A Family Portrait

The scene outside Elian Gonzalez's Little Havana home was rather subdued this past Saturday afternoon. A few network news crews staked out the house from a neighbor's yard, huddled around a television set atop a milk crate, watching an NFL playoff game. In the street a stream of cars drove up and down the block, slowing to a crawl so the passengers could stare at the modest house.

A dozen or so people milled in front of the home, hoping to catch a glimpse of the world's most famous six-year-old. "Where is he?" a young boy asked his mother as they passed the fenced yard where Elian often plays. "Where's the puppy?"

"I don't know," the mother replied. "It doesn't look like anyone is home."

She was right. On this day Elian was at the circus.

At about 5:30 p.m. a dilapidated 1987 Honda Civic pulled up to the house, and a young man in his early thirties stepped out. Several people in the crowd recognized him and walked over to shake his hand. He was one of Elian's cousins, Luis Cid. His sister, Georgina Cid Cruz, has recently been representing the family before the media. Last week, for instance, she appeared on CNN's Larry King Live.

The worldwide attention being paid to Elian's case has transformed nearly all his local relatives into celebrities. An older woman came forward and asked if she could have her photograph taken with Cid. He graciously complied. The woman quickly stood next to him and smiled broadly as her husband took a snapshot.

With any luck it will turn out to be a better picture than the unflattering mug shot taken of Luis Cid by county jailers four months ago. According to police reports and court records, the 32-year-old was arrested by Miami police on September 7 and charged with strong-arm robbery after he and an accomplice assaulted and robbed a tourist in Little Havana. The robbery took place about a half-mile from where Elian is now living. Cid is free on bond while awaiting trial next month.

This isn't Luis Cid's first encounter with law enforcement and the courts. In 1994 he was arrested on felony charges of carrying a concealed weapon and resisting arrest with violence. Also that year his ex-wife sought a permanent injunction against him, alleging domestic violence, according to court records. In 1995 she sued him for child support. In 1998 he was arrested once more, this time on felony firearms and prowling charges.

Cid's twin brother also visits his uncle's Little Havana home to socialize with Elian. José Cid, like his brother, has a lengthy history of encounters with police. Between 1986 and 1990 he was arrested at least five times on felony charges including burglary, grand theft, and robbery with force, according to court records. In 1994 he was arrested on charges of petit larceny. (New Times was unable to confirm before press time the judicial outcomes of the various criminal charges brought against the Cid brothers. Efforts to interview the brothers for this story also were unsuccessful.)

Men with multiple felony arrests casually mingling with Elian and his caretakers -- hardly the image the Miami relatives have sought to project to the world.

Family spokesman Armando Gutierrez says neither Luis Cid nor twin brother José lives at the house where Elian stays, and the two don't spend significant time with him. "They are not involved in anything to do with the care or the well-being of the boy," Gutierrez insists. "They are not around Elian. They may come and go after a few minutes, but they are not part of the immediate family that is taking care of Elian."

Elian lives with his great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez; Lazaro's wife, Angela; and their daughter, Marisleysis. Gutierrez claims Lazaro learned of the criminal histories of Luis and José Cid only after New Times raised the issue earlier this week. "Lazaro is just shocked," Gutierrez reports. "He knew nothing about this." (Lazaro Gonzalez's sister, who lives in Miami, is the mother of Luis and José Cid. The Cid family left Cuba and came to the United States via Costa Rica in 1983. The twins were 15 years old at the time.)

Gutierrez argues it would be "an injustice" for the problems of a couple of cousins to tarnish the reputation of the entire family. "Everybody has somebody in their family who was a troublemaker. But this is not a criminal family."

The revelation that some of Elian's Miami relatives may be unsavory characters serves to highlight the fact that little is known about the people who have encircled the boy. The media has reported only the barest details: Lazaro Gonzalez is a 49-year-old mechanic, his 47-year-old wife Angela works in a factory, 21-year-old Marisleysis is a loan officer at a bank.

And the rest of the family? Even less is known about them. Lazaro's older brother Delfin is a fisherman who also sells lobster traps in the Florida Keys. According to Gutierrez, Delfin has been providing the bulk of the family's financial support since the Immigration and Naturalization Service released Elian to them in late November. Lazaro has another brother in Miami, Manuel, who is reportedly estranged from the clan because he has advocated Elian's return to Cuba.

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:

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