A woman who stayed behind in Cuba wants her 14-year-old son to be allowed to stay in the United States, where he was brought by his father.
Mayda Orozco Fernandez told an attorney for the boy, Leonel Figueroa Orozco, that she will not make any custody claim for him, the Miami Herald reported in today's editions.
"I want him to stay with his father," Orozco told the attorney, Grisel Ybarra, by telephone from Cuba Wednesday.
Ybarra said she wants to avoid a repeat of the case of Elian Gonzalez, who became the subject of a tug-of-war between the Miami relatives of his mother, who died at sea, and his father in Cuba.
"The reason we're doing this is so that we don't have another Elian where [Cuban President Fidel Castro] alleges that the parent wanted the child back," Ybarra said.
Leonel was found in a 21-foot boat that ran out of fuel off the Florida coast Monday. The Coast Guard towed it to shore, unaware that the boy, his father and four other Cubans were hiding inside.
After the rescue, the adults scampered onto a dock, but Leonel remained on board. Under government policy, Cubans who make it onto shore are generally allowed to stay in the United States, while those who don't are sent back.
Leonel is being allowed to stay because the Justice Department is treating him as a material witness in a smuggling case against two of the men on the boat, said Jackie Becerra, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office.
Orozco did not say why she wants her son to stay, but Leonel's aunt in Miami, Mirta Figueroa, said Orozco wants what's best for her son.
"She knows my brother is a good father," said Figueroa, who is married to one of the alleged smugglers, Martin Mendez Diaz. "She gave him custody so he could come to the United States, where he would have a better future."
Family members said the father, Leonel Figueroa, has custody of the boy and reared him by himself since the child was 5.
Immigration and Naturalization Service officials in Miami won't discuss the boy's status because he is a juvenile, INS spokeswoman Ana Santiago said.
Mendez and boat owner Elizardo Ruiz Alvarez, both Miami residents of Cuban descent, are charged with alien smuggling. The charge carries a possible five-year prison sentence. They were held in lieu of $60,000 bail.
Ruiz's cousin, Luis Crespo, said the trip was intended to pick up relatives and did not involve smuggling fees.
Elian, who arrived in the United States three years ago this week, was eventually returned to his father in Cuba after U.S. government agents raided the Miami home of his relatives in April 2000.