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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 had previously 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 Chiong's mother in the liquids-only fast until the INS agreed to review their sons' cases.
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 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.
Cid was released on a $7500 bond, and his case is scheduled to go to trial in early February. If convicted he faces up to 15 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.
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.
For those who believe Elian should stay in the United States, the debate often is reduced to a simple contest between the virtue of the United States versus the evil inherent in a Cuba controlled by Castro.
One virtue here is opportunity. The opportunity for freedom and the opportunity to reap the benefits of living in this prosperous country. Opportunity, however, is no guarantee for success. Just ask Luis and José Cid.
Contact Jim DeFede at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org