Wednesday, September 27, 2006

14-year-old student flees to Cuba

Posted on Wed, Sep. 27, 2006

14-year-old student flees to Cuba
A Miami-Dade sophomore ran away from home last week -- all the way to
Cuba. His father is trying to get him back.

A 14-year-old West Miami-Dade boy ran away from home last week, boarded
a plane and took a startling international flight alone -- to Havana,
his father said Tuesday.

Alfredo Diaz, a 10th-grader at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High, cleared
an American Airlines security check and boarded a Miami-to-Nassau flight
on Thursday, even though the carrier requires escorts for anyone under 15.

''I can't believe my son was able to go through all that security and no
one stopped him or asked him about being so young and traveling alone,''
said the father, who is also named Alfredo Diaz. ``My son is just under
five feet tall and he's a young-looking 14.''

Alfredo may have been caught up in some typical teenage angst. He had
met a special girl during a visit to Cuba this summer, his father said.
And in school, he was accused of cheating to try to win the class

''I can't tell you how frustrating this is; I still can't really believe
this has happened,'' the elder Diaz said.

Diaz said he's ''furious'' at the airline for not stopping his son.
''They are going to have to explain how this happened,'' he said.

Martha Pantín, local spokeswoman for American Airlines, confirmed
Tuesday that the boy was checked onto Flight No. 4981, which left Miami
International Airport Thursday morning.

As identification, she said, Alfredo presented his alien registration
card, which shows his birth date as Dec. 8, 1991 -- three months shy of
15 years ago.

''Our agent checked his year of birth, which is 1991. They did not check
the specific date when he would turn 15,'' Pantín said.

From the Bahamas, Alfredo likely used his Cuban passport, which he
sneaked from his dad's strong box, for the flight to Havana, Diaz said.

After hours of searching for his son in Miami-Dade, Diaz said he learned
at around 8 p.m. Thursday that Alfredo was in Cuba when his ex-wife,
Dailet, called.

' `Alfredo is with me,' she told me,' '' Diaz said. 'I said: `What? How
did he get there?' She told me he said he had bought a ticket with my
credit card through the Internet.''

Diaz's credit card records show Alfredo purchased a $157 ticket to
Nassau and a second ticket for $315 to Havana.


Diaz, who owns a construction business and lives with his girlfriend and
her two sons, ages 12 and 13, wants his son back, but he has hit a legal

Miami-Dade police have told him they can do nothing for now because he
has no written proof of custody.

Diaz, who has legal resident status and came to the United States by way
of Spain 12 years ago, said when he claimed his son six years ago from
Cuba, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana kept his custody papers. He
is now requesting copies.

A spokesman for the Interests Section said it can help minor U.S.
citizens. There might be little it can do since Alfredo is Cuban-born,
he willingly traveled to the island with his Cuban passport and he is
with his birth mother.

Diaz, 40, has tried to figure out what led to his son's decision to run

Last summer,the boy spent three weeks in Havana, visiting his mother
after being escorted to the island by his dad's girlfriend, Diaz said.

He said he believes his son had a summer romance there.

Alfredo returned to Miami three days before school began and decided to
run for class president, his father said. The effort soured when Alfredo
was accused of voter fraud for casting votes for himself in the name of
friends, his father said.

''He said his friends had told him they were going to vote for him
anyway,'' said the elder Diaz, who said he got a call from the school.

Diaz said he punished his son, briefly taking away his computer
privileges and his beloved iPod.

''During that time, he told me he wanted to go back to Cuba in December
for his birthday. I told him I couldn't afford another trip, and I told
him life there is not what it is here. There is no Pizza Hut or Dolphin
Mall there,'' Diaz said.

The day he flew to Cuba, ``He got dressed, had breakfast. He asked my
girlfriend for a new tube of deodorant. He kissed us goodbye like always
and went off to school -- we thought.''

He instead sneaked back into the house, packed shirts, jeans and
sneakers and headed for MIA.


''I have no idea how he got to the airport,'' his father said.

Thursday was an early release day in Miami-Dade.

'By 4 p.m., no Alfredo. By 6 p.m., no Alfredo. I began to worry. . . . I
went into his room and opened his closet and saw the empty hangers. I
said: `Oh, my God, he's gone.' ''

Diaz said this is not a custody battle. His ex-wife willingly allowed
their son to come live with him, he said.

Now he plans to hire an immigration attorney to help get his son back to

''I'm hoping he will spend a couple of months there without his
computer, plasma TV, iPod, and he'll want to come back,'' the father
said. ``My son likes the good things in life. He won't find that in Cuba.''

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