Cuba takes role in custody fight

Thursday, June 26, 2003

HAVANA -- Two American children brought to Cuba by their father were taken into protective custody Wednesday after their mother sought Fidel Castro's help.

In a case that recalled the battle over young castaway Elian Gonzalez, state-run television reported that authorities took action after confirming that the mother, Cornelia Streeter, had sole custody of Henry, 10, and Victoria, 8.

The report said the children were born during Streeter's marriage to Anwar Wissa. It said Streeter was from Massachusetts.

Streeter made her appeal in a letter, which was was delivered to the Cuban president by a "friend of our commander in chief," said the government statement.

The children were located at a Havana marina, where Wissa was staying with them on a yacht, the statement said. Wissa, also an American citizen, was arrested.

American authorities here said they knew about the case and were working to determine the facts. They said they had not communicated with the mother.

The statement said that Cubans remained mindful of the Elian Gonzalez case and the support most Americans showed for the child's return to his father.

"For that, we owe the American people our gratitude and respect," the statement said.

Elian was just 5 years old in November 1999 when he was rescued at sea off Florida following a boating accident that killed his mother and other Cubans trying to immigrate illegally to the United States.

Elian's great-uncle fought unsuccessfully to keep the child in Miami during a dramatic custody battle.

The whereabouts of Streeter were not immediately clear, but the statement said she had been asked to travel here immediately to get her children.

The Cuban statement said an investigation showed that after Streeter and Wissa divorced two years ago, they initially had joint custody. But Streeter was later granted sole custody.

According to the statement, Wissa faces criminal charges in Massachusetts and U.S. federal courts for kidnapping the children.

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