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Check these stories:

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Of Statistics, Single Mothers and the Politics of Language Studies show that, overwhelmingly, children being raised in homes with both a mother and a father enjoy a lot of benefits that children from single parent homes do not.

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Elián González

How Many T-shirts and Banners Must He Become?

by Mark A. Rogers

page two

De Valle argues that the genesis of this story originated nearly 18 months ago when Lazaro Rafael Munero Garcia, who was the organizer of this deadly voyage, first came to South Florida. It was the night of 29 June 1998 when he landed near mile marker 71 in the Keys and told Border Patrol agents that he had come upon a 12-foot boat with three other men. De Valle reported that he spent the night at the Krome detention center and then was released into the community the next morning. His uncle and aunt, Jorge and Maria Lopez Munero offered to let Lazaro live with them and the couple’s young daughter in the small addition that they rent in Flagami. Jorge told de Valle, “From the beginning, he would cry for his parents, his wife and the boy.” De Valle reported that Lazaro’s family does not believe that he was legally married to Elizabet Brotons Rodriguez, Elián’s mother, yet, on the other hand, they maintained the two lived together for years. “He considered her his wife,” Jorge told de Valle. “He lived for her. He couldn’t be happy here without her and the little boy. He loved that boy, too.”

De Valle said that the family told her that Lazaro worked at a carwash seven days a week to send “much-needed dollars back to loved ones in Cuba.” Maria Lopez Munero told de Valle that Lazaro would leave around 7 or 7:30 in the morning and not come home until 9 or 10 at night. He would eat and then go to sleep. She told de Valle, “He never went out to parties or even to drive around. I once told him, ‘Come with me and the girls to the movies,’ but he said no, that he couldn’t enjoy it.”

De Valle reported that in October 1999, less than three months from his escape from Cuba, Lazaro boarded a motorized inflatable raft, headed south, which is a direction few Cuban’s take, and ended up with a 62-day jail sentence in a Cuban state security prison in Santa Clara. Jorge Munero told de Valle, “Maybe they thought he was infiltrating the country to do some harm or something, since he came from here.” Jorge stated that when Lazaro was released from prison on New Year’s Eve a year ago that Lazaro began to drive a cab in Cárdenas.

Jorge told de Valle that he spoke with his brother and Lazaro approximately two weeks before the deadly voyage. This telephone conversation was the last time that Jorge would ever speak again with Lazaro.

Hey boy! How the heck are you? As good as can be expected, uncle,” Lazaro answered. “But things will get better. You’re going to get a big surprise.”

“You had your chance¾and you blew it.”

“Just wait, uncle. Just wait. It won’t be long.”

When his brother came back to the phone, Jorge Munero asked him what his nephew was talking about.

“Pay no attention,” Raphael Munero said. “You know how he talks craziness.”

De Valle said relatives reflecting back on the course of events leading up to this deadly voyage reported to her that Lazaro intended to collect “the materials, money and family members to make life in the United States worth it.” De Valle said Lazaro’s entire nuclear family, his father, Rafael, his mother, Marielena Garcia, his brothers Jikary and mentally disabled Ricardo, and his common-law wife, Elizabet agreed to go on the voyage. De Valle reported Lazaro and Elizabet also took Elián on this voyage.

According to de Valle, Elizabet who was a waitress at the Punta Arena Paraiso Hotel in Varadero Beach with Zenaida Santos discussed the plan for this voyage. Zenaida who was married to Nelson Rodriguez, the brother-in-law of Elizabet’s neice in Miami, both were on this voyage along with Nelson’s brother Juan Carlos, and these boys’ parents, Juan Manuel Rodriguez and Merida Barrios. De Valle reported this whole family also drowned and that the body of Juan Manuel Rodriguez is one of the remaining four that has not been recovered. She reported Lazaro and Jikary Munero along with Elizabet Brotons were lost at sea. Lika Guillermo also was another one of the fatalities on this deadly voyage. De Valle reported that Lika told her grandmother, Rosa Bentancourt, that she was going to visit her sister. De Valle reported that Lika, even though she declined two previous opportunities to leave illegally the country, planned to flee legally to the United States. So what caused her pause in the past? De Valle reported Lika’s relatives told her that Lika was afraid, that she didn’t know how to swim, and that nobody expected her to go on this type of voyage. Lika’s aunt, Rosa Bentancourt, told de Valle, “If I knew where she was going, I would have gone after her. I would not have let her go.”

De Valle reported that many people were part of the plan, yet, on the other hand, no one knew that Lazaro was “building a vessel using spare parts, aluminum and a motor he fashioned. He used money he saved as a taxi driver and cash he got from selling his 1955 Chevrolet. He made himself captain of the voyage,” because as Lazaro’s best friend said, “He knew the most. He had experience. It looks like he talked the others into it.”

Rafael Munero, Lazaro’s father, according to de Valle, was uneasy about the voyage because he was leaving behind his younger brother, Dagoberto, who worked with Rafael and who was more like his son than his brother. Dagoberto told de Valle that he went to Rafael’s home to either talk Rafael out of taking this voyage or to say goodbye. Dagoberto reported to de Valle that his brother “seemed half-drunk and half-ready to stay home. He didn’t want me to stay. And I didn’t want him to leave.” Dogoberto stated that he tried to persuade his brother to change his mind. But Dogoberto’s sister-in-law and Lazaro were there too, and according to de Valle, they were eager to go.

I gave him advice, Dagoberto Munero said. I said, ‘Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go.’ I didn’t want him to go because he was like my father.  I can’t live without him. But every time I tried to say that, my nephew would step in to say, ‘Why are you taking these ideas out of his head?’ We exchanged a few salty words.

Dogoberto told de Valle that Lazaro threw him out of the house and “I didn’t say goodbye.” While this incident was going on, de Valle reported that Elizabet was informing her family that she was going to take a two-hour trip to the “the big city.” According to her mother, Raquel Rodriguez told de Valle that Elizabet “…was going to Havana for a visit. I never saw her again.” And de Valle also reported that the only two adult survivors, Arianne Horta Alfonso and her boyfriend, Nivaldo Fernandez Ferran, told U.S. Border Patrol Agents that when they found out about the voyage, they offered Lazaro $1,000 to take them with him. Lazaro’s uncle in Miami, Jorge Munero, told de Valle that he was sure his nephew “didn’t charge anyone for the trip, all of them being family in one way or another.” De Valle reported that Elizabet was related to the “Rodriguez clan through her niece Carmen, the wife of a third Rodriguez boy, Orlando, who left Cuba last year.” De Valle also reported that Jorge Munero told her that more than likely “Lazaro feared that if he didn’t take the couple, they would spill the beans.” At approximately 4:30 a.m. on 21 November 1999, according to de Valle’s account:

The 15 would-be emigrants made their way to Sierrita, a spot on the shore a block or so from a shipyard where tin houses are far enough away so that no one can see you. …They carried water, bread, crackers, cheese and previously boiled hot dogs. Like many rafters before them, they also took three inflated inner tubes¾just in case they needed them¾which they tied and trailed behind the boat.

De Valle reported trouble with the outboard engine forced the émigrés to return to the Cuban coast to repair the engine. Arianna Horta took this opportunity because she feared that the voyage was going to be too dangerous to drop off her daughter, Estefani, who was 5-years old. Once the émigrés believed that the problem with the motor was fixed, they started out again in the dawn of 22 November 1999 for the Florida Straights to the United States of America in search of libertad y una nuevo existencia.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry, de Valle stated, had alerted the U.S. Coast Guard about the overloaded boat that was traveling for U.S. waters. The Cuban Boarder Patrol reported it identified the boat on Monday morning leaving the waters of Cárdenas. Cuban Boarder Patrol agents repeatedly warned the passengers to turn the boat back. De Valle reported that U.S. Coast Guard officials admitted that they had received a telex from their Cuban counterparts. They dispatched agency planes and cutters to search for the boat, and according to de Valle, they found nothing on the waters.

Late on Monday, 22 November 1999 not only did the group run into foul weather, but also the engine once again quit on the boat. According to all of the accounts received by de Valle, the group drifted in five-foot waves, bailing water that was coming in over the sides of the boat, until Tuesday night.

Arianne Horta Alfonso and her boyfriend, Nivaldo Fernandez Ferran told de Valle it was dark when the boat capsized. They reported that the group clung to the hull of the boat for a while before they were able to right it again. The boat continued to take on water. The group decided to use the inner tubes because they were afraid that the boat would sink. They formed two groups on the inner tubes because one of the inner tubes had become flat. The women passengers and Elián were on one inner tube while the men were on the other one. Then, according to de Valle, “one by one, they started slipping into the sea.”

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Copyright © 2000, Mark A. Rogers, M.S., M.A., Psy.D.
All rights reserved.
Honisa Behavioral Treatment Centers, Inc.
Chicago, Illinois

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