vanished from the scene and not a word was heard from them until almost two months later. The battle to free Elián had still not begun, nor did the mobsters, the terrorists, and their allies have any idea of the tremendous force that that battle would take on when our strong, courageous, and militant people mobilized.
However, the influential Los Angeles Times had stirred up something in its search for information, and 39 days later, on January 4 this year, it published a report from Cárdenas, reproduced by a Florida publication under the heading: "The lucrative business of smuggling Cubans," which tells how "Nivaldo Fernandez Ferran walked away from his life: a decade-long marriage, a new house, and a coveted job at a five-star hotel.... So did his girlfriend, 22-year-old Arianne Horta Alfonso, who even walked away from her five-year-old daughter.... [T]hey told the Miami-Dade police investigators that they had paid $2000 to a smuggler for the journey."
Shortly afterwards, it refers to a "growing for-profit smuggling trade that authorities in Havana believe has at least tacit support among the Cuban-American community in South Florida. U.S. Border Patrol agents say the smugglers are operating with near-impunity, charging Cuban migrants up to $8000 apiece."
Further on it states: "Fernandez's mother, Antonia Ferran, is a legal U.S. resident, having left Cárdenas ten years ago to join her sister in Chicago, and she had returned every year since with gifts and cash to add to the Fernandezes' income.
"The family had planned an elaborate 10th anniversary ceremony for the couple to renew their vows December 13. Yet, without a word to his wife, family, or friends, they say, Fernandez suddenly left three weeks before the party with his girlfriend, Arianne, and her five-year-old daughter Esthefany and together they set off towards the U.S. Then, soon after they left Cuba, their boat's engine broke down and the 13 adults decided that the five-year-old girl should not travel with them. So while the Muneros fixed the engine, Horta took Esthefany to her mother's three-room home, fearing that the journey was too dangerous for the child."
At one point the article explains: "These are among the few known facts and lingering mysteries of an illegal voyage that investigators on both sides of the Straits say typifies what has brought thousands of illegal Cuban migrants to the United States during the past two years, and claimed more than 60 Cuban lives in 1999 alone."
Thus it is recognized, with no qualms about it, that in just twelve months these illegal departures, the smuggling of human beings into Florida, and the Cuban Adjustment Act, have cost the lives of 60 Cuban citizens in one year.
With this news a profile of the two survivors starts to emerge, but they still have not appeared in full.
Meanwhile the struggle to free Elián kept gaining strength every day, even among the American public. On January 21 it was announced that the grandmothers were leaving for New York. That was really too much for them. The mob and its allies were forced to used the two missing survivors in the same disgusting and cynical way they usually do things.
That very day, almost two months after the mysterious disappearance, they were suddenly brought before the press.
"Miami, U.S. January 21 (EFE) -- The shipwrecked boy Elián González should stay in the United States because his mother gave her life in order that he could arrive in this country, one of the three survivors said today.
"Arianne Horta recounted at a press conference today the dramatic story of the journey in which Elián's mother and stepfather died, along with 9 other Cuban immigrants when their fragile boat sank in the Florida Straits.
"She [Elián's mother] preferred to die but she wanted her son to live, and arrive [in the United States]," said Arianne.
"He [Elián] always shouted that he was going to the Yuma' [United States] with my uncles, he always said my uncles,'" she claimed."
Note the emphasis given to the melodramatic idea that Elizabeth gave her life so that the child could live in a free country, and the ridiculous image of a joyful and happy child less than six years old, not crying or afraid of the bad weather and big waves but shouting that he was going "to the United States to live with his uncles," the uncles that the child had seen just once in his life, when he was four years old. That is just too much!
The grandmother's trip, and the impact that their straightforward and sincere words had on American public and the very U.S. Congress sent shivers through all those involved in the boy's kidnapping. It created panic.
"Miami, U.S. January 25 (AFP) -- The other two survivors of the shipwreck, in which the mother of the child Elián González died, are traveling to Washington to lobby the U.S. Congress in favor of granting him U.S. citizenship, the local press announced on Tuesday."
Desperation is growing. Incredible things have happened. Between Friday 21 and Thursday 27, the grandmothers gave an important press conference at the airport, they went to Miami twice, they have made countless contacts with the most varied and influential media, and they have met with dozens of congressmen. It was already becoming insufferable!
Under the heading: "They deny that Elián's mother was forced to travel to the United States," El Nuevo Herald published an article by its Washington correspondent: "She was not forced," said Arianne in a press conference held at the National Press Club.
"Fernandez, for his part, denied that Brotons's boyfriend was a man who treated her violently.
"He was always kind. He loved her so much that he came to the United States and went back to Cuba to get her. Would she have followed him if he mistreated her? That's hard to believe," he stressed.
"When it seemed to me that the journey was dangerous and I decided to leave my daughter on land, she was there and saw that.
"That was when the boy, Elián, began to shout, We're going to the United States,' Arianne added."
It is pointless to comment on this statement. One could perhaps be amazed or maybe ask a simple question: If she decided to leave her daughter on land because the journey was dangerous, why did she not suggest to Elián's mother that she also leave the child back on land since he was about the same age as her daughter and would be taking the same risks?
Arianne and Nivaldo did not tell the truth. They knew what happened. When they returned to shore and Elián was crying inconsolably, that was when Munero said threateningly to the mother: "Either you shut him up or I will." That information did not come from Cuba, it came from the United States, and it was Arianne herself who said it to her family, back in our country, over the phone. But this was not the only source.
People who were watching nearby heard it and witnessed it. It is known that Munero and others were armed with machetes and knives. If there is one thing that everyone agrees about regarding this man, something nobody has questioned -- neither men, women, relatives, friends, or acquaintances -- it is that he had a violent and aggressive character. It is recorded in numerous police documents and all the testimonies previously offered. It is a complete and utter hypocrisy to claim -- as Nivaldo Fernandez did, a man who is well known as a coward and a liar -- that Munero never mistreated Elizabeth. The mob's position of denying it just shows how much they dread it being revealed that Elizabeth, due to her docile nature, her resignation, and total submission to Munero, her free will totally subdued, incapable of resisting, she could be -- and in all probability was -- forced, through threats and the usual violence he used with her, to embark on that stupid and suicidal misadventure.
On January 29, the honorable U.S. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, in an interview on the Fox network, when talking about grandmother Raquel stated: "The man with whom her daughter went off from Cuba was a bully, and above all was a smuggler. When they set off from that little village they had to go back because there were problems with the boat. They went back to the shore and some people decided not to go ahead with the journey. Elián began to cry and said that he wanted to go back to his father, and we know that because the people who stayed behind have said it. And I believe that it is important that that is known."
Further on she adds: "Listen, the man who organized the failed expedition pulled out a knife when Elián began to cry and say that he wanted to go back to his father, and he said to Elián's mother: If you don't come with me, you will never see him again.' That is not a loving relationship. She was scared of him."
Dagoberto Munero Molina, Lázaro Munero's paternal uncle, testified: "I have no doubt that on returning from Saturday's illegal departure, Elizabeth intended to go back home, and my nephew threatened her, because he was violent and domineering with everyone, even his own father."
WHO ARE THE MOB'S WITNESSES?
Who were those people that the [Cuban American National] Foundation claimed were honorable people, in front of a hundred journalists from around the world?
Arianne Horta Alfonso was raised in a revolutionary family. She completed her primary and secondary education without difficulties and with a good academic performance.
At the end of 1989, still under age (12 years old) she married Michael Serra Basnuevo, who later left the country illegally and currently lives in the United States.
In 1991 she divorced and resumed her studies at the "José A. Echeverria" Adults School in Cárdenas, where she graduated from twelfth grade.
Two years later, in 1993, she entered a stable relationship with Victor Prudencio Herrera Reyes, which helped her to achieve the educational level previously mentioned. A daughter, Esthefany Rodriguez Horta, was born in 1994 to the couple, who were living in Arianne's parents' house, where there existed a healthy family environment in which respect and harmony prevailed. In August 1995 the couple separated, an unfortunate occurrence for which she was mainly responsible. As of this point, there was a sudden change in her behavior and she began to lead a disorganized and promiscuous life.
According to people who knew her well at the time, she was too fond of amenities, she dressed in an extravagant way, and spent most of her time in recreational centers in Varadero in the company of foreign tourists or young Cubans relatively well-off economically.
Due to the unpleasant and sensitive nature of the issue, we will leave out certain descriptions about her conduct and restrict ourselves to saying that her moral and social behavior was appalling. Her parents, who never agreed with it, repeatedly criticized her for it.
The responsibility of caring for her daughter fell mainly on her maternal grandparents, who take charge of her education and upbringing. It should be conceded that Arianne did pay her some attention and that she was careful to not let the instability of her love life affect the little girl. Despite this, the little girl displays certain psychological disorders aggravated since her mother's illegal departure for which she requires and is already receiving specialized care.
In April 1999, she began a new stable relationship with Nivaldo Fernandez Ferran. In October Arianne decided to break off the relationship with Nivaldo and go back home. They remained separated until November 19th 1999. The following day, under the pretext of going camping with the child, Arianne, who had already reconciled with Nivaldo, fetched the girl to take her on the illegal departure from the country. Later, for the said reasons she took her back to her grandparents, before finally leaving on November 22.
Nivaldo Vladimir Fernandez Ferran was born in Cárdenas to a humble, revolutionary, working class family. He spent his childhood in an environment characterized by a good education, without family conflicts and was considered to be a well-behaved and respectful child. He completed his elementary, junior, and high school education with good academic results and without any discipline problems.
When he completed the 12th grade, he neither carried on with his education nor did he take any jobs. He traveled to Czechoslovakia in 1986, with a collaboration and technical upgrading group, working for a period of eighteen months in the pneumatics industry, where he displayed discipline problems and was unjustifiably absent from work due to his excessive pursuit of sexual relationships. As a result of his behavior, he was invited to leave the factory and return to Cuba.
In 1987 he married Niurka Vega Arrieta, a marriage which only lasted two months due to constant arguments resulting from Nivaldo's arrogant and selfish position opposing his wife's interest in studying and going as far as to assaulting and battering her.
In December 1989 he married Rosa Elba Fernandez Perez, who he had known since his trip to Czechoslovakia, and he stayed with her for ten years, until his illegal departure from the country. He had many arguments with Rosa Elba as well due to his philandering with other women.
He seldom had a steady job and when he had he changed often, moving from one hotel to another -- the Tuxpan, the Melia Varadero, Barlovento, Brisas del Caribe, Paradiso-Punta Arenas, and the Super Club. He had been unemployed since September 1999.
As for his social life, he was known as a womanizer. He got involved with women of low moral standing, with chaotic lives. He behaved ostentatiously, bragged about having money, was greedy, arrogant and abused women, from whom he demanded money. He liked to dress well. He tried to stand out in front of other people, be the center of attention in groups or conversations. Classed as a liar, he proved to be a coward who shunned responsibility. He has no previous criminal record. His father, Nivaldo Ortelio Fernandez, maintains a positive Revolutionary stance. With regard to the illegal departure from the country, in which his son participated, he claims to be ashamed.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Nivaldo and Arianne, two irresponsible and unstable people, degraded by their desire to have an easy life with money, absolutely worthless and with no sense of morale, they wretchedly made themselves available for the role of mercenaries, which the Foundation offered them. That is, to disprove the words of Raquel, who had done them no harm and who perhaps they did not even know, the mother of Elizabeth -- her only daughter, who died tragically because of adventurous people like them -- and Elián's grandmother -- her only grandson held captive by those paying them and using them as salaried slanderers.
It is disgraceful for the cause of Elián's enemies that the limited resources left to them as respectable witnesses to show the U.S. people and Congress are a pimp, who illegally traveled to that country, and a young woman who is a veteran in promiscuity and the sex industry that she practiced in Cuba, a trade as ancient as antiquity itself.
Such is life in the empire. That is how rotten the public morale of that country is. That is how they intend to set an example and rule the world. Raquel's words will continue to stand firm and irrefutable: "If she took that step, it was because she had a husband who was very violent and threatened her and this is what led to this tragedy."
We have exposed the facts for everyone to draw their own conclusions. It has been a lengthy presentation designed not only to denounce infamy and injustice but also to vindicate a Cuban mother, which is absolutely fair, and to preserve for Elián, above and beyond all prejudices, emotions and the personal feelings of each and every one of our compatriots, the true and objective image of the mother he can never see again by salvaging her from what would be a cruel and unfathomable doubt.