Sunday, August 26, 2001

A little update on the situation Enid Ray has been dealing with and that we've been praying for about her grandson Jon Columbini and great-grandson Jonathan: the news is good, and probably won't be publicized as widely as it ought. Seems the "kidnapping" mother decided that years in jail in America looked better than a lifetime in the self-proclaimed "Worker's Paradise".....

The Miami Herald (
Published Friday, August 17, 2001

6-year-old taken to Cuba by mom is back in U.S.


With tears that quickly melted into hugs, 6-year-old Jonathon Colombini was reunited with his father in Miami on Thursday, nine months after the boy's Cuban-born mother spirited him to her homeland in a 21-foot boat and refused to let him return.

Jon Colombini of Homestead greeted his son at Miami International Airport laden with Christmas presents that the boy wasn't here to open last December.

``He's doing great,'' Colombini said later from his car as he and his family headed for an out-of-town vacation. ``We've got a lot of things to work through, but it's going to work out pretty good.'' After some initial anxiety and crying -- mostly out of concern for his mother -- Jonathon was busy playing with a new Gameboy and ``a bunch of little finger bikes that you can take apart and put together,'' his dad said.

Federal agents arrested Jonathon's mother, Arletis Blanco, 29, of Key Largo, shortly after she stepped off the 5:10 p.m. flight from Cuba with her boyfriend, Agustín Lemus, 37, and their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Jessica. She was wanted on a warrant for international parental child kidnapping and also faces state theft charges. Lemus, who was not arrested, left with little Jessica. Blanco knew she would be arrested, but said she wouldn't allow her son to return to the United States unless she and her new family were permitted to come back as well, said Colombini's lawyer, Michael C. Berry of Clearwater, who specializes in international abduction cases and escorted the family back from Cuba. Berry flew to Havana on Wednesday for the second time in recent weeks hoping that months of delicate negotiations wouldn't blow up and send him home empty-handed again. After meeting with lawyers for Blanco and Cuba's Foreign Ministry, he received word about 10:30 a.m. Thursday that the entire group had been cleared for travel, he said. They raced to the airport with crossed fingers and got seats on a 4 p.m. direct flight. ``It was a normal flight, nothing out of the ordinary except for some air-sickness by Jonathon,'' Berry said. ``It was a traumatic time for him, being reunited with his father, not speaking the language anymore.'' Jonathon, who was 5 when Blanco took him to live in Pinar del Río last November, now speaks only Spanish although he still understands English, his father said.

Berry complimented the Cuban government for its handling of the case. Even though negotiations were complicated by the lack of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, and even though ``everything in Cuba is on a `maybe' basis,'' Cuban diplomats treated it as ``a family matter and not political football,'' he said.
``I had an understanding with Ambassador [Fernando] Remírez at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.,'' he said. ``We were able to avoid a long court battle. They did not impede progress; they were a conduit.''

In the end, before granting final travel permission, the Cuban government asked for a meeting to get a ``clear understanding'' of why Blanco was leaving the country, Berry said. ``They wanted to make sure she wasn't leaving under duress or coercion, and as long as she was leaving of her own free will, that was it,'' he said.

Blanco's explanation was put in writing and she and the lawyers had to sign the document, he said. In it, Blanco said she recognized that she would be going to jail but she was ready to return anyway.
``This was her home,'' Berry said of the United States. ``Even though she was born in Cuba she lived here all her life.''

Last year, Blanco told the Communist Party daily Granma she left the United States because she wanted a better life for her son and she had uncovered an anti-Castro plot developed by her former boss. Blanco said she fled, fearing for her life. Her employer has denied her story.

Blanco is wanted on a grand theft charge in Monroe County for allegedly stealing close to $150,000 from McKenzie Petroleum, where she was an office manager. In February, a federal grand jury indicted her for kidnapping.

Blanco was taken to the Federal Detention Center in Miami and is scheduled to have her first court appearance today, FBI spokesman Judy Orihuela said. If convicted of kidnapping, Blanco faces a maximum three years in prison. Colombini and Blanco originally had joint custody of their son, but after shetook him to Cuba a Monroe County circuit judge gave Colombini full custody.``We're going to go ride the big Scooby Doo roller coaster,'' Colombini said en route to an Ohio theme park that features Jonathon's favorite cartoon character.

``We're just going to spend some time together and do some bonding and
have some fun.''