U.S. woman, children leave Cuba after Castro aids custody case

Saturday, June 28, 2003

HAVANA -- An American woman left Cuba with her son and daughter Friday after Fidel Castro's government intervened in an international custody battle and arrested the children's father.

A government statement said the family was allowed to depart after officials determined that Cornelia Streeter had legal custody of the U.S.-born children.

"This morning, Ms. Streeter left with her two children by airplane, bound for Boston," the statement said.

Streeter, of Topsfield, Mass., was reunited with her children Wednesday night in a case that recalled the battle over young castaway Elian Gonzalez.

Cuban authorities earlier arrested her ex-husband, Anwar Wissa, aboard a yacht in Havana's Hemingway Marina and placed the former couple's children, Henry, 9, and Victoria, 7, in protective custody.

The statement said Wissa, an American citizen, would be prosecuted on charges of using Cuban territory to engage in child kidnapping.

It could take some time to secure extradition in the case of an American citizen from Cuba, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston said Friday. Cuba is "not a country that we've had formal diplomatic relations with in this area before, said Jerry Leone, first assistant U.S. attorney.

Federal authorities are investigating Wissa on charges of kidnapping and possible extortion.

Wissa visited Cuba on seven occasions as a tourist, twice aboard a yacht and five times by air, beginning on May 20, 2001, the Cuban government said.

The mother told Cuban authorities that Wissa took the children to his native Egypt, then moved with them in December 2002 to Spain, followed by Cuba, the government said.

It was unclear how he and the children arrived in Cuba on the most recent trip.

Streeter had appealed to Castro for help in getting her children back after learning they were living on the yacht with her ex-husband in Havana.

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.

The Cuban government compared the case to the custody battle over Elian Gonzalez, who returned with his father to the communist island in mid-2000. A statement Wednesday said Cubans remain mindful of the support most Americans showed for the child's return to his father.

Elian was 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. The boy's great-uncle fought unsuccessfully to keep the child in Miami.

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