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Brother of girl in Cuban custody case accuses mother

Boy says woman abused his sister, threatened suicide

MIAMI -- A young Cuban girl at the heart of an international custody battle was beaten and abused by her mother, who also threatened to kill herself with a knife, the girl's older half brother told a judge yesterday.

The boy, 13, told the judge that their mother, Elena Perez, also abused him.

The boy was the first witness in a trial to determine whether the girl's father, Rafael Izquierdo, is fit to regain custody of her and return to Cuba, or whether she should stay in the United States with her wealthy foster parents.

The battle is sparking memories of the fight over Elian Gonzalez almost eight years ago.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen must decide whether Izquierdo should have known about the abuse and whether he failed to protect the girl by letting Perez take her to the United States legally in 2005.

Izquierdo, a farmer, wants to take the girl home to the communist island, but child welfare officials in Florida are backing the foster parents, sports agent Jose Cubas and his wife, Maria.

The couple have adopted the boy and want to adopt the girl.

Perez "was always hitting me, beating me up, kicking me on the floor, screaming at me, so I was scared," the boy testified in English. His mother also hit his sister, the boy said. The children's names are being kept secret by both sides.

The boy testified in the judge's chambers with a video feed to the courtroom. The girl has lived with the Cubases for about 18 months and calls them Mami and Papi, they have said.

"I would do anything for my sister to stay here," the boy told lawyers, his voice cracking.

The boy, who has a different biological father, described Izquierdo as "not a bad guy." Before they left Cuba, he said, Izquierdo would visit Perez about twice a month after the birth of his sister.

The boy testified he once tried to tell Izquierdo about the beatings but with no success.

"She's giving it hard to my sister," he said he told Izquierdo, terrified his mother would hit him if she overheard. But it was not clear the boy ever said his mother was beating him and his sister.

The boy also said that his mother told him she wanted to leave her daughter with Izquierdo when she went to the United States, but that he refused.

On cross-examination, Izquierdo's lawyer questioned how Izquierdo could have known of the alleged abuse.

The boy said he told his grandparents, with whom he lived for much of his life and who saw some of the beatings.

But he acknowledged he visited the doctor regularly and never mentioned the abuse and didn't know whether his grandparents ever spoke about it to Izquierdo.

The custody fight has been called "Elian II" in Miami. The Cuban boy was 5 when he was found at sea after his mother drowned during an attempt to reach the United States in 1999.

The boy ultimately was returned to Cuba with his father after US agents seized him from a Miami home at gunpoint.

But unlike with Elian, all parties in this case have agreed to allow a family court to decide the girl's fate, and unlike the last time, both the Cuban-American community and the Cuban government have remained relatively quiet on the issue.

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