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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June, 2003, 22:41 GMT 23:41 UK
Mother wins Cuba custody battle
Fidel Castro
The children's mother wrote to Fidel Castro
An American woman has returned to the US with her son and daughter after Cuban President Fidel Castro intervened in an international custody battle.

Cornelia Streeter arrived back in Boston on Thursday with her son Henry Wissa, 10, and eight-year-old daughter Victoria nearly two years after they were allegedly kidnapped by their father.

The father, Anwar Wissa, was arrested earlier and will stand trial in Cuba, a Cuban Government statement said.

The Cuban authorities had compared the case to the highly publicised custody saga of Cuban castaway Elian Gonzalez.

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

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


The case of the Wissa children emerged after their mother wrote a letter to Mr Castro, delivered by a "friend of our commander in chief", according to the official release.

The children were reportedly found at Havana's Hemingway Marina, where Mr Wissa, who is also a US citizen, was staying with them on a yacht.

She has suffered atrociously, being unjustly denied the rights that are sacred to any mother
Cuban Government
On Friday the Cuban authorities said that after "solid and irrefutable" evidence, they had decided to hand the children back to their mother after they had been illegally separated from her and taken abroad.

The statement said the children, although in good health now, had been forced to live a "risky life, full of dangers to their physical and mental health, cut off from any possibility of education or contact with their mother or the rest of their family".

It said the authorities recognised that Mrs Streeter was a respectable, professional woman who had "suffered atrociously" as a mother deprived of her natural rights and had "fought restlessly to recover her children".

It is not clear whether US authorities will seek to have Mr Wissa returned from Cuba to face kidnapping charges in the United States.

On Thursday, Mrs Streeter's lawyer said she was "extremely appreciative of the prompt, sensitive and effective way that the Cuban authorities have handled this matter".

Elian is taken by federal agents
Elian's case became a national cause for Cubans
The Cuban authorities have said that investigations showed that after Mrs Streeter and Mr Wissa divorced two years ago, they initially had joint custody of the children. But Mrs Streeter was later granted sole custody.

According to the statement, Mr Wissa kidnapped the children and fled to Egypt in 2001.

Cuba says he faces criminal charges in Massachusetts and US federal courts for kidnapping the children and trying to extort $1m from their mother for their safe return.

Mrs Streeter is reported to have told the Cuban president that she travelled to Egypt earlier this year, but discovered that her ex-husband had left the country with them, first travelling to Spain, then Cuba.

What's life really like in Cuba?
27 Apr 00  |  Americas
Country profile: Cuba
04 Jun 03  |  Country profiles

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