The body of Yarisleidy Cuba Rodriguez was in a Miami funeral home for nearly 20 days before her husband, who lives in Cuba, decided to cremate her remains.
Cuba Rodriguez died giving birth to Valeria, a three-week-old baby girl who lies at the heart of a dispute between her father, Yoelvis Gattorno, who wants her back in Cuba, and relatives of the mother who want to keep her in Miami.
“My only motivation for seeking temporary custody was to avoid putting her in foster care. I never wanted to take her away from her father, just to honor the memory of my first cousin, who put me in charge before her death,” said Nairobis Pacheco, who has three children of her own, ages 7, 3 and 10 months old.
“I was always sending him photos of the girl and keeping him informed, but he preferred to start a media spectacle,” she said. “The only thing he needed to do was to wait for his legal process to move through the system.”
Gattorno has alleged that the Pacheco family filed a lawsuit against Jackson Memorial Hospital for Cuba Rodriguez’s death and insinuated that’s why Pacheco sought temporary custody of the baby.
“We have not filed any lawsuit. We only asked the hospital for my cousin’s medical records because we believe there were irregularities,” said Pacheco.
She said the controversy has taken a toll on her. “My face has been all over the news and I think I’ve become like the ‘most wanted.’ Even my children have been pursued by the media,” she said.
The baby’s birth was complicated and doctors performed a cesarean section but she did not survive the surgery. She had identified Pacheco as her responsible next of kin.
“Yari and I grew up together, like sisters. She won a (U.S.) visa in the lottery and I helped her to come to the United States in October,” Pacheco said.
Cuba Rodriguez, 34, and her oldest daughter, Flavia Paz, 15, lived in Pacheco’s house. After her mother’s death, the daughter went to live with her father, who lives in the United States.
Pacheco said her main concern is that Gattorno wants to raise Valeria in Cuba.
“My cousin always wanted to live in the United States. That’s why she emigrated. She wanted the best for her children. I don’t believe that living in that country is best for the girl,” Pacheco added.
Pacheco, who works as a manicurist, said she was surprised by the controversy surrounding the baby’s custody.
“Friends called me one day and told me to look at the news, that they were talking about me,” she said. “That’s when I learned that the baby’s father was saying that I was not giving him information and that I wanted to keep him away from the baby.”
“I just want what’s best for the baby, and that she’s not separated from her sister, who has already been through some difficult times,” she said.
Pacheco said Gattorno does not have the resources to raise the baby on the island. She said he is not currently employed but has worked in the Technical Investigations Department of the National Revolutionary Police. If true, that could complicate his ability to obtain a U.S. visa.
Gattorno, who lives in Santa Clara in central Cuba, told el Nuevo Herald by telephone that he wants to travel to Miami to get custody of the baby and take her back to the island. He did not deny that he had been a policeman although his Miami lawyer, Claudia Canizares, said that was not true.
“In the next two weeks we might see my client traveling to Miami,” Canizares said. She added that some U.S. Congress members from South Florida are helping Gattorno obtain a U.S. humanitarian visa but declined to identify them.
Canizares said only a judge can award the custody of the baby to the father, based on what’s best for the girl.
Some South Florida media outlets have compared Valeria to Elian Gonzalez, the boy who was the sole survivor after a makeshift boat carrying Cubans fleeing the island, including his mother, sank in 2000.
But there’s one big difference: Valeria is a U.S. citizen by birth, and it’s not clear how that might impact her case.
In the Elian Gonzalez case, former ruler Fidel Castro backed the demands by the father for the boy’s return to Cuba, turning the custody battle into a political clash between Cuban exiles and the island’s government. The boy was eventually returned to Cuba and today is a leader in youth communist organizations.