Cuba turning over couple, children to US

2013-04-10 11:04
Joshua Michael Hakken stands behind a glass door at the Hemingway Marina in Havana, Cuba. (Franklin Reyes, AP)

Joshua Michael Hakken stands behind a glass door at the Hemingway Marina in Havana, Cuba. (Franklin Reyes, AP)

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Havana - A Florida couple accused of kidnapping their two young sons and fleeing by boat to Havana will be handed over to the United States, Cuban officials said after taking them into custody at a marina in the capital.

US diplomats in Havana said in a statement early on Wednesday that the two children had left Cuba and "are safely on their way home". The statement did not mention whether the parents had left for the US.

"We would like to express our appreciation to the Cuban authorities for their extensive co-operation to resolve this dangerous situation quickly," said the statement released by the US Interests Section in Havana.

Earlier on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry official Johana Tablada told The Associated Press in a written statement that Cuba had informed US authorities of the country's decision to turn over Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife Sharyn, and their two young boys.

US authorities say Joshua Michael Hakken kidnapped his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, from his mother-in-law's house north of Tampa. The boys' maternal grandparents had been granted permanent custody of the boys last week.

Tablada did not say when the handover would occur, but reporters saw Sharyn Hakken leaving the dock of the Hemingway Marina in the back seat of a Cuban government vehicle and workers later said that all four Hakkens had been taken away.

No extradition agreement

An AP reporter spotted the family earlier on Tuesday beside their boat at the marina. A man who resembled photographs of Joshua Michael Hakken yelled out "Stop! Stay back!" as the reporter approached, but there was no outward sign of tension or distress between the family members.

Tablada said Cuba tipped the State Department off to the Hakkens' presence on Sunday and that from that moment "diplomatic contact has been exchanged and a professional and constant communication has been maintained".

The US and Cuba share no extradition agreement and the island nation is also not a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty for governmental co-operation on such cases.

Cuba has harboured US fugitives in the past, though most of those cases date back to the 1960s and 70s, when the island became a refuge for members of the Black Panthers and other militant groups. More recently, dozens of Cuban Medicare fraud fugitives in the US have tried to escape prosecution by returning to the island.

But Cuba has also co-operated with US authorities in returning several criminal fugitives in recent years, including Leonard B Auerbach in 2008. Auerbach was wanted in California on federal charges of sexually abusing a Costa Rican girl and possessing child pornography. He was deported.

In 2011, US marshals flew to Cuba and took custody of two American suspects wanted in a New Jersey murder.

Mother-in law tied up

Hakken lost custody of his sons last year after a drug possession arrest in Louisiana and later tried to take the children from a foster home at gunpoint, authorities said. A warrant has been issued for his arrest on two counts of kidnapping; interference with child custody; child neglect; false imprisonment and other charges.

"My team and I working very hard to ensure safety for two Amcit kids," Conrad Tribble, the No 2 US diplomat on the island, said via Twitter later on Tuesday, using a shorthand for "American citizens".

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Hakken entered his mother-in-law's Florida house last Wednesday, tied her up and fled with his sons. Federal, state and local authorities searched by air and sea for a boat Hakken had recently bought. The truck Hakken, his wife and the boys had been travelling in was found on Thursday, abandoned in Madeira Beach, Florida.

"He'll have to face in Hillsborough county the charges he has with the sheriff's office," spokesperson Cristal Bermudez Nunez Nunez said. She said she did not know how the family would be returned or what will happen when they arrive on US soil.

Terri Durdaller, a spokeswoman at the Florida Department of Children and Families, said it was not clear where the children will ultimately be placed.

"Louisiana is the ultimate decision maker on where these children will reside. It's likely they will be placed back in Florida with the grandmother," she said.

Gonzalez case

The family's flight to Cuba harkened back to the 1999 child custody case involving Elian Gonzalez, though unlike Gonzalez, the Hakkens had no apparent ties to the island.

In 1999, 5-year-old Gonzalez was found clinging to an inner tube off Florida after his mother and others drowned while fleeing Cuba toward American soil. The boy was taken to Miami to live with relatives, but his father in Cuba demanded the boy be sent back.

US courts ultimately ruled Gonzalez should be sent back, though his Miami relatives refused to return him. In April 2000, US federal agents raided the family's home and he was returned to Cuba soon after. He has since grown into a young man and joined a military academy.

At the Havana marina on Tuesday, the family showed no sign they knew a decision about their fate had been made. The four strolled by an outdoor restaurant as security officials kept reporters at a distance. The youngest child was seated in a stroller and the elder boy sat down on a curb.

Read more on:    cuba  |  us

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